Indian Medicinal Plants

by Kanhoba Ranchoddas Kirtikar | 1918

A comprehensive work on Indian Botany including plant synonyms in various languages, habitat description and uses in traditional medicine, such as Ayurveda....

60. Papaver somniferum, Linn.

The medicinal plant Papaver somniferum is a member of the Papaveraceae (poppy) family. This page includes its habitat, botanical descption, medicinal uses (eg., Ayurveda), chemical constituents and history of use in modern and ancient India.

Index in Flora of British India (Hooker): l 117, Roxb FI. Ind. II. 571,

Sanskrit:—Apoka (Apiurn), Ahiphena (foam of a serpent); Saphenaka (foamy).

Vernacular:—Nabatul-khash-khash (Arab) ; Koknar (Pers.); Post, khaskhas-ka per (Hind.); Khash-khash-ka-jhar (Dec.); Gasha gasha-chedi, postaka chedi (Tam.); Gasagasala-chettu, postakaya-chettu (Tel.); Kasha-kashach-cheti (Mal.); Khasa-khasi-gida (Kan.); Poshta, poshtar-gachh, afima (Beng.); Khasa-khasa-chen jhada (Mar.) ; Khas khasnu-jhada (Guz.); Bhin-bin, bh-ain-bin (Burin) : Khasakhasi-chenjhada (Bom.).

Botanical description:—An annual berb, with a milky juice; rarely branched, 2-4 ft., glaucous, simple, usually quite glabrous.

Leaves: oblong, amplexicaul, lobed, toothed and serrate, sometimes ovate-oblong or linear-oblong

Flowers: large white, on long peduncles, purple or scarlet.

Sepals: glabrous.

Filaments: slightly dilated.

Ovary: one-celled.

Stigma: discoid, with radiating lobes opposite the placentas which project into the cell.

Capsule: 1 in. diam., stalked, globose, glabrous, stigmatic rays 5-12, persistent, have each a small valve under the lobes, through which the innumerable, fine, white, delicious, oily seeds escape. There are black seeds also, say Hooker f. and Thom., but I have never seen them on this side of India.

Cultivated throughout India. The largest quantity comes to Bombay from Malwa.

Medicinal uses:—The medicinal properties and therapeutic uses of opium and its preparations are too well-known to be described here.


1. The seeds are alkaloid-free.

2. The alkaloids may be detected in minute quantity in seedlings, after about 14 days’ growth.

3. From this point until the seeds begin to store albumin, an increase in alkaloidal content takes places.

4. This increase is not constant, but varies with the intensity of illumination, under which the plant develops, long periods of overcast sky sufficing to reduce the alkaloid content to a minimum.

5. As the seeds ripen, the alkaloid content decreases.

6. Daring the ripening of the seeds, the alkaloids are gradually consumed by the plant in effecting albumin synthesis and cannot, therefore, be regarded as products of excretion.

7. It is probable that the decrease in alkaloid content, during cloudy weather noted under (4), is due to similar causes, namely, alkaloid consumption by the plant for albumin synthesis during failing light.

(Chemical Abstracts, Jan. 10, 1915, p. 94.)

Formation and distribution of certain alkaloids in it.

The alkaloids appear in the following order, narcotine, codeine, morphine, papaverine, thebaine, the first four being found when the plant is only 5-7 cm. high. The flowering plant, up till the time of ripening, contains narco-tine, papaverine, codeine, and morphine in all its organs, with the exception of the hairs. The latex varies in composition in different parts of the plant. Narcotine, codeine and morphine are found in all the organs of the ripe plant. Narcotine is produced—from the albumin of the seeds, and is found in seeds which have germinated in nitrogen-free soil. This alkaloid is present in moderate amount in very young plants; the quantity is much greater in the flower-heads than in the unripe seed-capsules. J. Ch. I, 31. 12, 1910, p. 1471.

It is known that opium is more active therapeutically than its morphine content would indicate. Experiments are now described, indicating that this is due to the narcotine contained in the opium. The effect is not of an additive character, but apparently the narcotine strengthens the narcotic and tonic action of the morphine and lessens the injurious action of the latter on the respiratory centre. The most effective mixture appears to be one of equimolecular quantities of the two alkaloids. J. Cb. I. 31. 7. 1912, p. 700.

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