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….
John McCrae, In Flanders Fields *
Like a soul at the mercy of desire and death, its petals are carried away by the winds without warning. The Coquelicot—associated with love and with fallen soldiers—threads its way through the French fields in late spring and early summer.
Coquelicot | Papaver rhoeas
The botanical name papaver is the Latin for “poppy.” The Latin in turn may be derived from Sumerian or other ancient languages in an allusion to the latex within the plant.
Rhoeas is taken from the ancient Greek word for the corn poppy, ῥοιάς.
Common names include: Corn Rose, Corn Poppy, Headache, Flores Rhoeados, Field Poppy, Coquelicot, Remembrance Poppy, Flanders Poppy, Red Poppy, Headwark, Red Weed, and Headache.
“Coquelicot” is the French word for this type of poppy but it also refers to a particular shade of red. It’s like saying in English that a color is “poppy red.”
This common field poppy was frequently seen on the ground and in the trenches of World War I, where it garnered an association with slain soldiers. Also known as the Remembrance Poppy, it was worn to memorialize the war dead.
Before the advent of the opium poppy, the Coquelicot was used here in the UK for its calming properties and as a mild painkiller.
Among the more interesting traditional tidbits are the following: it is said that the fresh petals or an infusion made of them could reduce wrinkles (Barker). Coquelicot has also been used to treat headaches at the same time it has been believed to cause them.
Below is a simple summer syrup recipe that you can use with poppies or other plants. We had a lovely time making the syrup last month in France: my father-in-law kindly guided us to a field far away from the roads, where we gathered the silken petals in a relentless dry heat (quite a treat after these many months in Ireland).
Lastly I wish to share Julian Barker’s words; he surprises me sometimes with his sudden fierce sentences:
“The wonderful color [of the poppies] is a reminder of the vivid countryside that we have sacrificed to food surplus’ and of the tragic destruction of a generation of lives” (The Medicinal Flora of Britain and Northwestern Europe, 19).
Read more about the Coquelicot in the Materia Medica.
In Europe, poppy syrup was once added to soups and porridge. We use the petals to make the concoction, which produce a lovely red that will vary from variety to variety. (Some types contain alkaloids. Please see contraindications in the Materia Medica).
Because the lovely red color is difficult to preserve as a dye, the syrup was used to color old ink (Grieve).
You can use the syrup to make mixed drinks, drizzle on ice cream, or use your imagination to combine with other recipes.
I originally became obsessed with making poppy syrup due to a beautiful photograph in La cuisine nature aux plants médicinales. That recipe uses sugar and notes that the poppy is soothing as well as calming for cough and throat irritations. My recipe below uses honey as a healthier alternative.
One of my dear friends (also an herbal colleague) asked before tasting some of the syrup—after a long, rich French lunch— this isn’t going to put us to sleep, is it? While there are not significant amounts of opium in the common poppy, it can be mildly soporific and very mildly narcotic. Remember to read up on your herbs and do your own research, and, like my friend, keep asking questions!
What You Need
* Sterile glass jar with lid
* Poppy petals
* Sugar or Raw Honey (I recommend honey as it is a healthier choice. Do not exceed 110 degrees Fahrenheit when heating and do not give to infants under 12 months.)
* Optional: brandy
You will need 2 parts honey to 1 part water extract of the plant material.
What You’ll Do
1. Make a strong infusion (this is the above-mentioned “water extract”) by covering your petals with spring water and soaking overnight and then simmering for 15 minutes the next morning.
2. Strain out the plant material and pour your liquid into a double boiler or saucepan.
3. Add 2 times the volume of raw honey and, stirring constantly over a very gentle heat, mix until combined. Again, do not heat over 110 degrees Fahrenheit and do not simmer or boil, which will degrade the honey.
4. Remove from heat. Add your brandy at this point if desired and and pour into sterilized jar(s). Label and store in a cool, dry, and dark location. Your syrup may last for 1 year. Refrigerate once opened. If mold appears, discard.
* Ah, if only McCrae had used the name Coquelicot in his poem; it rhymes with his end rhymes…
I am a doctor of philosophy, not of medicine. While I am a holistic practitioner, this information is not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent conditions and diseases. It is a compilation of current and historical research combined with personal experience. Use herbs with caution, do your own research, and consult with your own health practitioner(s).