Opium Poppy Agriculture and Consumption

Contextualizing its Functions as Food, Medicine, and Narcotic

  • Joloni Ginny Anne Makovnyka Student
Keywords: opium poppy; colonialism; narcotics; agriculture; ethnography


As a crop, the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, has been part of multiple human cultures since at least 5000 BCE. Its role as both food and medicine has made this plant an important traditional agricultural product. However, today research on such functions has been largely eclipsed by the narcotic use of opium and its derivatives and the  economies that stem from them. The historical uses of poppy and related cultural conceptualizations of its nutritive and medicinal aspects contrast against practices and commodification  introduced by European colonization. The commodification of the narcotic potential of the opium poppy has been used by multiple actors since the onset of globalized economic expansion as a means of attaining financial and political power. This paper draws on research compiled from academic, journalistic, and other sources to create a holistic framework for examining the complex health, social, and economic issues related to contemporary production and use of the opium poppy. This paper concludes that future research, specifically anthropological field research grounded in historical and sociopolitical contexts, can offer important insights into the lived experiences of individuals and cultures that produce, distrubute, and consume the poppy as food and medicine.  Such future research may offer critical insight into the relationship between the cultural constructs of food and medicine and the effects of narcotic substance consumption. Such research may also offer insight into the possible restructuring of cultural meanings and economies on a broader scale in order to mitigate the harmful effects of narcotic substances within foods.

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