The poppy, especially the opium poppy, is a plant with an ancient cultivation history. In the Orient the seed was used as a spice and as ingredient to meals and drinks with aphrodisiac intent. In Europe of the early modern age the poppy juice was favoured as painkilling addition to witch's salves and other miracle tinctures.

Opium poppy belongs to the most important medicinal plants of pharmaceutical history. Its sleep–inducing powers were already known by the ancient Egyptians. The seed capsules excrete a milky juice when the unripe fruit is scarified which then thickens to opium, one of the most powerful intoxicants and aphrodisiacs. One component is the Papaverin that in recent years has been successfully used in treating impotence. Opium Contains 40 different alkaloids, the main one of which is morphine with its narcotic properties. Morphine is also used as a basis for pain killers such as codeine and the intoxicant heroin. The poppy seeds contain virtually no alkaloids but are rich in oils, carbohydrates, calcium and proteins.

We were able to shoot impressive poppy plantations in Austria at a forest area between Linz and Vienna. This is where the whole of Europe's food poppy is cultivated. Since the old days poppy is used here for dishes such as: poppy–seed strudel, poppy–seed roles and buns and for "germknödel" (a steamed type of pudding). The region is famous for its blooming poppy fields. Here a morphine poor poppy variety is cultivated that is only used for baking.

In Turkey however, where the fields can be situated high enough above sea level to harvest raw opium, one finds the largest opium poppy plantations in the world. It is legal here to cultivate poppies for medicinal use. Once the flower petals have dropped off, capsules as big as a child's fist start to fill with the milky juice that is drained through small tubes. Once the milk thickens to a brown rubbery mass one has raw opium. The film follows the processes from the harvest of the raw opium to the extraction of the various substances like morphine, codeine and heroin in an enormous factory near the Anatolic city of Afyon.

Back in Germany we see how these substances are used in modern pain treatments. In peaceful pictures the documentary starts off showing the beauty of the flowering poppy that turns with its bruised and gaudy petals an entire field in a burst of flames.

A film by WDR, 2004
45 min. documentary

Director: Birgit Schulz
Photographer: Oliver Vogt
Sound: Gedi Hampe
Editor: Bettina Strunk
Production Manager: Kerstin Schukowski
Producer: Sabine Müller
Commissioning Editor: Andrea Ernst