What are poppy seeds?
Poppy seeds (Papaver smoniferum) are small, dark seeds obtained from the opium poppy plant. In India, they are popularly known as khus khus and have commonly been used as remedies in many different countries. As well as this, they have numerous health benefits that make them an ideal addition to many dishes.1
Health benefits of poppy seeds
Poppy seeds are known to improve bone health as they are a rich source of manganese, calcium and copper. The manganese in poppy seeds supports the production of collagen which protects the bones from severe damage. As well as this, manganese is also involved in the process of bone formation.
Poppy seeds are a good source of insoluble fibre which supports digestion by strengthening the digestive system and preventing constipation. Insoluble fibre is a type of fibre that supports the movement of food through your digestive system and increases stool bulk which helps fight constipation and irregular stools.
Improves heart health
The dietary fibre found in poppy seeds plays a role in reducing the ‘bad’ cholesterol in your body and maintaining the levels of good cholesterol. As well as this, poppy seed oil made from poppy seeds is rich in monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats which contribute to heart and skin health. Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of unsaturated fat which performs a variety of important functions in your body and can lower your risk for cardiovascular disease. They do this by reducing triglyceride levels, improving circulation, lowering blood pressure, preventing blood clots and maintaining a steady heart rhythm. Several studies have found that people who consume fatty fish a few times a week have almost half the risk of death from coronary heart disease and one-third the risk of death from a heart attack compared to those who consume no fish. To live a healthier lifestyle, you should replace saturated fats in your diet with unsaturated fats.2
The antioxidants in poppy seeds fight oxidative stress and reduce the risk of many diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Nutrients with antioxidant properties include vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenoids, selenium, zinc and phenolic compounds.
Research suggests that poppy seeds play an important role in boosting female fertility. One study found that tubal flushing using products from poppy seed oil was effective at enhancing female fertility.3
Promoting skin health
Research shows that the fats in poppyseed oil promote wound healing when applied directly to the skin. They do this by repairing the skin barrier and preventing scaly lesions. However, further research is needed.4
Poppy seeds derive from the poppy plant which contains opium alkaloids such as morphine, thebaine and codeine. These alkaloids are known for their pain-relieving and calming properties and are often found in pharmaceutical drugs. Unwashed poppy seeds may contain these opium compounds and are often used as a natural alternative to painkillers.5
One tablespoon of poppy seeds includes:
- Calories - 46 kcal
- Protein - 6g
- Carbohydrates - 5g
- Fibre - 7g
- Fat - 7g
Poppy seeds also contain a variety of nutrients such as manganese, calcium, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and zinc.
- Manganese - a mineral that helps the body form bones, connective tissues and blood clotting factors
- Calcium - a vital mineral in the body that makes up the structure of teeth and bone and supports bodily movement
- Copper - helps produce white and red blood cells and plays a role in brain development, infant growth, bone health and the immune system
- Magnesium - turns the food we eat into energy and plays a role in bone health
- Phosphorus - a mineral involved in bone and teeth health
- Iron - plays the vital role of making red blood cells
- Zinc - plays a role in making new cells and enzymes, processing fat, carbohydrate and protein in food and wound healing
Uses of poppy seeds
can be consumed whole or ground and can be used in a variety of ways. They add a special nutty flavour and are overall a great addition to many dishes. You can add poppy seeds to:
- Salad dressing
- Soups and stews
- Bagels or other bread
- Baked goods
Side effects and other concerns
Although poppy seeds have numerous health benefits, they also have some side effects. As mentioned before, unwashed poppy seeds have small traces of opium extracts such as heroin, codeine, and morphine. Most commercially produced poppy seeds are washed to remove the coating of opium extracts so they are generally safe to consume and you would need to consume a large amount of poppy seeds to suffer from any side effects.
Unwashed poppy seeds are often used as an alternative treatment for pain relief or insomnia however this may cause dependency, similar to other chemical addictions.
Eating small amounts of poppy seeds is generally considered safe but if these side effects concern you, sesame seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds or hemp seeds are all great alternatives with similar health benefits.
In summary, poppy seeds, also known as khus, are small, black seeds with numerous health benefits. They are rich in many nutrients, such as manganese, copper and omega-3 fatty acids, which play a role in bone, skin and heart health. As well as this, poppy seeds are a good source of dietary fibre which supports digestion and prevents constipation. Poppy seeds are also high in antioxidants which protect the body against many chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer's disease. They also play a role in enhancing female fertility. Aside from these amazing health benefits, unwashed poppy seeds may contain small traces of opium extracts, which may be potentially harmful and can even produce a positive drug test. Eating large amounts of unwashed poppy seeds is not recommended, as they may cause a chemical addiction.
- Melo D, Álvarez-Ortí M, Nunes MA, Espírito Santo L, Machado S, Pardo JE, et al. Nutritional and chemical characterization of poppy seeds, cold-pressed oil, and cake: poppy cake as a high-fibre and high-protein ingredient for novel food production. Foods [Internet]. 2022 Sep 29 [cited 2023 May 14];11(19):3027. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9562219/
- Chaddha A, Eagle KA. Omega-3 fatty acids and heart health. Circulation [Internet]. 2015 Dec [cited 2023 May 14];132(22). Available from: https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.114.015176
- Wang R, Van Welie N, Van Rijswijk J, Johnson NP, Norman RJ, Dreyer K, et al. Effectiveness on fertility outcome of tubal flushing with different contrast media: systematic review and network meta‐analysis. Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol [Internet]. 2019 Aug [cited 2023 May 14];54(2):172–81. Available from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/uog.20238
- Lin TK, Zhong L, Santiago JL. Anti-inflammatory and skin barrier repair effects of topical application of some plant oils. Int J Mol Sci [Internet]. 2017 Dec 27 [cited 2023 May 14];19(1):70. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5796020/
- Haber I, Pergolizzi J, LeQuang JA. Poppy seed tea: a short review and case study. Pain Ther [Internet]. 2019 Jun [cited 2023 May 14];8(1):151–5. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6513924/