In the days leading up to the Summer Solstice, le Coquelicot, or the red poppy (Papaver rhoeas), flourishes here in the fields of France.
Historically le coquelicot was noted as symbolic of the war dead, especially in Europe, but my grandparents also remember being handed little paper poppies in the States on Armistice Day.
I make this syrup every summer, which yields a gorgeous color.
One can find red poppy syrup to purchase rather easily in Europe, where it is largely used as a culinary treat or as an addition to desserts and drinks. Herbalists traditionally used poppy syrup for coughs, various respiratory ailments, pain, or sleeping problems.
Poppies do have a narcotic quality and you should follow proper dosage (typically a very small teaspoonful but this varies according to the age and constitution of the person). I once served this syrup after a luncheon celebrating my wedding and it created a collective sleepiness.*
Your syrup will vary in color according the type of poppy and other variables (for instance, some folks counsel removing any black portions of the petals to get a lighter-colored syrup).
The recipe and video version (easy on the eyes but featuring far less instruction) are below. Enjoy!
Sirop de Coquelicot | Red Poppy Syrup
- fresh red poppy petals (Papaver rhoeas)
- pure water (preferably boiled and distilled)
- sugar (pure white; if using unrefined, you will need to skim the surface of your simmering syrup. There are varying opinions on the use of sugar, and this recipe calls for it, but honey may be used as a substitute.)
- sterilized bottle and lid (if you’ve created a small quantity of syrup, consider a small vessel in order to lessen the affects of oxygen each time you open your bottle)
- additives to avoid fermentation (optional)**
1. Gather your poppies from a safe place (free from pollution: do not harvest near the edges of roads or in places where the poppies might be affected by chemical spraying, etc.). Make sure you are only using the correct flower and gather only the petals (no stems, leaves, seed pods, or green portions). 9 am on a dry morning is ideal. Poppies also tend to close up their petals later in the day.
2. Place the petals into a saucepan and pour enough pure water over them to just cover. Warm over medium heat (preferably covered), stirring from time to time (roughly 15 minutes).
3. Remove from the heat and strain your liquid, removing the petals, which should be blanched at this point (whitish).
4. Next, measure the amount of strained liquid.
5. Mixing in an amount of sugar equal to that of your liquid (for example, if you had two cups of liquid, add in two cups of sugar). But that’s a rough folk measurement. Traditionally and more specifically, one could also say 2 parts sugar (by weight) to 1 part water/herbal infusion.
6. Put the concoction back on the stovetop and simmer until it reaches the thickness you desire. Sometimes this can take up to 2 hours! (Note: do not let it get as thick as that shown in the video or you’ll end up with hard candy).
7. Finally, let cool and pour into sterilised vessels. Make sure your bottle is also completely dry to avoid fermentation.**
Your syrup, if fully saturated by the sugar, could have a shelf-life of around one year if you keep it in a dry, cool, dark place with a stable temperature. In the fridge it may last longer (around 2 years). If your syrup wasn’t saturated enough by the sugar content, it may start to go off in a matter of weeks or over a couple of months. Always keep an eye out for mold.
Wondering how to use your poppy syrup? Scroll down past the video for some ideas.
* Be absolutely certain that you are working with the correct type of poppy. As Mrs. Grieve noted, “that [poppy] with the oblong capsule should not be used, as it contains an alkaloid resembling Thebaine in action.”
** Additives that help avoid fermentation are sometimes added to simple syrups, such as brandy, glycerin, or honey.
Using Your Poppy Syrup
While medicinally red poppies have been frequently used as an antitussive–a cough syrup–or to aid sleep, they also have gourmet applications:
- Add to sparkling water for a “soda”.
- Experiment with cocktails.
- Add a spoonful to yogurt to sweeten and to give color.
- Drizzle over ice cream, cream, pancakes, and other desserts & baked goods.
- Add to steamed milk for a before-bed treat.
- Dress up a fruit salad.
This information is based upon both personal experience and research and the author is not responsible for errors. Always do your own research when working with herbs and remember to consult with your own health practitioner(s).