Monday, November 21, 2011

“Drowsed with the fume of poppies”

In the 1600s, if you suffered from insomnia, you couldn’t just watch some late night TV to help you drop off — you had to resort to hard drugs. Today’s sleep aids make much of the promise to be non-addictive, and to warn you of potential hazards such as operating heavy machinery or driving. Back then: not so much.

Here is a recipe for a very effective-looking bedtime beverage:

To Procure Sleep:

Take half an ounce of Syrup of White Poppy (called Diacodium) & a quarter of an ounce of Syrup of Violets. Put them in a draught of Posset Ale, made of warm ale & milk: & take it when you go to bed.

Posset is a drink made from heated milk curdled with wine or ale. Warm milk’s soporific qualities are well-known; the addition of alcohol makes this a strong hot toddy.

It might be hard to recreate today. The opium poppy, Papaver Somniferum, has a confusing legal standing in the US, where it is legal to grow for food (the edible seeds) or ornament, but absolutely not to procure opiate-rich sap. Though those tiny black seeds contain very little of the active ingredient, it is possible to test positive for opiates after ingesting just four of them. If you plan on competing in the Olympics or the Tour de France, don’t start your day with a poppy seed bagel. Likewise, if you plan on traveling to the United Arab Emirates, make sure none of those seeds fell off your bagel and into the cuffs of your trousers, or you will be sent directly to jail.

 “Drowsed with the fume of poppies” – from “To Autumn,” by John Keats

A Booke of Midicines, Gibson Family, MS 311, 1634 - 1708

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