Tuesday, 26 January 2021

STINGING NETTLE (Urtica dioica)


STINGING NETTLE (Urtica dioicaFamily: Urticaceae

The stinging nettle is without doubt the prince of all the many edible wild leafy greens that are available throughout the British Isles. It is a perennial plant that grows in damp woodland and hedgerows (for distribution maps see Online Atlas of the British and Irish Flora; see also: Taylor 2009). The habitat in which nettles are most consistently abundant is riverine willow-alder woodland (e.g., willow-alder carr[i]) where it is co-dominant throughout glades and in partial shade with Meadow Sweet (Filipendula ulmaria) and two species of Hemp Nettle (Galeopsis spp.).


Nettles grow on rich, fertile soils with a high nitrogen content (e.g., on land that is enriched by the addition of midden deposits or animal manure; Taylor 2009: 1439). They also thrive where there are accumulations of potash (potassium carbonate: K2CO3) and phosphates (PO43-) that are derived from faeces and bones, such as in areas once occupied by humans or where livestock was stalled (Taylor 2009: 1440; see also CABI Invasive Species Compendium). The presence of nettles in archaeobotanical samples recovered from prehistoric and historic sites is therefore often used as evidence of habitation and as an indication of where human and animal waste had been disposed of around dwelling places (Behre and Jacomet 1991: 103; Stace 1995: 144).


When and where to gather nettles

Contrary to what is often suggested in the literature nettles can be used year round providing parts of the plants that are well into flowering or that have started to seed are avoided. But where to collect the nettles should be given careful consideration; for example, even in mid-winter it’s usually possible to find the odd sheltered nook under a hedgerow where the plants are better protected from frost and at least a few handfuls of small shoots can be gathered. Apart from when gathering these mid-winter shoots, always try to harvest nettle leaves from plants growing in partial shade and where the soil is fairly moist. In such habitats they flower much later, the leaves are larger, more tender and succulent, paler green and milder flavoured. These larger leaves are also more efficient to gather. When nettles grow in full sunshine, especially on dry ground, they flower and seed much earlier and produce much coarser, smaller leaves with reddish-purple veins that are fibrous to eat and can taste bitter.


Nettle management

However, even the coarsest, straggly remnants of plants that have gone to seed can still be used. All that’s required is to cut back the old shoots close to the ground with a sickle or swap[ii] and allow new young ones to grow from the base. In open habitats, these new shoots come back fresh, tender and green. Cutting back stands of nettles thus prolongs the period during which they’re edible over much of the year until they’re affected by hard frosts. Although by late October these fresh shoots are rather chewy when eaten as spinach.


Harvesting nettles

Even with the most succulent of stands of nettles it’s always advisable to target the youngest leaves. Harvesting is best done by first pinching out the top truss of four to six very small leaves at the very tip of the shoot and then, working back down the plant, by picking off the individual leaf blades leaving behind the leaf stalks. These leaf-stalks tend to be tough and chewy and more or less inedible (for descriptions of the use of nettle fibres see later section on Other Uses; see also: Bergfjord et al. 2012; Harwood and Edom 2013; Lukešová et al. 2017; Suomela et al. 2018). The leaves grow in pairs and, depending on how the nettles are going to be used and what quantities are needed, it’s best to start by taking just two or three pairs, but if the plants are really tender and light green with very succulent leaves, it’s possible to work down from the shoot tip collecting three, four, or even five pairs of leaf blades.


Nettle stings

Children—with their very tender skin—are particularly prone to getting hurt by nettle stings[iii]. When brushed against, the microscopic glassy tips of the numerous stinging hairs of the nettle plant break off and penetrate the skin and in so doing release a range of chemicals, including formic acid, histamine, acetylcholine, and serotonin[iv], thus causing skin irritation and a burning sensation[v]. Toddlers are especially vulnerable because the stinging leaves are at face height. All children know to rub the inflamed sores caused by the nettle stings with tender young dock leaves (Rumex spp.). However, if young plantain leaves (Plantago spp.) are applied in the same way they are generally more effective (for information on how nettle stings are treated around the world see Plant Lore).


Nettle leaves as food

Nettle leaves are an important source of protein (see PlantsFor A Future [PFAF] database). Stinging nettle shoots comprise ~90% moisture, up to 3.7% proteins, 0.6% fat, 2.1% ash, 6.4% dietary fibre and 7.1% total carbohydrate, and they have a calorific value of 45.7 kcal/100g (Adhikari et al. 2016; Kregiel et al. 2018; Rutto et al. 2013; Taylor 2009: 1442). Nettles are valuable nutritional components to any diet because they are also rich sources of vitamins A and C, calcium, iron and sodium (Rutto et al. 2013: figure 2). In addition, they contain glucocinins, which cause blood sugar levels to drop, and so if after eating nettles you briefly feel less energetic that’s the reason why (Seiman et al. 2018).

Singed nettle leaves make a tasty, surprisingly filling and easy-to-prepare snack. After gathering nettle shoots with a good length of stalk, grasp the stem bases and pass the leaves through the flames of the fire (or hold them close to hot embers) until the leaves are wilted. This shrivels microscopic hairs that cover all parts of the plant thereby neutralising the sting. Always eat the shoots freshly singed otherwise if they dry out and become ‘nettle crisps’ they are very bristly and make extremely coarse eating.

There are many other ways of cooking nettles and with the arrival of spring nettle soup is particularly welcome. A selection of wild ingredients (e.g., wild garlic (Allium ursinum), bramble tips (Rubus fruticosus agg.) and young hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) leaves) can be added to enhance the flavour of the soup, as well as some kitchen staples, such as potatoes, onions and celery. Begin by frying the onions in oil until soft and then add water or stock and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the potatoes, celery and other supplementary ingredients and cook until soft. Finally mix in the nettle leaves and any additional wild leafy greens. Once the leaves are wilted blend the mixture into a purée, add seasoning and then enjoy this tasty soup.

Mrs Grieve (1931/1992: 577) gives recipes for nettle pudding (the ingredients of which include: one gallon of young nettle tops, two good sized leeks or onions, two heads of broccoli or small cabbage, or Brussels sprouts, and ¼ lb of rice) and nettle beer (made from young nettle tops, three-four handfuls of dandelions (Taraxacum sp.) and clivers/cleavers (Galium sp.) and 2 oz of bruised ginger), which was apparently good for easing gouty and rheumatic pains. Nettle leaves are tasty if boiled like spinach, are also excellent when added to omelettes, and a thick nettle purée is a perfect addition to toasted cheese. In addition, they can be used as a form of vegetable ‘rennet’ to coagulate milk and make milk curds or cheese (Fiol et al. 2016). Coagulation of casein (the milk protein) takes place when the pH of the milk is lowered (e.g., the milk is acidified) and in normal cheese-making rennet (enzymes derived from the stomachs of ruminant mammals) is used for this purpose but the naturally occurring acids in the nettles are also found to fulfil this same role[vi] (for examples of other ways to prepare and eat nettles see: Robin Harford’s Foraging Guide to Wild Edible Plants of Britain


Therapeutic uses of Nettles

The therapeutic benefits of nettles have long been recognised and they have been, and still are, used to treat a diverse range of ailments (Kregiel et al. 2018; Pant and Sundriyal 2016; see also: American Botanical Council herbal).  ‘Urtication’ – or deliberately stinging parts of the body to relieve (or counteract) debilitating symptoms, is one of the oldest known remedies used to alleviate musculoskeletal pain (e.g., affecting muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments; Alford 2008; Randall et al. 2000). Alford (2008: 964) notes that there is evidence for their use in this way by Roman soldiers in Britain who were apparently well aware of the restorative effect brought about by the warming sensation of the nettle sting. In her Lancet article ‘Nettles take the sting out of arthritis pain’ Marilynn Larkin (2000) endorses the effectiveness of intentionally using Urtica dioica leaves to sting patients with osteoarthritis pain in their hands. Similarly, the extracts of roots, stems and leaves[vii] are proven to reduce inflammation in rheumatoid- and osteo-arthritis, although as Johnson et al. (2013) stress, more exploratory clinical trials are required to fully understand the processes by which the active components in the nettles bring about joint pain relief. It has also been shown that extracts of nettle plants used in topical applications have antioxidant properties that are known to reduce the effects of ageing (Bourgeois et al. 2016; for other nettle remedies see Grieve 1931/1992: 577-578).


Ethnographic accounts of the medicinal uses of Nettles

Traditional uses of nettles as reported in the ethnographic literature are many and varied. In the Riverside region of Navarra, in northern Iberia, Urtica dioica is used to treat several cardiovascular-related problems; for example, an infusion (taken orally) of the leaves is used to improve blood circulation, lower blood pressure and, more generally, to cleanse or purify the blood (Calvo et al. 2011). Based on the same survey results of c.150 elderly residents in the region, it was noted that a decoction of nettles is given to reduce blood sugar levels. In the villages of Kırklareli Province in Turkish Thrace (the European part of Turkey) and Mihalgazi district (in Eskişehir, northwest Turkey) the leaves—taken orally in decoctions or infusions—are also remedies for hypertension (Kültür 2007; Uzun and Kaya 2016). In both these regions a multitude of additional uses for parts of the nettle plants (made into decoctions, infusions and/or poultices) are cited; included in the long lists are those for curing stomach ache, constipation, haemorrhoids, high cholesterol, diabetes, nephritis, prostatitis and baldness (Kültür 2007: table 1; Uzun and Kaya 2016: table 1). Respiratory problems (e.g., bronchitis) are commonly treated by drinking a decoction of the leaves in the Elazığ Province of eastern Turkey (Hayta et al. 2014). Extracts of nettle leaves, seeds and roots are also frequently used in Turkey as antimicrobial medications to treat infection caused by Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria (Kregiel et al. 2018: table 4). The diversity of nettle use is further exemplified in the Ancona district of the Marche region of Central Italy where boiled leaves prepared as a poultice are shown to be effective for healing wounds and crushed leaves placed in the nose can staunch bleeding (Lucchetti et al. 2019; for more descriptions of traditional uses of nettles see: Lumpert and Kreft 2017 (Slovenia); Sõukand et al. 2017 (Belarus); Tagarelli 2010 (S Italy)).


Ethnobotanical accounts of preparing and consuming Nettles

Kregiel et al. (2018) summarise a wide range of edible uses for Urtica species and, in addition to those already mentioned in the earlier section, they state that a dish made with boiled nettles and walnuts is frequently prepared in Georgia (known as pkhali, ფხალი) and that a soup made of fermented wheat bran, vegetables and young nettle leaves is eaten in Romania (nettle sour soup, Ciorbă de urzici; see also: Costa et al. 2013). In their review of edible wild plants used in Poland at the end of the 18th century Łuczaj and Szymański (2007) note that stinging nettles are included in the list of species used as famine foods at times when other food resources were in short supply. Nettle tops (harvested in spring) were often boiled and/or fried and eaten with potatoes, kasza (cracked buckwheat or cracked cereals), eggs or fat. The leaves are used to flavour risottos and as a filling for ravioli in Central Italy (Lucchetti et al. 2019). And in the Liubań district of Belarus they are added to bread to give flavour and provide mineral and nutrient supplements (Sõukand et al. 2017; for more traditional recipes that include nettles see: Guarrera and Savo 2016 (Italy); Lumpert and Kreft 2017 (Slovenia)).


Other uses

There is evidence for the use of Urtica dioica fibres as far back as the Bronze Age (Harwood and Edom 2012; see also following section on Prehistoric and Historic Uses). Nettles have continued to be exploited to make cloth and cord up to the present day and there has been a recent revival of interest in their use in the fashion industry as a sustainable alternative to other more environmentally detrimental products (e.g., man-made fibres such as nylon, acrylic and polyester; Fashion Industry News). Collection of nettles for fibre on an industrial scale in Germany during WWI when other textiles were scarce is a frequently cited example of their use (Harwood and Edom 2012: 109-110; see also Grieve 1931/1992: 575-576), and during which time German soldiers apparently had uniforms and other paraphernalia made of nettle fibres (Western Front Witness). Harwood and Edom (2012) give details of the amounts that were necessary to harvest:

As a result, 10,000 tonnes of wild nettles were collected, mainly by children in collaboration with the military authorities. This harvest reportedly yielded c. 1,500 tons of fibre. The whole operation was controlled by Nesselanbau Gesellschaft (Nettle Cultivation Company), an organisation established in Berlin. ….. A yarn known as Nesselgarn was spun from which the cloth Nesseltuch was woven. After bleaching to a pure white, this cloth apparently resembled linen.

and they further elaborate other ways in which the nettles were used:

In addition to its use for textiles the nettle plant proved to have a multitude of uses — 3,000 tons of food products were extracted from the leaves and 3,000 tons of material were utilised by the paper and chemical industries.

As part of the war effort in the UK during WWII to make up for the extreme shortages in   supplies of drugs people were encouraged to collect wild plants (under the guidance of the Vegetable Drugs Committee founded in 1941[viii]) that had known economic as well as therapeutic importance and these included nettles, which were used for the production of dye from chlorophyll (Harwood and Edom 2013: 111-112). The colour of the dye was suitable for camouflage purposes on military uniforms and as Harwood and Edom (2012) note:

“…anecdotes suggest the permanent green dye was used to colour camouflage nets that were used ahead of the D-Day landings…”

In the Ancona district of the Marche region of Central Italy the dye derived from nettle leaves is used to colour fishnets green (Lucchetti et al. 2019). Other uses of the leaves in this region are as a repellant (in the form of a decoction) against parasites in orchards, as a feed for hens, turkeys and geese to increase egg laying, and as a digestive aid for cattle (Lucchetti et al. 2019: table 1). The beneficial value of nettle leaves for livestock is also recognised in the Liubań district of Belarus, where they are used as a fodder for cattle and are given as a decoction to piglets to make them stronger (Sõukand et al. 2017: table 1).


Prehistoric and historic uses

We have documentary evidence for the use of nettles in the Roman period thanks to Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD)[ix] in his magnum opus Natural History, in which he wrote extensively about the curative properties of the plants:

What can be more hateful than the nettle? Yet this plant, to say nothing of the oil which I have said is made from it in Egypt, simply abounds in remedies. Nicander assures us that its seed counteracts hemlock, and also the poison of fungi and of mercury. Apollodorus says that with the broth of boiled tortoise it is good for salamander bites, and as an antidote for henbane, snake bites and scorpion stings.” (excerpt from book 22, translated by Rackham et al. 1938)

Nettles are also listed amongst the plants with curative properties in the Nine Herbs Charm in the Anglo Saxon Lacnunga—a 10th/11th century AD text that documents a miscellany of cures and charms (Bolotina 2015). In the charm (or prayer) the nettle is described as having a range of special qualities, as shown in this excerpt from the Lacnunga LXXIX-LXXXII (cited in Wyrtig), which gives the original Old English together with its translation:

stiðe heo hatte                                                 nettle she is called

wiðstunað heo attre                                        stands she against poison

wreceð heo wraðan                                         she drives out wretchedness

weorpeð ut attor.                                            throws out poison.

 + þis is seo wyrt                                             + this is the plant that

seo wiþ wyrm gefeaht                                     against the worm battled

þeos mæg wið attre                                         this mighty against poison

heo mæg wið onflyge                                      she mighty against infection

heo mæg wið  þam laþan                                she mighty against evil that

ðe geond lond fereþ .                                      goes through the land.

The soft, fleshy vegetative parts of plants rarely survive in archaeological deposits (e.g., either in waterlogged or charred form) and so the likelihood of finding nettle leaves at sites of any period is unlikely (Colledge and Conolly 2014). The presence of Urtica dioica seeds (which are commonly preserved) is not necessarily an indication that the leaves were consumed, given that they are best eaten when the plant is young—prior to seeds being produced—rather than when it’s mature and seeds are present. Their occurrence at settlements is, however, suggestive that nettles were growing in the vicinity, which as stated above, is unsurprising as they favour nitrogen-rich soils, such as middens, animal pens, etc. typically found close to habitation sites.

The most tangible evidence for the past use of nettles is the fibres that are preserved on archaeological sites. An amazing array of organic materials was found in an Early Bronze Age cremation cist (dated between 1900 and 1600 cal BC) at Whitehorse Hill on Dartmoor where artefacts preserved in the burial of a young adult included what was described as a: “band of woven textile with decorative leather borders” (Harris and Jones 2017: 22). Aerobic decay of these materials had been prevented due to the fact that the cist was located within a peat-rich mound. High magnification using scanning electron microscopy confirmed that fibres of the textile of the band were of nettle (Urtica dioica; Harris and Jones 2017: figure 3). In a similar context, a fragment of textile (dated to 940-750 BC) identified as being made from woven nettle fibres was found wrapped round cremated remains in a Late Bronze Age burial urn placed within the Lusehøj burial mound at Voldtofte in Denmark (Bergfjord et al. 2012; see also ScienceNorway). 



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[i] See entry for willow-alder carr in: An Introduction to British Woodlands and their Management: http://www.countrysideinfo.co.uk/woodland_manage/broadlf3.htm [accessed 02.07.19]

[ii] For description of a ‘swap’ see: https://pecmastergardeners.files.wordpress.com/2017/05/swap-hook.pdf [accessed: 24.06.19]

[iii] For a personal account of childhood memories of being stung by nettles see: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/30/country-diary-armies-of-nettles-are-ready-to-strike [accessed: 30.09.19]

[iv] For details of the chemistry of nettle stings see: https://www.compoundchem.com/2015/06/04/nettles/ [accessed: 25.06.19]

[v] The name Urtica is from the Latin ‘urere’ meaning to burn or scorch: http://latindictionary.wikidot.com/verb:urere [accessed: 08.07.19]. And appropriately, the German name for stinging nettle is Brennessel, which translates as: the ‘burn-nettle’.

[vi] Cornish Yarg is a cheese that is wrapped in nettles to make an edible rind. The increase in acidity in the outer surface of the cheese caused by the nettle leaves stimulates the break down of the curds and formation of a hardened crust: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornish_Yarg. [accessed: 14.10.19]

[vii] In a pilot study the authors note that the nettle extract was applied topically. Other authors demonstrate the efficacy of taking an oral infusion of nettles (e.g., the leaves) to treat arthritic pain (Ghasemian et al. 2016).

[viii]The Vegetable Drugs Committee, established in 1941, was advised by the Medical Research Council’s Therapeutic Requirements Committee. More than 70 County Medicinal Herb Committees, which drew primarily on the Women’s Institute and the Scottish Women’s Rural Institutes, were set up under its leadership. This framework not only meant that small collections of particular plant materials could be amassed in central locations to allow wholesale levels of production, but also that the women (and men) involved in collection could receive lectures and training from the pharmaceutical industry and schools of pharmacy to improve their knowledge of what they were collecting and why.” Excerpt from The Pharmaceutical Journal 2017 (Medicinal Plants: Britain’s home-grown wartime allies): https://www.pharmaceutical-journal.com/opinion/blogs/medicinal-plants-britains-home-grown-wartime-allies/20202796.blog?firstPass=false [accessed: 12.11.19]

[ix] For more information on Pliny the Elder: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Pliny-the-Elder

Monday, 17 August 2020

 OPIUM POPPY (Papaver somniferum). Family: Papaveraceae

The opium poppy occurs as a garden escapee and is a relict of earlier cultivation; it has been recorded throughout the British Isles (for distribution map for see: National Biodiversity Database). You can find it growing profusely as a garden weed and on disturbed soils on wasteland and waysides and in the upper zones of coastal shingle. Almost all our self-sown plants (and those commonly grown as garden ornamentals) belong to the subspecies hortense.

Opium poppy from Köhler’sMedizinal Pflanzen , vol. 1 (1887) 

Opium poppy was first domesticated in the Neolithic period (at c. 5000 BC) in the western Mediterranean, which is the natural habitat of the wild progenitor Papaver somniferum subsp. segiterum (Bakels 1982; Simmonds 1976: 318; Zohary et al. 2012: 109-111, map 14). It was, therefore, not one of the founder crops of early farming that originated in southwest Asia, but instead complemented the Neolithic crop package at a later date and then rapidly spread throughout Europe (Bakels 2014; Salavert et al. 2018). Two series of cultivars have evolved from Papaver somniferum: subsp. hortense and subsp. somniferum, and both are derived from the wild Papaver somniferum subsp. segiterum (Simmonds 1978: 318; Zohary et al. 2012: 109). The oil poppy varieties—with edible seeds—are of the subsp. hortense, and the opium cultivars—used for the narcotic properties of the latex—belong to the subsp. somniferum.

Opium poppies are characterised by their robust build, their large, hairless, glaucous leaves and their large capsules and flowers, which range from white, through a spectrum of pinks and mauves, to deep purple. Our local forms of subsp. hortense differ from subsp. somniferum in having black seeds and dehiscent capsules (i.e., with pores that allow the seeds to be shed; subsp. somniferum has white or yellow seeds and indehiscent capsules).

Opium harvesting and its therapeutic uses

The opium is harvested by making incisions in the green seed capsules as soon as the petals have dropped. The latex that oozes from the incisions is allowed to congeal to form a gum (the opium) and is then peeled off. The therapeutic properties of opium are due to the high proportions of alkaloids[i]. There are a total of 40 alkaloids in opium poppy, the most important of which are: morphine, codeine, thebaine, papaverine and noscopine (Dittbrenner et al. 2009). Morphine is present in the highest concentration and the other four dominant alkaloids have been shown to occur in varying proportions dependent on different factors, possibly including the growth conditions during the developmental stages of the opium poppy plants (ibid.: 105-106). Morphine and codeine are well known for their analgesic properties, thebaine is a stimulant (however, as Dittbrenner et al. note, it is most commonly manufactured into other pain killers, rather than being used directly for its restorative effects), papaverine is an antispasmodic or muscle relaxant, and noscopine is used for its antitussive (cough-suppressing) properties (Dittbrenner et al. 209: 103: see also: KewGardens - a tale of two poppies).

Opium poppy seeds as food

Because they have dehiscent capsules the seeds of our local opium poppies can be gathered in much the same way as those of our common or field poppies (Papaver rhoeas), and they are just as oil-rich and flavoursome (see: NutritionValue.org; Duke 1973: table 1). They can be eaten either raw or cooked, can be ground and made into porridge, and used in cakes and pastries as flavourings or decoration (Duke 1973: 390).

Opium poppy seeds contain minute amounts of alkaloids in comparison with the   proportions present in the latex (Plants for a Future database). However, a tea made from poppy seeds, if taken over prolonged periods, has been found to cause users to become dependent on opium such that they are required to detoxify in order to reverse their addictions (Haber et al. 2019: see also: US Drug Enforcement Administration - Drug & Chemical Evaluation Section 2019). 

Opium poppy leaves are acutely bitter and inedible.

Ethnographic accounts of the medicinal uses of opium poppies

There are numerous reports in the ethnographic literature about the therapeutic uses of Papaver somniferum (e.g., see Duke 1973). Those relating to the efficacious properties of the main constituent alkaloids (as described above) are the most common and, unsurprisingly, the use of opium poppies for pain relief is frequently referred to in traditional medicine. In the Basilicata region of southern Italy knowledge of plant-based remedies was obtained during interviews with one of the last surviving healers known as ‘Zi Matteo’ (Uncle Mathew; Montesano et al. 2012). The 87 year old, together with ten interviewees chosen from amongst the older inhabitants in his local town, reported the uses of 52 plants, including a decoction of the fruits of opium poppies—to be taken orally—which was prescribed as a tranquillizer (ibid.: table 1). In western Gironès, Catalonia, the flowers, fruits and seeds prepared in a mouthwash or an infusion are used as an analgesic or sedative (Gras et al. 2019: table 2). According to archival records dating to the 1930s that were collated by the Polish ethnographer Adam Fischer (1889-1943), in areas of the Polish-Lithuanian-Belarusian borderland painful toothache was treated with Papaver somniferum (plant parts not specified; Kujawska et al. 2017: table 3). Opium poppy is just one of 153 plant taxa (with 290 uses) that was reported at the time of Fischer’s survey.

In rural areas of the Upper Guadiana River area in Castile-La Mancha (central Spain) in addition to being administered for pain relief (e.g., for toothache) opium poppies are recorded as being used to treat a range of other common ailments (Rivera et al. 2019: table 5). For example, the flowers and fruits—prepared as infusions or decoctions and taken orally—are given to alleviate insomnia and nervousness/anxiety, and an infusion of the fruits is applied externally (e.g., to toes and fingers) to treat cellulitis and paronychia (infections of the skin and nails, respectively). Papaver somniferum (prepared as a decoction to be drunk) is one of 17 plant species recorded as being used in 19th and 20th century traditional medicine in Italy (specifically Fruili-Venezia Giulia, northeast Italy) to treat epilepsy (Tagarelli et al. 2013: 610). In Kırklareli Province in northwest Turkey dried opium latex is taken orally to treat coughs (Kültür 2007: table 1). And between the 1860s and 1970s in Romania opium poppies (either the whole plant or just the seeds, and prepared in a tea to be drunk or used externally in a bath) were prescribed for children to alleviate symptoms of coughs, colic, stomach pain, measles and insomnia (Petran et al. 2020: table 3).

In the Fenlands of Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire in the early 19th century ‘poppy tea’ was considered to be an effective treatment for ‘ague’[ii] and rheumatism (Allen and Hatfield 2004: 77). The white-flowered form of Papaver somniferum was commonly grown in cottage gardens thus providing a plentiful source of opium and, as the authors comment, with the consequences that: “for several months of the year the Fenland people were largely drugged with opium, a fact to which their stunted physique was commonly attributed” (for more accounts of opium taking in the Fens see: All Things Georgian – Opium Eating: theLincolnshire Fens in the early nineteenth century). 

Ethnobotanical accounts of preparing and consuming opium poppies

We are accustomed to seeing poppy seeds on bread rolls and in cakes in our local bakeries and there are many records of traditional recipes in which they are also ingredients and garnishes for pastries and confectioneries. For example in Belarus, according to the recollections of respondents to an ethnobotanical questionnaire carried out in 1883 by the Polish botanist Professor Józef Rostafiński, Papaver somniferum seeds were commonly used in breads and sweets (Łuczaj et al. 2013: table 3). And as a means of maintaining their cultural identities and traditions Moroccan migrants living in northwest Italy prepare foods and medicines using wild plants (e.g., including opium poppy seeds in baked goods) that they were familiar with and were common in their country of origin (Fontefrancesco et al. 2019: table 2).

In the Polish-Lithuanian-Belarusian borderland opium poppy seeds are ingredients in ‘kucja’, a special dish prepared on Christmas Eve (Kujawska et al. 2017: table 3); the recipe for ‘kucja’ (/‘kutia’ or ‘kuczija’) is as follows:

Made of roasted pęczak (pearled barley) to which a mixture of mead and water is added, kutia is one of the most popular dishes in Eastern Poland. Sometimes raisins, nuts and poppy seed are also added. In Białystok, it is known as kucja, east of Warsaw it is on occasion called kuczija. In Kresy and Ukraine where kutia is also a Christmas Eve dish, it is believed that indispensable ingredients include “a bit of eternity and the happiness of the saints in heaven”. The ingredient of kutia that represents eternity is wheat, which is reborn every year, and the carefree life of saints is represented by honey.” (see also: Polish traditional Christmas eve dishes).

Other uses
Plants provide natural dyes for wool in areas of Turkey where rugs and carpets are still produced using traditional weaving methods, and opium poppy flowers are used as source of purple dye (Doğan et al 2003: table 1).

Much like our autumn harvest festivals during which produce from the land is offered in thanks during religious ceremonies, in rural Poland wreaths of plants are blessed in churches at certain times of the year to coincide with significant events in the agricultural seasonal cycle so as to guarantee the welfare and productivity of farms (Łuczaj 2011). Papaver somniferum is listed as being included in Assumption Day bouquets at the end of the 19th century—a tradition that has continued up to the present day despite fact that cultivation of the plants was ruled to be illegal in Poland in 1985 (ibid.: table 1; 72). The author describes the Assumption Day blessings:

On Assumption Day (Zielna, or "Mary of the Herbs'), the 15th of August, specially arranged bouquets were brought to the church for blessing. These bouquets usually comprised the largest number of plants, including medicinal plants, apotropaic plants, and a variety of crops plants, such as cereals.” (ibid.: 67) 

Prehistoric and historic uses

There are a great many references in the archaeological literature to finds of Papaver somniferum on sites of all periods (e.g., from the Neolithic to the Medieval and later periods; see Kroll 1995: 57; 1996: 184; 1997: 43; 1998: 39; 1999: 142; 2000: 46; 2001: 44; Merlin 2003; Schultz-Motel 1994: 40). Waterlogged seeds and other plant parts are particularly numerous on Neolithic lake villages (pile dwellings or ‘pfahlbauten[iii]) in Switzerland, France and southern Germany. At these sites typically hundreds or thousands of individual remains of opium poppies are preserved due to the fact that household rubbish (including food debris) was ejected from houses and rapidly became incorporated in the lake sediments below, thus preventing aerobic decay of fragile plant tissues (Colledge and Conolly 2014). Some charred items are reported but they are far outnumbered by waterlogged remains (for lists of Neolithic lake villages with c. 200 or more waterlogged opium poppy seeds, etc., see endnote[iv]; also: the Cultural Evolution of Neolithic Europe. EUROEVOL dataset).

Because of systematic excavation and sampling at these lake villages it has been possible to plot distributions and densities of preserved plant remains within and around the houses and therefore locate areas where processing and preparation activities took place. For example, as at Bad Bachau-Torwiesen II in Germany (Herbig 2006), where thousands of waterlogged opium poppy seeds were found: 

[Papaver somniferum seeds] were scattered quite regularly over the whole site, but still some differences between houses and some distinct accumulations can be observed. Houses 1, 3 and 11 were rich in opium poppy seeds and in addition, each of the buildings 5, 10 and 12 contained at least one big concentration of poppy seeds. On the other hand, poppy was almost totally absent from houses 6 and 13 as well as from all small houses. In front of house 3 and in the adjacent street, there was a big accumulation that might provide evidence of poppy processing in this area. So it cannot be ruled out that in some of the houses there was cultivation and/or preparation of opium poppy while in others there was not, and that poppy was not used in every house.” (Maier and Harwath 2011: 355-356)

There is material culture evidence for the use of Papaver somniferum in the eastern Mediterranean during the Minoan period (c. 3000-1450 BC; Askitopoulou et al. 2002). In Minoan Crete a group of lekythi jars shaped like poppy seed capsules with vertical ridges that mimic the cuts made to release the latex are thought to have contained opium to be used for therapeutic and ritual purposes (ibid.: 3; figure 1[v]).

The Minoan goddess of poppies—a symbol of fertility, is yet another example of the early association with opium. She is represented in a Cretan figurine with poppy seed capsule shaped adornments on her headdress (ibid.: 5; figure 3; link to: Minoan Poppy Goddess: Permanent exhibition of the Heraklion Museum, Crete http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/4/eh430.jsp?obj_id=7910). The authors describe the terracotta goddess figurine, which was found in a Late Minoan III period cult house, as measuring 78 cm in height and “bear[ing] on its head three movable hairpins shaped as beautiful, well-slit poppy capsules, called “mekones”, the poppies of Papaver somniferum” (ibid.: 5). Several bronze brooch pins with crystal heads shaped like poppy seed capsules were found in a royal tomb at Mycenae[vi] in southern Greece (dated to c. 1600-1100 BC) and also provide evidence for the cultural significance of opium at this early date (ibid.: 8; figure 5).

A long-standing controversy surrounding Cypriot base-ring juglets (e.g. examples at The British Museum) relates to whether or not they were integral to the trade in opium during the Late Bronze Age (c. 1600–1300 BC) in the eastern Mediterranean (Merrillees 1962). The juglets are shaped like inverted poppy seed heads and hence by association it was suggested would have held liquid opium for transportation (similar to the lekythi jars described above). However, in the absence of textual evidence in support of this idea and with no positive tests for the detection of opium alkaloids in residues taken from the inside of the juglets, the original theory was subsequently debunked (Bunimovitz and Lederman 2016). In their study Bunimovitz and Lederman tested for and detected a range of aromatic oils and concluded these were likely to have been stored in the vessels. More recently Merrillees’ original idea has been revived because lipid analysis of well-preserved residue (described as being ‘a dark brown, thick, oily material’) in one of the base-ring juglets (the example illustrated in the BM website above) has proved to be successful in detecting the alkaloids papaverine and thebaine and therefore these results suggest that the vessels may in fact have contained opium oil (Smith et al. 2018).

Persuasive evidence for Papaver somniferum being present because of its curative properties was found in a Roman farmhouse situated in the Pompeian countryside (Ciaraldi 2000). The farmhouse—Villa Vesuvio, and its contents were buried beneath the debris (/tephra) from the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. Seven storage vats (‘dolia’) were discovered in the cellar of the farmhouse and at the base of each one there was an organic (waterlogged) deposit. The vats possibly contained liquids at the time of the eruption and drying out of the organic layers had subsequently been prevented because of the periodic elevation of the ground water levels in the river valley in which the farmhouse was located. Ciaraldi examined the organic layer in dolium 2, which was completely sealed by the tephra layer thus preventing any contamination; preservation of waterlogged the plant remains was excellent:

The dolium was filled up to a depth of almost 30 cm. with Prunus persica L. (peach) stones and Juglans regia L. (walnut), in a proportion suggested by the excavator as being of 70% and 30% respectively” (ibid.: 91), and below which there was a thick organic layer from which a sample for study was taken: “The sample consisted of a yellow, foamy matrix very rich in plant, bone and insect remains. The beginning of mineralisation was evident in the sample by the observation of small yellow lumps of minerals.” (ibid.: 93)

The list of plant species identified in dolium 2 included many for which there is a long history of their use for therapeutic purposes such as comfrey (Symphytum officinale), hemp (Cannabis sativa) and opium poppy (ibid.: table 1; 93). Faunal remains were also found in the organic layer, for example, bones of frogs, lizards and toads and, on the basis of the overall composition of plant and animal assemblage, Ciaraldi proposed that it was likely used in the manufacture of medicines (ibid.: table 3). More specifically that the ingredients were similar to those used to make mithridatium[vii] and theriac[viii]both of which are referred to by classical authors such as Pliny the Elder and Dioscorides as antidotes for poisons and snake venom (ibid.: 95-97; see below for more references to Pliny and Dioscorides). The presence in one of the rooms of a small cooker for brewing the potions adds support to the idea that Villa Vesuvio could have been where these two medicines that both would have included opium poppies were produced.

Mineralised opium poppy seeds were recovered from the Cardo V sewer at Roman Herculaneum, which was also buried during the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79 (Rowan 2017: table 3). The sewer had no outflows and therefore acted as a cesspit that was full of human and household waste deposited by the inhabitants of nearby shops and houses and, as such, its contents represented the diets of lower/middle class Romans who lived in the premises of the Insula Orientalis II. Because Cardo V had been completely covered by the detritus from the volcanic eruption there was excellent preservation of the plant remains (by waterlogging, charring and mineralisation), fish bones, shellfish and eggshell found in the refuse and faecal deposits.

Latrines discovered in Überlingen at a site near Lake Constance also proved to be a rich source of well-preserved and diverse plant materials that have been used to interpret diet and local environment during the late 11th-13th century, at a time when the town was an important link on the trade network in southern Germany (Märkle 2005). Excavations carried out in 1996 in an area that appeared to be the backyards of houses, revealed nine latrines, and due to the closeness of the lake and the high water table aerobic decay of the fragile plant remains was prevented. Seven of the latrines found at the residential plots were sampled and along with species of cereals, green leafy vegetables, herbs, spices, fruits and nuts (mostly waterlogged macrofossils but also some charred and mineralised), 88 opium poppy seeds (all waterlogged except for four specimens) were found in six latrines (Märkle 2005: table 3).

Opium poppies were identified in 14th and 15th century contexts in excavations at several localities in medieval Gdańsk in Poland (Badura et al. 2015: table 2). The types of economic plants identified in the archaeobotanical samples were compared with records in historical documents describing which provisions and traded goods were present in the city during the Medieval period. Of relevance here are the ‘Administrative and accounting documents of the Teutonic Order’ in which inventories were kept of food supplies (including plant species) stored in Gdańsk Castle kitchens and basements, and in the Great Mill[ix]; in the 1384 inventory Papaver somniferum is noted as being stored in the castle (ibid.: 443, 448).

Papaver somniferum Lobel 1591
From M. Lobel (1591)
Plantarum seu stirpium icones

Large numbers of poppy seeds were found in 15th century and 16th century cesspits (e.g., 3,053 seeds at Weender Straße 61 and 1,343 seeds at Johannisstraße 28) during the 1985/86 excavations that took place in Göttingen (Lower Saxony, Germany; Hellwig 1997: table 2). Flooding was common in the Late and Post-Medieval periods when tributaries of the river Leine traversed the city and therefore there was excellent preservation by waterlogging of the contents of the cesspits. Göttingen was a member of the Hanseatic League trading organisation from the mid 14th to late 16th centuries and throughout this period it was an important destination on trade routes in northern Europe. Consequently, in addition to plants found growing locally (including the opium poppies) there was evidence in the cesspits of imported, exotic species of cereals, fruits and spices, for example, rice (Oryza sativa), figs (Ficus carica), Melegueta pepper (Aframomum melegueta), black pepper (Piper nigrum) and cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum; ibid.).

  Examples of finds of opium poppies on British sites

The Early Iron Age Oakbank crannog (c. 820-500 BC) on Loch Tay in the Scottish Highlands (see: oakbank crannog) was originally constructed as a pile-dwelling that was occupied for c. 400 years (Miller et al. 1998). Excavations at the site revealed submerged layers with floor timbers covered in bracken and rushes and accumulations of household waste (e.g., similar to the Neolithic pile-dwellings described above) together with items for domestic use (e.g., wooden bowls, tools and other utensils). Preservation of waterlogged plant materials contained in the household waste was excellent and three opium poppy seeds were identified, possibly indicating local cultivation.

Papaver somniferum finds are frequently recorded on Roman sites. For example, in an organic layer (layer A) at the base of a perimeter ditch around Bearsden Roman fort (occupied from c. AD 140-160) on the Antonine Wall in Scotland, opium poppy remains were found together with fragments of wheat and barley grains, quantities of wheat pericarp and seeds and nuts of several edible wild species—both imported and local (e.g., figs (Ficus carica), coriander (Coriandrum sativum), wild celery (Apium graveolens), blackberries (Rubus fruticosus), raspberries (Rubus idaeus), strawberries (Fragaria vesca) , bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus) and hazelnuts (Corylus avellana); Knights et al. 1983; see also: van der Veen et al. 2008). The authors suggested that the food remains were likely contained in sewage that had flowed into the ditch from adjacent bath house latrines, and their conclusion was supported by the fact that there were also eggs of intestinal parasites, fly puparia and maggots (the latter two indicative of rotting organic matter) in samples from layer A. (ibid.: 143; see also: Ancient Scotland -Bearsden Bathhouse). Papaver somniferum was also identified in 1st and 2nd century AD contexts at two sites in London (Willcox 1977).

Papaver somniferum seeds recovered from two medieval pits (one 15th century and the other late 16th/17th century) excavated in Sewer Lane in Hull are thought to be possible evidence for its cultivation in nearby gardens (Crackles 1986). Seeds and fruits of many economic taxa that would have been grown for domestic use were contained in the pit deposits, for example, herbs (e.g., pot marigold, Calendula officinalis; sweet cicely, Myrrhis odorata), vegetables (e.g., beet, Beta vulgaris; wild parsnip, Pastinaca sativa), spices (e.g., coriander, Coriandrum sativum) and medicinal plants (e.g., vervain, Verbena officinalis; purging flax, Linum cartharticum). And similarly, seeds of species found in 16th century deposits at sites in London provide information about plants that were common in early gardens within the city (Schofield 1999). Vegetables, herbs and spices (including opium poppy), cereals, fruits and nuts, and cucurbits (e.g., melon, Cucumis melo; watermelon, Citrillus lanatus; cucumber, Cucumis sativus) were all represented in the urban deposits (ibid.: table 1).

Textual and pictorial evidence

The oldest text that describes the use of opium is dated to c. 2000 BC and is written on a cuneiform clay tablet found at the ancient Mesopotamian city of Nippur, in present day Iraq (Behn 1986; Stefano et al. 2017). The word ‘gil’, meaning joy, is mentioned in the inscribed text suggesting that the euphoric effects of opium as well as its medicinal properties were obviously well known to the Sumerians (see also: Did ancient Mesopotamians get high? Near Eastern ritualsmay have included opium, cannabis). A potion for sedating children that contains opium is depicted in hieroglyphs on the Ebers Papyrus (c. 1500 BC), a scroll about 100 pages long on which are recorded comprehensive details of Ancient Egyptian medicinal remedies (Hobbs 1998: 67).

Opium was a common ingredient in remedies prescribed by Ancient Greek and Roman physicians (Megaloudi 2005; Scarborough 1978, 1998). Hippocrates (c. 460-370 BC; referred to as the ‘Father of Medicine’) recommended the use of ‘meconium’ (e.g., poppy juice) as a purgative and narcotic (Astyrakaki et al. 2009; Stefano et al. 2017). Aulus Cornelius Celsus (c. 25 BC – c. AD 50) who wrote ‘De Medicina’, a medical treatise comprising six volumes about remedies, diet and surgical procedures, described how to make pills using opium poppies mixed with wine (see General Anaesthesia– Aulus Cornelius Celsus).

In volume III he warned of the effects opium juice which, he noted, can induce a feeling of calm but should be taken with care because: “dreams can be sweet, but the sweeter they are, the rougher tends to be the awakening”. Pedanius Dioscorides (c. AD 40-90), a Greek surgeon who was in service in Nero’s army, wrote ‘De Materia Medica’, which was a comprehensive guide to plants and animals that could be used in various medicines and medical treatments, and it contained accounts of the beneficial effects of opium as an anaesthetic but also the dangers of its over-use: “taken as a drink too often it hurts (making men lethargic) and it kills (De Materia Medica volume IV ‘Mekon Agrios and Mekon Emeros’ link to: Dioscorides). Pliny the Elder (AD 23/24-79) recommends the use of opium poppies to treat various ailments, including snakebites, and scorpion and spider stings (Scarborough 1978; see earlier references to ‘mithridatium’ and ‘theriac’). And it is thought that the physician and surgeon Aelius/Claudius Galenus ‘Galen’ (AD 129-200/216) was responsible for making opium generally acceptable to the people of Rome, although he too cautioned about its possible misuse (Stefano et al. 2017).

The portrayal of opium poppies in Roman frescoes is perhaps further indication of their importance in everyday use. A poppy plant is pictured in the garden scene on a wall in Livia’s Villa (dated to reign of Emperor Augustus, c. 30-20 BC) at Prima Porta in Rome (Caneva and Bohuny 2003). And an opium poppy pod features in a fresco in triclinium 14 in the Villa A (‘of Poppaea’) at Oplontis[x]—one of the Pompeian sites that was buried during the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. The pod is described as being large but that [the] identification can be confirmed when we compare it with the large painting on the east wall of the diaeta in the House of the Golden Bracelet, and with the poppy pods in the mosaic of the House of the Faun (Clarke and Muntassa c.2014; House of the Golden Bracelet; and House of the Faun).

The 12th century ‘Antidotorium Nicolaia medieval recipe book for making medicines from plants and minerals and referred to as ‘the essential pharmacopeia of the Middle Ages[xi], lists the plant components of the ‘Great Rest’ or ‘Requies magna’, a remedy intended for sedating and/or reducing pain (Everett and Gabra 2014). In their study Everett and Gabra investigate the efficacy (and potential lethal dosages) of the ingredients of the ‘Great Rest’—including opium poppies; a translation of the instructions for its use that were originally written in Latin is as follows:

Six parts are made from one pound. Take three drams (10.244g) each of roses and violets; one dram and a half (5.8 g) each of opium, henbane, meconium of white (opium) poppy, mandrake, wild lettuce, seeds of purslane, fleawort, nutmeg, cinnamon, and sugar. Two scruples and five grains (2.9 g) of white and red and citric sandalwood, ash, and tragacanth. Give with violet syrup to patients suffering acute fever; we can give it to them intermittently mixed with honey. It is given to those suffering quartan fevers with warm wine when the fever is acute or severe, and to these suffering tertian fever with warm water or syrup.” (Everett and Gabra 2014: 444, table 1).

The medieval Chilandar Medical Codex is a Serbian manuscript that comprises a compilation of texts on aspects of medical science (e.g., including instructions on how to make pills, ointments, balms and oils, etc.) dating from the 12th to the 15th centuries. (Jarić et al. 2011). Remedies made with plant, animal and inorganic ingredients are described in the manuscript and Papaver somniferum seeds are listed as being used to alleviate the effects of various health problems, for example, insomnia, hard swellings, chest pains and fevers (ibid.: table 1).

Laudanum and literature

Collin’s later life – indeed, the entire second half of his life – was overshadowed by a premature physical senescence. In the first instance this was a matter of his contracting gout. As the attacks were regularly preluded by periods of marked nervous depression, biographical science is inclined to enlarge upon the psychosomatic character of his agonies. But agonies they were, and he quickly came to find relief in laudanum. ….. Using it both as an anodyne and mental stimulant, Collins came to take it not by so many drops but by the glassful.

(extract from J.I.M. Stewart’s Introduction to the 1966 edition of The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins)


Laudanum is a tincture of opium, made by dissolving c.10% of powdered opium in alcohol. It is an easily administered form of the drug and until the 20th century was still readily available and could be bought without a prescription. The 17th century physician Thomas Sydenham (1624-1689) is credited as being the first to use laudanum (e.g., in the form we know it today[xii]) to cure various illnesses, including epidemic diseases (Pearce 2016; Sigerist 1941; Thomas Sydenham info). However, about a hundred years earlier Paracelsus (full name: Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, 1493/1494-1541), a German physician and alchemist, made a concoction he called laudanum but that differed from Sydenham’s because as well as opium it contained crushed pearls, gold leaf, musk and amber (an array of other ingredients are also listed by some authors; Sigerist 1941; Greek Medicine: Paraelsus)

Laudanum was considered to be a panacea for all ills and most households in the 19th century kept bottles of it for every-day use (Hayter 1980: see also Historic UK - Opium inVictorian Britain; Wellcome Collection – Drugs in Victorian Britain).

A whole host of industrial workers in the North of England, both men and women, took it weekly, as a cheaper escape from their miseries than either beer or gin. Mothers and nurses gave it to fretful children. Writers, painters, doctors, used it to tranquillize their nerves.”

(extract from Alethea Hayter’s Introduction to the 1971 edition of Confessions of an English opium eater by Thomas De Quincey)

Its influence on the works of many notable authors at that time is well known (Day and Smith 2002); laudanum heightened the imagination and enhanced creative expression, however, regular use inevitably lead to addiction. De Quincey (1785-1859) first took laudanum to alleviate the pain caused by neuralgia and gastric problems but he became ever more reliant on opium[xiii] to cope with the stresses of having to write to deadlines (e.g., for the London Magazine; Hayter 1982[1971]: 16); Hayter describes the consequence of bouts of indulgence in the drug:   

He found that by suddenly increasing his doses for a few days running, he enjoyed a glow of mental energy, ‘preter-natural paroxysms of intermitting power’ in which he could write brilliantly; but he paid for it by heavy suffering when the paroxysm was over.

Wilkie Collins (1824-1889), who initially took laudanum for his painful gout, found that its continued use also adversely affected writing skills:

Upon Collins himself the drug may have operated in a more subtly deleterious fashion, impairing his ability to produce that intricately plotted fiction which one would suppose especially to require a clear head.” (Stewart 1973[1966]: 19)

Other Victorian writers who used, and became addicted to laudanum included: Elizabeth [Mrs] Gaskell (1810-1865; author), Ada, Countess of Lovelace (1815-1852; mathematician, writer), Margaret [Mrs] Oliphant (1828-1897; author), Beatrice Webb (1858-1943; sociologist, economist, labour historian, social reformer), Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834, poet, literary critic, philosopher, theologian), Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849; American author, poet, literary critic), and Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822; poet; Hayter 1980; see also British Library – Representations of drugs in 19th century literature).  



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[i] The Encyclopædia Britannica describes alkaloids as: “[classes] of naturally occurring organic nitrogen-containing bases. Alkaloids have diverse and important physiological effects on humans and other animals.” https://www.britannica.com/science/alkaloid [accessed: 09.06.20]

[ii] Malaria or other fever inducing illnesses.

[iii] See: Unesco World Heritage: Prehistoric Pile Dwellings around the Alps. https://www.bodensee.eu/en/what-to-do/culture/unesco-world-heritage/pile-dwellings [accessed: 13.07.20]

[iv] Lists of Neolithic villages with large numbers of waterlogged opium poppy remains:

Swiss sites: Egolzwil 3 (Bollinger 1994); Nidau-Schlossmatte (Brombacher 1997); Sutz-Lattrigen (Lattrigen Hauptstation VII; Brombacher 1997); Arbon Bleiche 3 (Jacomet et al. 2004); Pfäffikon-Burg (Zibulski 2010); Port Stüdeli (Brombacher and Jacomet 2003); Horgen-Scheller (Favre 2002); Thayngen Weier (Robinson and Rasmussen 1989)

   French sites: Motte-aux-Magnins (Lundström-Baudais 1989); Clairvaux Les Lacs station III (Lundström-Baudais 1986); Charavines ‘Les Baigneurs’ (Bocquet et al. 1986); Chalaine 3 (Baudais et al. 1997)

   German sites: Sipplingen (Riehl 2004); Sipplingen-Osthafen (Jacomet 1990); Seekirch-Stockwiesen (Maier 2004); Alleshausen-Grundwiesen (Maier 2004); Seekirch-Achwiesen (Maier 2004); Pastenacker (Neef 1990); Torwiesen II (Herbig 2006)

[v] The authors note that below the handle on jar illustrated there is in relief the symbol of a snake, which is commonly associated with healing and ritual in Bronze and Iron Age Greece.

[vi] See: Ancient Greece.org. https://ancient-greece.org/archaeology/mycenae.html [accessed: 10.07.20]

[vii] Mithridatium was named after Mithridates VI, King of Pontus (135-63 BC), who made a potion by combining different plant and animal ingredients as an antidote to counteract the effects of poison. (N.B.: it is thought likely that the Greek physician Crataeus may have helped Mithradites to concoct his remedy). http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_Romana/aconite/mithridatum.htm [accessed: 18.06.20]

[viii] Theriac is an improved version of Mithridatium, with some ingredients substituted with others considered more efficacious, which was made by Emperor Nero’s (AD 37-68) physician, Andromachus. https://wellcomecollection.org/articles/Wc5IPScAACgANNYO [accessed: 18.06.20]

[ix] Founded by the Teutonic Knights in 1350 and one of the largest medieval grain mills in Europe. https://medievalheritage.eu/en/main-page/heritage/poland/gdansk-medieval-mills/ [accessed: 14.07.20]

[x] See: Pompeii Sites.org. http://pompeiisites.org/en/oplontis/ [accessed: 14.07.20]

[xii] Other recipes for laudanum are known (e.g., in addition to those of Sydenham and Paracelsus) and as well as opium, ingredients have included: saffron, cinnamon, cloves and sherry wine.

[xiii] Hayter notes in her introduction that: “De Quincey was an opium drinker, not an opium eater; he generally took the drug in the form of laudanum”.