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From medicine to peace demonstrations, the white poppy is a widely used plant species that has left its mark on our world throughout the years. While not as famous as its red counterpart, the white poppy has equally important symbolism. Here’s a closer look at a meaningful flower.
About the White Poppy
The white poppy is an annual plant that can grow up to one meter, and its flower up to 10cm. The flower opens facing the ground, but when the petals unfold, its stem full of green leaves straightens up and faces the sky. The plant remains bloomed through August, for roughly 3 weeks.
This plant grows in the northern fields of France and Belgium and can be seen also in central and southern Europe, as well as in Asia Minor. It normally grows wildly, and it is common to see it among crops. Today, the plant is grown for its oils and medicinal benefits.
Meaning and Symbolism of White Poppies
Since the early 1930s, the white poppy has been used to symbolize peace. The Co-operative Women’s Guild started selling the symbol to carry the message “never again”, in contrast to red poppies which commemorates those whose lives were sacrificed in war. In 1934, the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) designed it as a symbol of anti-war and pacifist sentiment.
The Peace Pledge Union divides the meaning of the white poppy into three branches:
- Remembrance for all victims of war
- Commitment to peace
- A challenge to the glamorization of conflict
The PPU website states that the white poppy symbolizes a commitment to peace and to finding non-violent solutions to conflicts.
Symbolism and Controversy in Great Britain
Traditionally, in Great Britain, one of the symbols of celebration and honoring of the Armistice Day is to wear a red poppy, which according to the Royal British Legion (RBL) represents remembrance associated with the British Armed Forces. However, the white poppy, which stands for all the victims of all wars, military or civilian regardless of their nationality, has gained terrain after having faced a long opposition. Against what the Peace Pledge Union intended it to be, the white poppy has been seen as a disrespectful symbol to the British soldiers who died in war.
For some people, wearing the white poppy is not only disrespectful but also a political device of the left-wing to indoctrinate. This line of thought can be seen in the comments of war veteran Col Richard Kemp, who said that wearing white poppies was pushing the agenda of the left-wing.
The symbol is not intended to be politicized in any way, although according to the PPU it has happened. In this case, the people who decide to wear the white poppy instead of the red one are not in opposition to the symbol of the RBL but are demonstrating it with a different approach.
Nowadays, it is common to see people wearing both the red and the white poppies side by side on Remembrance Day. In fact, the PPU reportedly sells around 100,000 white poppies every year since 2014.
Uses of the White Poppy
Thanks to all its properties, the white poppy is used in a variety of fields.
Since the Greek, Persian, and Roman civilizations, the opium of the poppy has been used as medicine. The poppy is mostly used to relieve pain and its oils are known to help calm excitement. The plant is also used for its sedative and antispasmodic properties, and it is normally taken for diarrhea and dysentery as well. In small doses, the plant can also be used as a nerve stimulant. Codeine and Morphine, which is contained in the plant, are some of the most valuable and useful medicinal drugs.
The poppy seed is largely used in bakeries and dessert preparations, since it is full of aroma, as well as antioxidant properties and vitamins, which makes it a perfect ingredient. In most parts of Europe, poppy seeds are used to decorate and add an extra flavor to different dishes. Actually, some of the most important dishes of Poland and Slovak are the poppy seed cake and the poppy seed roll. The oil taken out of the seeds is also used as a culinary oil.
The oil of the poppy is used for the skin, for hair and to make soaps. It softens the skin, hydrates it, and helps it recover its natural barrier function.
The White Poppy in Use Today
In current times, the white poppy is used, as previously said, as a symbol of remembrance and peace. Yet, the cultural references go beyond.
Everybody who has seen Game of Thrones or read the books on which the series is based is familiarized with the Milk of the Poppy. This medicine was given to the sick to relieve their pain, and in this case, fiction is not too far away from reality.
The white poppy is also used by several companies and boutiques to create amazing accessories and collections.
Myths and Stories About the Poppy
- In Greek mythology, it is believed that poppies were created by Demeter to help her sleep and ease the pain for her lost daughter, Persephone. Furthermore, the twin brothers Thanatos and Hypnos, who represent Death and Sleep, were crowned with poppies. The poppies were then used to honor death as well.
- The name Poppy Goddess was given to a female figurine that was found in Gazi, Greece. The woman on the figurine has poppy seeds on her head and it is believed to be a goddess of the Minoan civilization.
- According to some sources, Muslims are offended by poppies, but this could not be farther from the truth. Nowadays, this myth is seen as a political device to cause discomfort among communities and increase extremist Islamophobia.
To Wrap it up
The white poppy has grown to be one of the most symbolic flowers today, representing peace and an anti-war sentiment. Apart from its simple beauty, the white poppy also has many qualities and uses which enhances its importance.