Breadseed Poppies

Grayish blue poppy pods with some pink flowers in background
Patch of breadseed poppies: pods and pink flowers Credit: Photo by Chris Linnett on Unsplash

Papaver somniferum

There are a lot of different types of poppies. There are the big, beautiful Oriental poppies (sturdy perennials that form big, tall patches), the freely reseeding corn poppy ( those red poppies that graced European fields and became symbolic of the Armistice of World War I), the delicate Iceland poppies for cool weather bedding flowers), the California poppy (this is only a misnomer—California poppies are not true poppies), and there’s still more. Then there’s the breadseed poppy…the flower with a multi-purpose pod.

The breadseed poppy plant is a beautiful plant with gorgeous flower—though not too good for cutting. But those big 4-6 in. wide flowers give way to big, fat, round pods that are filled with poppy seeds to use in baking. And they’re easy to harvest—see below for how. When the pod’s empty you have very cool pods for dried arrangements.

This is an annual plant that gets started in cold weather. Sow it in fall or very early spring.

Flowers

Pink and soft purple flowers
Tissue paper- like flower petals Credit; Photo by Mona Hamm on Unsplash
Photo by Mona Hamm on Unsplash
Interior of breadseed poppy flower where the pod will soon form Credit: Photo by Mona Hamm on Unsplash

Poppy seed plants are not good cutting flowers. They contain a milky sap that clogs the water-carrying ducts in the stem and prevents water getting to the flowers so the flower droops and wilts. But…see the Harvesting section below for a short-term fix if you need them.

The petals are tissue paper-like and flowers span 4-6 inches.  They come in a variety of white, pink, red and purple colors and often with a dark purple brush stroke at the base of the petal.

In the center of the flower is the premature pod. The frilly anthers attract pollinators—a good start for them early in the season. Flowers bloom in spring, around April in Northern California.

The flowers last for only a day or two then the petals fall away and the newly pollinated pods start to grow. It’s the pods you’d be really after.

Pink poppy seed flower showing the petals dropping back and the young pod in the middle
Pink petals are ready to drop off as the young pod is ready to develop the seeds and well up. Credit: Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Plants

 

Breadseed poppies are a knockout in the garden, with their structural appearance and big showy flowers.

Poppy seed plants are annuals. Their foliage is a pretty pale blue-green, a bit frilly and serrated along the edges.  They grow to 3-5 ft. depending on the variety.

Poppy plant in garden showing pods and one pink poppy flower
Poppy plant, mostly in pods Credit: Duncan McNab on Unsplash

Growing Poppy Seed Plants

These poppies do well in average soil; they tolerate some drought; and need sun to part sun.

Sow the seeds in or before the cold weather, in fall, late winter to early spring, or in the winter if you have unfrozen bare soil. They need 2 to 4 weeks of cold weather to chill in the soil before they germinate. Mine sit under snow a few times a year, they get their roots into the soil, and then grow fast once spring really hits.

Sow them by simply raking them into the soil. Thin them if they come up too thickly, and when spring gets them growing fast, thin to a 6-8 in. spacing.

Since it’s the pods you’ll want, you won’t want to deadhead these plants. Just let them go to seed. They’re good at reseeding themselves, too. Just let a few pods remain or shake some seeds out where you want them next year.

Harvesting

Flowers:

If you must harvest a few flowers, they have a milky sap that prevents water from getting up the water carrying ducts to support the flower. Instead, you can cut the stem then immediately singe the cut end of the flower stem. This burning seals the sap in and preserves the moisture in the stem for a day or two. They are pretty flowers! Just go out to your flowers with a lighter in hand and a bucket of water.

But…it’s the pods that are the best. You get not only poppy seeds for use in your kitchen, you also get fat, round pods that are great in dried arrangements.

Fresh Pods:

Green poppy pods ready for picking
Fresh green pods can be harvested and used in fresh bouquets...but save some for seeds! Credit: Jens Vogel on Unsplash

You can pick the pods green and use them in fresh flower arrangements. They are a pretty, pale blue-green pod that adds a nice sculptural element to arrangements. But they’re more useful when dried.

Dried Pods and Poppy Seeds:

To dry the pods, simply leave them on the plant until brown. The pod is round with a horizontal plate across the top. Under this plate there are little windows that will open when the pod is completely dry. This is when the seeds are ready and are loose in the pod.

When these little windows open, carefully cut the stem at the length you want, taking care not to dump out the seeds to the ground, and dump them into a bag or a bowl to collect them.

You may need to check for bugs and remove any garden debris, then seal them up (as long as they’re dry) in a jar and stash in your kitchen!

The pods are ready to use when you want for dried florals.

Poppy pods drying, some green and some brown. Brown ones have a little space opened to release seeds
Poppy pods drying. You can see the little "windows" opening on the browner pods. When they're all open, they're ready for harvest. Credit: Alex Belogub via Unsplash
Close-up of black breadseed poppy seeds
Close-up of breadseed poppy seeds shows how much texture they have! Credit: Wolfgang Hasselmann on Unsplash
Dried arrangement with larkspur, poppy pods, lavender, millet, and other dried materials
Dried arrangement with larkspur, poppy pods, lavender, millet, and other wild gathered dried materials

Favorite Varieties

Hungarian Blue: Traditional strain of poppy seeds. Large pods, flowers  are white or pale lavender with dark blotches at the base of the petals. Seeds are sweet and nutty tasting.

Pepperbox: Pepperbox  come in red, purple, and pale pink colors with dark blotched at the center.

Giganteum: Purportedly the largest poppy pod there is.  It has a large flower, over 6 in. wide, white petals with a pink-purple blotch.

My desire to find the biggest poppy pods has led me to this one. I found a source with One Stop Poppy Shoppe (of course!).  They’re in Wisconsin…I’m super excited about this one to try this year. This business looks like a neat little specialty poppy seed supplier! Here you can find the Giganteum breadseed poppy.

There are several other poppy seed varieties some with fringed petals, some with certain colors, one with a hens and chicks form. But I like to stick with the traditional edible poppyseed varieties…with the exception of ‘Giganteum’… 🙂 

Lauren’s Grape: (Papaver paeoniflorum & laciniatum) There is some confusion about this one. It supposedly was discovered by a garden writer/nursery woman who planted some seed from her poppy seed bagel. It has a very purple flower. Some sources list it as a Papaver somniferum variety but Renee’s Seeds lists it as a hybrid of two species and doesn’t list it as having edible seed. I trust Renee’s Seeds, she’s been in business for a very long time. I think the bagel story may be a myth. So I wouldn’t grow it for poppy seeds or pods. But it’s pretty!

How Many Plants

A 3 ft. x 3 ft. patch will get you stated. If you like them, you’ll have way more seeds for the next sowing. But a large patch would be way more fun, if you have the space.

Sources

Many seed companies offer either the pepperbox or the Hungarian Blue poppy seed, or both.  The best way to get them is to check with your local nursery first.

 (I’m a big fan of supporting local businesses because it keeps your local community vibrant and responsive to community needs.)

Renee’s Seeds: May be available locally. They have Pepperbox and Hungarian Blue.

One Stop Poppy Shoppe  

Special Info

A big question I know you have is…isn’t this the opium poppy? Yes, it is. It is legal to grow it in the US because we can eat it. And there are things you can do to glean off some somniferous effects. You can do things like make teas for somniferous effect. But it is an opioid. It is highly addictive, and can be dangerous. I don’t recommend using it for such purposes. For more info I found this site to be informative: Poppy Seed Tea: A Short Case Study and Review.   

There are many nice poppy seed recipes in cookbooks and online…lemon poppy seed bread anyone?

Sweet bread with a layer of poppy seed mix in a swirl in it
How about some lemon poppy seed bread?

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