Flower part of many traditions; seeds useful for cooking, medicinal purposes

November 5, 2010

By Charla Borchers Leon,
Victoria County Master Gardener
Gardeners' Dirt

The bloom of this oriental poppy is single with ruffle, carnation-like petals and is red rose in color. The seeds of this variety are used for medicinal and culinary products and are considered one of the more flavorful poppy seeds in cooking traditional Czech foods.
The bloom of this oriental poppy is single with ruffle, carnation-like petals and is red rose in color. The seeds of this variety are used for medicinal and culinary products and are considered one of the more flavorful poppy seeds in cooking traditional Czech foods.
'In Flanders Fields'
By Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, M.D. (1872-1918) Canadian Army

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
This poppy seed bread made by Sara Janak, daughter-in-law of Joe and Carol Janak, is the end result of the cycle of some of the poppy seeds from generations in the Janak family.
A poppy pod can have 1 to 2 tablespoons of seeds in it. Seeds can be frozen until ready for use and are ground at that time for best flavor. Shown here is an actual poppy seed grinder with poppy seeds ground prior to being added to a recipe.
How well I recall younger days being with my dear mother when we would acquire and attach shiny, bright red poppies to our lapels. While I probably did not know the exact meaning, I remember thinking it was something that was done without question because it honored brave Americans for their war service. Only as I have matured have I grown to associate the poppy with Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and better understand how symbolic the fields of red poppies are to honor living veterans for their service or for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of freedom at home and around the world.


With Veterans Day on the calendar Thursday, let us not forget what people encountered to reach Armistice Day or Remembrance Day in other parts of the world. The anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended World War I is celebrated on Nov. 11 by nations of allied forces all over the world as the day that major hostilities were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 with the German signing of the armistice.


The poppy's significance to Remembrance Day is a result of Canadian military physician John McCrae's poem, "In Flanders Fields," which was written after he witnessed the death, and presided over the funeral, of a friend. The poppies referred to in the poem grew in profusion in Flanders (Belgium) in the disturbed earth of the battlefields and cemeteries where war casualties were buried. They became a symbol of Remembrance Day in the Commonweath and Canada or Armistice Day, now Veterans Day in America.


Efforts were made by an American YMCA Overseas War Secretaries employee, Moina Michael, to have the poppy adopted as a national symbol of remembrance, and the National American Legion Conference adopted it later as a memorial flower. Anna E. Guerin, known as the French "poppy lady," was inspired to introduce the sale of widely used artificial poppies to benefit the wives and children of deceased veterans. Poppies given out today resemble those artificial ones of the early 1920s and are made by disabled and/or needy, aging veterans.

Both the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion Auxiliary participate in the exchange of poppies for a donation to benefit disabled and hospitalized veterans.

The poppy has become a nationally recognized symbol of sacrifice to "keep the faith" by honoring the men and women who served and died for their country in all wars. As a citizen of a grateful nation, find a way to say "thank you" to a veteran next Thursday - and consider wearing a red poppy if one is made available to you.


This time of year, by coincidence, is also the season to plant poppy seeds in your garden. Ask any traditional citizen of Czech descent, and he or she will likely tell you about the long-standing tradition of poppy seed used in the culinary world. In fact, many poppy seeds come from plants that have been planted by generations before and are used in recipes that are passed down through time in families.


Who does not enjoy the aroma of a freshly baked roll with a jelly-like filling, the taste of a scrumptious kolache or a piece of cake with the sweet, nutty flavor of poppy seed? Each of these, while consumed without much thought, actually are enhanced from plants whose seeds are sowed in late fall to early winter, bloom beautiful colors in the spring and whose pods are harvested for seed to be eaten or planted again the next fall. Poppy seeds, descending from plants from many years back, are stored by freezing and can be used in time in cherished recipes.


The silken flowers that characterize all the members of the poppy family (Papaveraceae) are found in large variety. Poppies are a diverse group of annuals, biennials and perennials. They are invaluable for bringing bright color to the garden in the spring and early summer. Ranging from the smaller single-blooming corn poppy in bright scarlet, orange, salmon, yellow and cream colors native to this part of Texas, to the very large, sometimes double bloom, carnation-looking rose-red oriental variety, from which medicinal and culinary products are derived, poppies can also be found in pink and purple shades - and even black.


According to Extension Agent Joe Janak, who has had a poppy garden in his own backyard for several years, poppies prefer full sun, but will grow in partial shade. The key to their success is planting now around Veterans Day, good drainage and thinning of the plants to one foot between them. Sprinkled and barely raked in, they usually grow 2- to 3-feet tall. And for those of us who love cut flowers in our homes, the poppy provides prolific color and style.


The poppy, symbolic for its attachment to Veterans Day, and also a provider of beautiful color in nature with wonderful flavor in the kitchen, has a real place in the garden and in our lives. It will be easy to remember a significant veteran, a favorite culinary taste or bright beautiful blooms. Add the traditions of the poppy to your life.
Green poppy pods remain on the stem after blooms of the poppy plant are spent. The plant will die; pods then dry, are harvested and crushed. Seeds from the pod are washed and stored. They are either re-planted in the fall or ground for use at the time of cooking.
1. Scatter seeds on top of soil around Veterans Day.
2. Rake lightly; do not completely cover.
3. Keep moist for 5-7 days; water every other day.
4. Seeds sprout in 7-10 days.
5. Thin plants to 1 foot apart; 1- to 2-inch tall plants transplant well.
6. Deadhead old blooms for repeat color.
7. Blooms last 7-10 days; result in green pod underneath.
8. Pick, dry and crack open or crush pod for seeds.
9. For edible seeds, wash like panning for gold to remove sand.
10. Can be dried, frozen and used as needed.
11. For cooking, seeds are slightly ground to release flavor.
12. Seeds can also be planted in late fall.
NOTE: Seeds passed down through family and friends and acquired from garden centers will likely propagate; those from grocery stores likely will not because of the treatment process to kill insect pests.

California poppy - Gold, orange, red or violet flowers
Corn poppy - Scarlet to orange, salmon, yellow and cream flowers
Oriental poppy - Pink to red-orange, brick-red or even black flowers
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or, or comment on this column at