This section is from the book "An Experimental History Of The Materia Medica", by William Lewis.
Poppy: a plant with oblong leaves and round stalks, divided into a few branches, each of which is terminated by a large tetrapetalous flower, set in a two-leaved cup that falls off as the flower opens: the flower itself likewise soon falls, leaving a smooth roundish head or capsule, covered with a radiated crown, and containing a number of smooth roundish seeds. It is annual, and flowers from June to near the end of summer.
1. Papaver album Pharm. Lond. & Edinb, Papaver hortense femine albo C. B. Papaver fom-niferum Linn. White poppy: with smooth, (lightly indented leaves; and whitish flowers and seeds.
2. Papaver nigrum: Papaver hortense nigro femine C. B. Black poppy: a variety of the former, with smooth, (lightly indented leaves, purple flowers, and black seeds.
These plants are found wild in some parts of Europe; and several varieties of them, in regard to the flowers, are produced by culture in our gardens. The heads, (talk, and leaves, have an unpleasant smell, and a bitterish biting taste, of the same kind with those of opium. Their smell and taste is lodged in a milky juice; which abounds chiefly in the cortical part of the heads; which may be collected, in considerable quantity, by (lightly wounding them when almost ripe; and which, on being exposed for a little time to a warm air, thickens into a tenacious dark-coloured mass, similar to the opium brought from abroad, but stronger in smell and taste. The juices thus obtained from the two sorts of poppies, appear to be of the same quality, the difference being only in the quantity afforded: the white poppy, which is the largest, is the sort cultivated by the preparers of opium in the eastern countries, and for medicinal uses in this. *The following extract from Mr. Kerr's account of the culture of this plant, and the preparation of opium, in the province of Bahar in the East Indies, may convey useful information.
"The seeds are sown in October or November. The plants are allowed to grow six or eight inches distant from each other, and are plentifully supplied with water. When the young plants are six or eight inches high, they are watered more sparingly. But the cultivator strews all over the areas a nutrient compost of ashes, human excrements, cow-dung, and a large portion of nitrous earth, scraped from the highways, and old mud-walls. When the plants are nigh flowering, they are watered pro-fusely to increase the juice.
"When the capsules are half grown, no more water is given, and they begin to collect the opium. At sun-set they make two longitudinal double incisions upon each half-ripe capsule, passing from below upwards, and taking care not to penetrate the internal cavity of the capsule. The incisions are repeated every evening, until each capsule has received six or eight wounds; they are then allowed to ripen their seeds. The ripe capsules afford little or no juice. If the wound was made in the heat of the day, a cicatrix would be too soon formed. - The night-dews, by their moisture, favour the exstillation of the juice. Early in the morning old women, boys, and girls, collect the juice, by scraping it off the wounds with a small iron scoop, and deposite the whole in an earthen pot, where it is worked by the hand in the open sun-shine, until it becomes of a considerable spiffitude: it is then formed into cakes of a globular shape, and about four pounds in weight, and laid into little earthen basins to be further exsiccated. These cakes are covered over with the poppy or tobacco leaves, and dried until they are fit for sale. Opium is frequently adulterated with cow-dung, the extract of the poppy-plant procured by boiling, and various other sub-stances which they keep in secrecy."(a)
The collection of the pure milky juice of the poppy has not, among us, been as yet practised in large, or with a view to the supplying of the common demand of opium. Instead of this troublesome process, we extract the narcotic matter by menstrua; the active parts of opium, as observed under that article, being completely dissoluble both by water and rectified spirit. A portion of the herbaceous inert substance of the plant is indeed, at the same time, taken up, at lead when water is made use of, so as to render an enlargement of the dose necessary: but this addition to the bulk of a dose of opium would be of no inconvenience, if the compound was always of the same strength, or the narcotic and inert matter in the same proportions to one another; a point which cannot be attained with so much precision as could be wished, but which may nevertheless, by due care in the preparation, be adjusted as nearly as common practice in most cases requires.
(a) Land. Med. Obf. and Inq. vol. V. p. 318.
The college of London directs the dried heads, cut and cleared from the seeds, to be boiled in water, in the proportion of three pounds and a half to eight gallons, in the heat of a brine bath, till it is reduced to three gallons: the liquor is then to be expressed, and boiled down to four pints, which is to be (trained hot, first through a sieve, and then through a thin woollen cloth, and set by for twelve hours, that the dregs may subside. The liquor poured off clear is to be reduced to three pints, in which six pounds of sugar are to be dissolved. An ounce of this syrup is reckoned equivalent to about a grain of opium. *The Edinburgh college directs two pounds of poppy heads without the seeds to be macerated for a night in thirty pounds of boiling water, the liquor then boiled down till only a third part remains, which is to be strongly ex-pressed and drained, then boiled again to the half, strained, and made into a syrup with a sufficient quantity of sugar. They also allow this syrup to be made by dissolving one dram of the extract of white poppy heads in two pounds and a half of simple syrup.
A decoction of poppy heads in water, strongly pressed out, depurated by settling, then clarified with whites of eggs, and infpiffated, yields an extract amounting to one fifth or one sixth the weight of the heads: it is said, that two grains of this preparation are equivalent to one grain of opium, and that the extract is not liable to produce a nausea or giddinefs which generally follow the use of pure opium(a): but the con-sequential effects which opiates produce, in different subjects, and in different circumstances, are so variable, that the trials which have been made of this preparation, however successful, do not appear sufficient for establifhing this superiority. Of tinctures or extracts made with spirituous menstrua, no medicinal trials, so far as I can learn, have as yet been made: in smell and taste they approach more to opium than any other preparation of the poppy I have seen.
(a) Mr. Arnot, Edinburgh medical essays, vol. v. art. 11.
Syr. Papav. alb. Ph. Lond.
Syrupus pa-paveris albi, feu de meco-nio, vulgo diacodion Ph. Ed.
Extract. capitum papa-veris albi Ph. Ed.
Many have supposed the seeds of the poppy to be, like the other parts of the herb, narco-tic(a); mifled, perhaps, by analogical reason-ing from other plants. Though the seeds of many plants are more efficacious than the vessel in which they are lodged; those of the poppy have nothing of the narcotic juice which is dis-fused through their covering, through the stalks, and more sparingly through the leaves. If emulsions of poppy seeds have been found ser-viceable in coughs, catarrhs, heat of urine, and other like disorders; it is not to an anodyne, but an emollient quality, that this virtue is to be ascribed. The seeds in substance have a sweetish unctuous farinaceous taste, and yield upon expression a large quantity of insipid oil: both the seeds themselves and the oil are said to be in some places common articles of food (b),
3. Papaver erraticum Pharm. Lond. Pa-paver erraticum majus C. B. Papaver Rhoeas Linn, Wild or red poppy, or corn-rose: with deep red flowers, dark-coloured seeds, hairy leaves and stalks, and the leaves cut almost, or quite, to the pedicle into indented segments. It is common in corn-fields; and is sometimes, like the others, made to vary its flowers by culture.
(a) Hermann, Cynofur. mat. med. edit. Boeder, p. 436. Juncker, Conspectus therapiae generalis, p. 279.
(b) Prosper Alpinus, De medicina AEgyptiorum, lib. iv. cap. 1. Geoffroy, Mat. med. torn. ii. p. 715. Linnaei, Amanitat, Academic. iii. 71.
The heads of this species appear to contain the same kind of narcotic juice with those of the two preceding, but in so much smaller quantity that they are wholly neglected. The only part made use of is the flowers, which are supposed to be likewise impregnated in some degree with the same anodyne principle, and stand recommended in catarrhs, coughs, spitting of blood, and other disorders: they have a slight narcotic smell, and a very mucilaginous taste, accompanied with a sensible bitterishness. They are at present regarded rather on account of their colour, than for any great virtues expected from them: they yield upon expression a deep red juice, and impart the same colour to watery liquors, and a brighter though paler red to rectified spirit. A strong infusion of them is prepared in the shops, by pouring four pints and a half of boiling water upon four pounds of the fresh flowers, stirring them over the fire till the flowers are all immerged, and setting them by to steep for a night: without the application of fire so as to scald or shrink the flowers a little, they can scarcely be moistened with the water; if the heat is continued longer than this effect: is produced, the liquor turns out quite slimy. This infusion, pressed out and depurated by fettling, is reduced, by a proper addition of sugar, into a deep red syrup. The colouring matter of the red poppy differs from that of clove-gilly flowers, red roses, and other bright red flowers, in this; that on the admixture of alkaline liquors, it does not change, like them, to a green, but to a dark purple.
Syr. papav. errat. Ph. Lond.