By Tricia Sharpe
There are many types of poppies to enjoy: Iceland, California & Shirley varieties are all lovely. But if you want the culinary seeds rich in nutrients and antioxidants you need to look for Breadseed poppies. Papaver somniferum.
Besides providing delicious edible seeds, this variety is drought tolerant, deer resistant, loved by bees, and produces beautiful seed pods that can be dried for arrangements. The flowers range in colour from white, pink, red to purple that look beautiful planted en masse. Direct seeding is preferable as poppies do not like their roots disturbed.
The easiest way to grow Papaver somniferum in our climate is to surface sow seeds (they need light to germinate) in September-October, keeping the area moist until germination (7-15 days). They are hardy annuals, which means they are frost tolerant and will overwinter to bloom in May. If sown in early spring they will take about 90 days to maturity from the time of germination.
They require full sun and well-drained soil that is not too fertile. Excessive nitrogen in the soil results in poppies (and most flowers) producing abundant foliar growth at the expense of flower formation. Slugs love to eat poppy seeds and seedlings so better to plant extra then thin to 9-12 inches apart. Once in bloom, individual flowers only last a couple of days, but new flowers appear continuously from the same plant over several weeks. The seed pods will increase in size after the petals fall off.
If you are wanting to harvest the pods for dried flower arrangements or wreaths, the best time is when they are still a silvery-green colour, before being rained on. Water causes marks to form that create discolored brownish pods. To harvest for culinary use however, wait until late summer/early fall when the pods are brown and hard with the tiny windows open along the top of the pod. When you shake the pod, it should sound like a rattle, indicating the seeds have loosened and detached from the inner membranes along the seed wall. Ready to eat!
I like to cut the pods and place in a container that easily catches the seeds as they pour out. Allow to air dry for a couple days then store in a dry glass jar. Make sure to leave a few pods attached or scatter some of the ones you are cutting and they will happily re-seed themselves for you.