Poppy Seed Tea
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Dominic
Posted on: September 30, 2006

Do you know how to make poppy seed tea... to relax and sleep? Ayurvedic medicine has a recipe for poppy seed chutney made with white poppy seeds and recommends eating this at supper to sleep well. I remember the movie, "Night of the Iguana," in which Deborah Kerr offers a cup of poppy seed tea to Richard Burton to sleep well.

Your question sparked, for me, a fascinating investigation in the properties of poppy seeds. The poppy seeds commonly used in the bakery industry -- on bagels, bread and pastries -- is in fact the seed from the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum). This I knew for many years, but it had been my belief that the seeds are free of any opiate drugs. After all, how could a spice consumed to the tune of 5000 tonnes per year by North Americans contain any psychoactive substances of significance?

Well, it turns out poppy seeds do contain significant levels of opiates. According to Dr. Duke’s phytochemical database (http://www.ars-grin.gov/cgi-bin/duke/farmacy2.pl) they possess up to 4100 parts per million (ppm) morphine. This pales in comparison to the morphine content of the seed head exudate (100,000 ppm) but it is not insignificant. It is not only possible to experience drug-like effects from seeds (http://www.erowid.org/experiences/subs/exp_Poppies__Opium.shtml), at least one seventeen year-old died from an by accidental overdose from poppy seed tea (http://poppyseedtea.com).

There is confusion as to whether the seeds themselves actually contain opiates or whether they are covered with traces of latex from the seed heads. Washed poppy seeds presumably possess less opiates, but not all seeds on the market are washed. A number of writers have commented on the wide variability of potency of poppy seeds on the market. According to McCormicks the highest quality poppy seeds come from Holland and I would expect seeds from there to be washed and relatively free of opiates. But Turkey and other countries are major exporters of seeds and it seems likely that seeds from those countries are the ones that would have more opiates in or on them.

Poppy seed tea is a traditional beverage for relaxation. But I did not find a recipe for the traditional tea. I know that the seeds are steeped in boiling water for about 20 minutes, often with lemon juice, and then strained and the liquid served with sugar or honey. But how much seed is steeped per cup I could not find. On the internet there are recipes for preparing the stronger drink used to produce drug-like "highs"; these typically call for 300-500 grams of seeds steeped in enough boiling water to cover the seeds, often with added lemon juice to make the extraction conditions more acidic. This would be for a single dose. My guess is that the traditional tea recipe calls for far less seed, perhaps an ounce (30 grams) or half an ounce per cup of boiling water.

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