Let’s welcome August and celebrate one of the month’s birth flowers: The Poppy.
Poppies are thought to have originated in the Western Mediterranean and have been cultivated by Western and Central Europeans from about 6,000 BC. Early on, people recognized the analgesic properties of the plant. Ancient Egyptian doctors had their patients chew a mouthful of poppy seeds to relieve pain. Even today, poppies are cultivated as a source of opium, morphine and codeine—powerful narcotics. Alas, the illicit drug trade also profits from the poppy—through the sale of heroin, another derivation of the poppy. And in an interesting twist on the phrase “Physician, heal thyself,” the poppy exudes a latex-like substance to protect parts of the plant which sustain injury.
In literature and the arts, poppies are associated with sleep, rest and, sometimes, death. Since World War I, poppies have come to commemorate the soldiers who have died in the service or their countries—especially those lives snuffed-out in Flanders Fields (Belgium), the former battlefield where so many red poppies blossom. And who can forget Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, running across a field of poppies, only to fall asleep with Toto and the Lion.
The English Arts & Crafts mirror, shown (in part) above, is decorated with a painted border of poppy pods. Poppies (the flower, stems and pods) were quite popular during the Arts & Crafts period and were used frequently as an artistic botanical motif.