Poppies, poppies everywhere – Red poppies (papavero) sprout up in May and seem to blanket every nook and cranny. Covering the rail tracks on approach into Rome central station, which at other times looks rather barren and ugly, the poppies are just a peak preview of the spectacular display which awaits us on our discovery of the Tuscan hills.
These brilliantly coloured scarlet flowers probably originated in Africa or Egypt and could really be classed as a weed – but what a glorious weed it is. The fields of poppies en masse are synonymous with all things Tuscan but we shouldn’t forget it also spreads over other parts of Europe and is a symbol of remembrance. The Flanders poppy, its other name, covered the battlefields of France during The Great War.
We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies
Moina Michael (extract)
Not just a pretty face.
The Tuscan poppy has similar attributes to the opium poppy but in a much milder form and can be used to treat some everyday ailments and also used in the making of bread.
The Colorado State University investigating the red poppy noticed that it contained the alkaloid rhoeadine, which can be a mild sedative. This might also explain why it has been used to treat anxiety and stress and also as a cough suppressant.
It might be regarded as a weed by some, but when arriving in Italy in May, it seems like a magical scarlet blanket has covered the fields and this contrasts beautifully with the brilliant blue of the sky, which for some strange reason seems to be even more blue in Tuscany.