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Q. Last year, and again this year, my garden has hosted visiting poppies. They are tall annual plants with big, wavy, blue-green leaves and large flowers, both single and double, in a range of colours. Does this sort of poppy yield seeds that can be used in baking? If so, how do you know when to harvest the seeds?
A. The plants you describe are commonly called peony-flowered poppy or breadseed poppy. The botanical name is Papaver somniferum. The seeds are commonly used in baking.
The plants are prolifically self-sowing annuals, growing 60 to 90 cm tall, with leaves as you describe and big flowers with crinkly petals in a wide range of beautiful colours and bicolours. The blooms can be fully double, single, or semi-double.
The flowers eventually fade and the petals drop away to reveal a chubby, globe-shaped seed capsule topped by a cap-like structure.
The seed pods gradually fade to a light tan colour and, as the seeds ripen, little openings appear beneath the pods’ caps. At that point, I give the stems a gentle shake. When I can hear the seeds rattling loosely in the pods, and the pods are dry, I begin cutting the ripened seed pods from their stems and placing them in a paper bag, which I store in a cool, dark, dry closet until I have time to shake the seeds out of the pods for storage.
An alternative, if there is suitable storage room, is to leave the seeds in the pods and use them as needed like salt shakers to disperse the seeds over baking and in other cooking.
Emptied pods can be composted. Seeds remaining in the pods will provide more flowers in future years as the compost is used in plots.
Surplus seeds can be used as a green manure (cover crop) during the growing season to cover any patch of bare soil. The young plants will compost on site and enrich the soil when cut down.
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