The poppy plant (Papaver smoniferum) has been used as a traditional remedy for centuries.
Native to the Eastern Mediterranean, its flowers come in various colours — primarily white and yellow.
The seeds these flowers produce are small, round, and bluish, black, or light to dark gray depending on where they’re cultivated.
Poppy seeds are used in baked goods and traditional dishes worldwide. Both the seeds and their oil are said to offer various health benefits, from treating headaches and coughs to curing asthma and insomnia.
All the same, you may want to know how these claims stand up to scientific scrutiny.
Amazing Health Benefits of Poppy Seeds
Rich in nutrients and antioxidants
Like most seeds, poppy seeds are rich in fiber, plant fats, and various other nutrients. One tablespoon (9 grams) provides:
- Calories: 46
- Protein: 1.6 grams
- Fat: 3.7 grams
- Carbs: 2.5 grams
- Fiber: 1.7 grams
- Manganese: 26% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Copper: 16% of the DV
- Calcium: 10% of the DV
- Magnesium: 7% of the DV
- Phosphorus: 6% of the DV
- Zinc: 6% of the DV
- Thiamine: 6% of the DV
- Iron: 5% of the DV
Poppy seeds are particularly rich in manganese, a trace element important for bone health and blood clotting. This mineral also helps your body utilize amino acids, fats, and carbs.
They’re likewise high in copper, a mineral needed to make connective tissue and transport iron.
The seeds can be cold pressed to produce poppyseed oil, which is especially rich in omega-6 and omega-9 fats. It also contains small amounts of the essential omega-3 fat alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
Research typically links diets rich in these fats to improved overall health and a lower risk of heart disease.
That said, diets with a high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio may be linked to an increased risk of inflammation and disease. As such, you shouldn’t consume large amounts of poppyseed oil or other omega-6-rich oils on a regular basis.
Finally, poppy seeds and their oil are a good source of polyphenols — a type of antioxidant that may lower your risk of conditions like heart disease.
May contain pain-relieving compounds
The poppy plant contains morphine, codeine, thebaine, and other opium alkaloids known for their pain-relieving, calming, and sleep-inducing properties. These compounds are often found in pharmaceutical drugs intended for these uses.
These alkaloids are typically present in the poppy pod’s milky white liquid, also known as poppy latex.
Poppy seeds don’t naturally contain opium compounds but may become contaminated with them during harvesting or as a result of pest damage.
Thus, before reaching supermarket shelves, poppy seeds are usually cleaned to get rid of any opium alkaloids with which they may have come into contact.
However, it’s possible to find and purchase unwashed poppy seeds that contain higher levels of these opioids. Unwashed poppy seeds are often proposed as a natural alternative to certain pharmaceutical drugs.
Yet, unwashed poppy seeds pose several health risks, the most severe of which is accidental death. As such, they should only be consumed under medical supervision.
May boost heart and skin health
Poppyseed oil is particularly rich in mono- and polyunsaturated fats, which may be beneficial for your heart and skin.
Research suggests that diets rich in unsaturated fats may reduce your risk of heart attacks and stroke by up to 17%. Replacing saturated fats in your diet with unsaturated fats may be particularly advantageous.
Keep in mind that diets with a high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio may increase your risk of inflammation and disease. As such, it may be best to avoid consuming large amounts of omega-6 rich oils, including poppyseed oil, on a regular basis.
Additional research suggests that the fats in poppyseed oil may also support wound healing, as well as prevent scaly lesions when applied directly to the skin.
However, more research is needed.
Other purported benefits
Poppy seeds are often said to offer various other benefits, including promoting digestion, boosting skin and hair health, and treating headaches, coughs, and asthma.
Although direct studies are lacking, some research links individual poppy seed nutrients or compounds to some of these effects.
- May aid digestion. Poppy seeds are rich in fiber, which may improve gut health and reduce constipation.
- May safeguard against certain illnesses. The antioxidants in these seeds may protect your body from cellular damage and various illnesses.
- May enhance fertility. Some research indicates that women who’ve had products derived from poppyseed oil flushed through their fallopian tubes may experience improved fertility.
Although these results are promising, further research is needed.
Poppy seeds are generally considered safe when purchased from trusted retailers and eaten in small amounts, such as the quantities found in muffins or on bagels.
That said, there are several risks to consider.
Often claimed as a sleep aid
Poppy latex boasts opioid compounds known for their sleep-inducing properties.
As a result, some people claim that poppy tea or warm milk infused with poppy seeds provides a natural insomnia remedy.
Remember that poppy seeds don’t naturally contain these opium compounds, though they can become contaminated during harvesting or due to pest damage.
As most commercially available poppy seeds are cleaned before being sold, any products purchased at your local supermarket likely don’t have any insomnia-fighting effects.
While it’s possible to purchase unwashed poppy seeds that contain higher opioid levels, their use is considered risky. Teas and infusions made from them may contain lethal doses of morphine, and several accidental deaths have been linked to their use.
Unwashed poppy seeds may also cause a dependency that’s similar to other chemical addictions. Therefore, their use to treat insomnia is strongly discouraged.
Eating these seeds may result in a positive drug test. For instance, small amounts of codeine and morphine may remain detectable in urine for up to 48 hours after poppy seeds are consumed.
The exact amount needed to result in a positive drug test depends on the thresholds used by the testing lab, as well as the concentration of opium remaining after the seeds have been washed.
Generally speaking, the more poppy seeds you eat, the higher your likelihood of testing positive for opium compounds.
Side effects and health hazards
Unwashed poppy seeds, poppy seed teas, and poppy-containing products marketed as natural pain relievers or sleep aids may contain doses of opioids sufficient to cause addiction, overdose, and even death.
Therefore, their use is strongly discouraged unless you’re under medical supervision.
Likewise, poppyseed oil may harbor varying amounts of opioid compounds, depending on the seeds used to make it — though scientists have yet to examine this issue.
Poppyseed oil is generally considered safe when applied to the skin. Yet, if you experience redness, itchiness, or pain, it’s best to discontinue its use.
The Bottom line
Poppy seeds are rich in healthy plant compounds and nutrients like manganese.
These seeds and their oil may boost fertility and aid digestion, though further research is needed on many of their supposed benefits.
Unwashed poppy seeds can also contain become contaminated with varying amounts of opium compounds known for their pain-relieving, calming, and sleep-inducing properties.
Yet, you should never eat unwashed poppy seeds due to the health risks involved.
Poppy seeds found in supermarkets or on baked goods are widely considered safe and have few, if any, opium compounds.