Poppy seeds are popular in the culinary world, whether used as a pastry ingredient, an oil source or for brewing tea.1 Their nutty and fruity taste can be irresistible to many people, which is one of the reasons why it’s such a well-loved ingredient.2
However, poppy tea, a drink brewed with poppy seeds, has been demonized because of the uncertainty surrounding its safety. This is due to its possible toxicity and opiate content, especially when the seeds are improperly harvested or prepared incorrectly. Some batches of poppy seeds may contain high amounts of opiate alkaloids, including morphine and codeine.3 To learn more about poppy seed tea, its benefits and the proper preparation, continue reading this article.
Many people may be familiar with poppy plants due to their vibrant and eye-catching flowers, which are usually in full bloom in late spring or early summer.4 But aside from the pop of color, the poppy plant is the source of numerous properties, although not all of them may be categorized as inherently good.
One of its most infamous products is opium, a narcotic substance taken from the sap inside unripe opium pods. This drug is extremely addictive and may lead to dangerous and, at times, fatal complications.5 This is one of the reasons why poppy seeds have been cited to have specific side effects when taken in excessive amounts.
However, this doesn’t mean that poppy seeds are necessarily bad. It all boils down to moderation and the proper handling and preparation of the seeds. Poppy seeds are loaded with calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, which means that they may offer you good health benefits once you add them to your diet.6
Unfortunately, the abuse of or having insufficient knowledge about this tea has led to a few fatal incidences. The most recent case happened in 2016, when a college student from James Madison University passed away after drinking a potent batch of poppy tea.7
If you’re planning on trying this tea, it’s important that you’re aware of your own threshold and sensitivities. It’s also imperative that you test each batch of poppy seed tea to make sure that you’re not unknowingly ingesting high amounts of the opiate alkaloids.
Even though there have been numerous controversies on the safety of poppy seeds, the nutrients and active components that they contain may help the body function more efficiently. Poppy seeds contain vitamins and minerals that are crucial in optimizing and maintaining the skeletal, immune and muscular systems. Some of these include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, folate and iron.8 When brewed as tea, these minerals may transfer to the liquid, giving your health a boost.
Through the years, poppy seed tea has been known to be an antidiarrheal, anxiolytic and analgesic.9 However, the exact mechanism on how it works is not clear.10
It is also worthwhile to know that most of the benefits of poppy seed tea are rooted in certain active alkaloids that, when taken in large amounts, may lead to addiction and other dangerous complications. These alkaloids are found in unpredictable doses in poppy seeds, which might make it difficult to safely ingest this tea. Namely, these active compounds are codeine, morphine, thebaine and papaverine.11
There is no clear indication whether poppy seed tea contains caffeine. However, poppy seeds are widely used for their mild sedative function, which is a benefit that could be passed on to the tea.12 But take note that this doesn’t mean that poppy seed tea does not cause any of the possible side effects that caffeine has. In fact, excessive intake of poppy seed tea was found to cause anxiety, abdominal cramps and diarrhea.13
If you want to gain the numerous health benefits of poppy seeds, you can follow this recipe from Chew the World:14
Healthy Poppy Seed Tea Recipe
- 200 grams (7.04 ounces) poppy seeds
- 400 milliliters (13.5 ounces) water
- Lemon juice, optional
- In a small saucepan, heat water for a couple of minutes until warm.
- Carefully pour the poppy seeds in a sealable glass bottle. Pour the water into the bottle, submerging the poppy seeds completely.
- Secure the bottle’s lid. Shake vigorously for a few minutes.
- Let it steep for about 15 minutes, and shake again. Let the tea sit for about an hour.
- Drain the liquid using a clean tea towel to remove all the debris from the seeds.
- If you want to mask the bitter flavor of poppy seed tea, add lemon juice. Serve.
Take note that poppy seed tea should not be ingested in excessive quantities. If you’re just starting out, limit your poppy seeds to 100 grams. Make sure that you test each batch of poppy seeds, as the exact levels of alkaloids present in each batch cannot be ensured.
The fastest way to determine strength is by checking the tea that the seeds yield, depending on its color and taste. A darker and bitterer batch of poppy seed tea is typically stronger. If your current batch is darker than normal, it’s best that you avoid drinking it to eliminate the risk of an accidental overdose.15
To make sure that you’re not accidentally exposing yourself to opiates, rinse the seeds before using them in cooking or brewing. In a 2006 study, it was found that rinsing poppy seeds in hot water (60 degrees Celsius or 140 degrees Fahrenheit) might reduce their morphine content up to about 70 percent.16
Poppy seeds are available at grocery shops and online stores. Just make sure that you’re getting your supply from trustworthy sources. This will ensure that the seeds you’re using to brew your tea are of the highest quality. To correctly buy and store your poppy seeds, here is a guide from Hunker:17
- Check the expiration date on the package. It would also be worthwhile to ask your grocer how long the seeds have been on the shelves. This will help you determine whether the seeds are fresh.
- After purchase, transfer the poppy seeds into an airtight glass container.
- Store the container in the refrigerator. The seeds may last for up to six months, or a year if kept in the freezer.
Although poppy seed tea could offer nutrients and compounds that may help boost your health, improper preparation of this tea may also lead to serious health repercussions. If poppy seeds aren’t cleaned properly before brewing, you might be unknowingly adding opiates to your cup of tea. Some of the most common side effects and complications drinkers may suffer from include:18
- Loss of concentration
- Slowed breathing and lethargy
A 2010 study documented the possible interaction of this tea with certain medications, especially Phenazepam, a drug prescribed for anxiety. In one instance, a patient drank poppy seed tea before taking Phenazepam, which eventually led to his death.19
Because of the absence of studies done on the safe consumption of poppy seed tea during pregnancy, it would be best that you veer away from it if you’re currently pregnant or breastfeeding to avoid any possible risks on your and your child’s well-being.
Poppy seed tea contains various nutrients and minerals, making it an effective ingredient for combating various ailments. However, it may come with possible side effects and complications. Moderation and caution are extremely important when drinking poppy seed tea so you can reap the benefits without side effects. Make sure that you get only the highest quality product when it comes to poppy seeds, and that you regulate your intake.
Q: How long does poppy seed tea stay in your system?
A: You may start feeling the effects of poppy seed tea 15 minutes to 30 minutes upon ingestion, the effects of which may last for a few hours to a day, depending on the amount and the strength of the tea.20
Q: What color is poppy seed tea?
A: Poppy seed tea typically has an amber to a brownish hue, depending on the strength of the tea. The darker the tea, the stronger and more concentrated it is.21
Q: How much poppy seed tea can I drink?
A: The amount of poppy seed tea that is safe for consumption is not clear, as it depends on the strength of the tea brewed and the tolerance of the person. It would be best to ask your physician for the ideal dosage.
In addition, poppy seeds usually come with varying amounts of the active alkaloids, which may make it hard for you to gauge its strength. One of the easiest ways to determine your tea’s strength is to observe its color and bitterness level. If your tea is darker or more bitter than your usual brew, consider throwing it out to eliminate the risk of an accidental overdose.22