In the footsteps of the Poppy


In the footsteps of the Poppy

Flowers leave traces in the past. Dive into the spectacular history of the Papaver Somniferum, opium and opiates.

Papaver Somniferum. Source: SAplants at Wikimedia Commons

The poppy: a beautiful red flower that grows wild in the cereal fields of Europe. The poppy comes in many different shapes, sizes and species globally. They all belong to a large plant family of the genus Papaveraceae. Within that family, one member is extremely well known. It concerns the Papaver Somniferum, also known as the opium poppy, from which opium has been harvested for several millennia. Opium was arguably one of the first drugs to be used by humans.

The milky juice in the bulbs of the Papaver Somniferum contains more than fifty opium alkaloids, including morphine, codeine and thebaine. Opiates, products manufactured on the basis of opium, are able to strongly relieve pain and put patients in a 'high'. In the past and present, opiates have been consumed in various ways: eaten, smoked and, since the nineteenth century, also injected, taken as a pill, snorted as a powder and inhaled.


Editing & design

Rimke van der Bij. Studied Cultural Heritage at the Reinwardt Academy in Amsterdam. She graduated in 2020 with a supplement in Archival Studies. After various projects at heritage institutions, Van der Bij became interested in presenting heritage digitally. She currently works for the International Institute of Social History.

Toine Pieters. Studied pharmacy and molecular genetics at Utrecht University and obtained his PhD in 1999 at Maastricht University in the field of Science Studies. Since 2014, Pieters has been director of the Freudenthal Institute and professor of the history of pharmacy at Utrecht University. His interests include historical trajectories of drug development and drug use. Pieters is also chairman of the Pharmaceutical Heritage Foundation.

Stephen Snelders. Studied history at Utrecht University and obtained his PhD in 1999 at VU University in the field of the history of psychiatry. Snelders has been a research fellow and lecturer in the history of science at Utrecht University since 2015. His interests include the history of drugs, drug use and drug trafficking.

Editorial support

Henk Buurma. As a retired pharmacist, he is now involved with the Pharmaceutical Heritage Foundation. In his working life he was director of the SIR Institute for Pharmacy Practice and Policy and of Apotheek Stevenshof, both in Leiden. From 2008 to 2017, he was also Director of Training at the KNMP in the context of the Public Pharmacy Specialism.

Marcel Bouvy. Professor of pharmaceutical patient care and head of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Utrecht University. Member of the Medicines Evaluation Board. Until recently he also worked as a community pharmacist. He is project leader of the TAPTOE consortium that conducts research into opiate use in the Netherlands.

Amy Gibson

Concept & realisation
Collageboy Studio

Thanks to
Wim Best, Wim Rakhorst, Peter Wittop Koning, Utrecht University Museum, Mainline, Trefcentrum MGN, KNMP, VNA, National Museum of World Cultures, National Archives, Rijksmuseum Boerhaave, Delpher, Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, CODA Apeldoorn, Wellcome Collection, National Museum of American History, Leiden University Libraries, The Memory, Rijksmuseum, Tax and Customs Museum, DEA Museum, Horniman Museum and Gardens, Norwegian Pharmacy Museum, International Institute of Social History, Toronto Public Library and Science Museum Group Collections.