The Cultivation of the Opium Poppy in Turkey


The Poppy-Growing Districts
Economic Conditions
Varieties of the Poppy Plant Cultivated in Turkey
Cultivation of the Poppy
Various Properties of Turkish Opium
Poppy Seeds
Technical Work for the Improvement of the Poppy Plant


Pages: 13 to 25
Creation Date: 1950/01/01


The Cultivation of the Opium Poppy in Turkey

Full size image: 15 kB

The Poppy-Growing Districts

Before the Limitation Law of 1933, Turkey produced opium in practically all the districts west of the Euphrates, i.e., the whole central area and the west. The poppy-plant was grown in thirty-two out of fifty-six provinces. Law No. 2253 of 31 May-8 June 1933 limited the areas in which opium-collecting was authorized first to thirteen provinces and subsequently to twelve (plus certain districts of the adjacent provinces). The area to be cultivated is determined each year by a special decree of the Council of Ministers. The law states that the decree must be published not later than 15 June in the Turkish Official Journal. The annual decree makes relatively unimportant changes in the area of cultivation.

The table below gives the names of the provinces and districts in which the collecting of opium is authorized and also shows the amount of opium therein produced, expressed as a percentage of the total production.

Provinces or districts in which the harvesting of opium is authorized

Percentage of the total production of the country (average 1941-46)

(a)Western "druggist" opium area Afyon-Karahisar Province
Afyon-Karahisar Province
Konya Province
Burdur Province
Isparta Province
Kütahya Province
Provinces of Bilecik, Denizli, Eskisehir; Certain districts of the Ankara, Aydin, Bursa, Balikesir, Manisa Provinces; Certain districts of the Antalya, Bolu and Kayseri Provinces, in which production has been authorized by decree for some years on account of increasing exports
(b)Northern "soft" opium area
Tokat Province
Amasya Province
(Corum Province
Certain districts of the Kastamonu and Yozgat Provinces
(c)Southern "soft" opium area
Malatya Province

In many provinces in which opium used to be produced, the poppy-plant is still being grown today, but growers are not allowed to harvest anything but the seeds, and incision of the capsules is prohibited. This prohibition is strictly enforced. The area in which the poppy-plant may be grown only for seed purposes comprises twenty-two provinces in addition to those in which opium is harvested, but in these twenty-two provinces poppy-growing, i&scaronrestricted to districts which are indicated each year in a special decree of the Council of Ministers. The provinces are the following: Ankara,[1] Antalya, Balikesir,[1] Bolu, Bursa,[1] Canakkale, (Cankiri, Diyarbakir, Iel, Izmir, Kastamonu, Kayseri, Kirklarili, Kocaeli, Manisa,[1] Nigde, Samsun, Sivas, Tunceli, Urfa, Yozgat.

Economic Conditions

The poppy-plant is grown in Turkey by about 80,000 peasants inhabiting the districts enumerated above. They are districts which, generally speaking, lend themselves to autumn cropping, particularly of grain crops, and in which spring cropping entails something of a risk. Apart from grains, the poppy is the only autumn crop, and it is difficult to replace it by spring crops such as cotton, maize, sugar beet, tobacco, melons etc. As the incision and harvesting of opium require much labour, and hired labour is not economical, the poppy is grown by small farmers, who usually plant no more than 0.1 to 0.3 hectares as they have no machinery and till their fields with ox-ploughs. Their farms are, moreover, of the family type with an average area of 5 to 10 hectares of arable land.

The poppy is never grown on the State farms, and almost never on large farm holdings. Opium is of great importance to the small farmer because it is harvested before the grain harvest and brings in the money which the peasant needs to meet the expenses of the main harvest. It is obtained in a period when the peasant has little to do and can spend his time on the incision of the poppies and collection of the opium.


1. From the climatic point of view, Asia Minor may be divided into three geographic areas:

  1. The central plateau, the altitude of which varies from 700 metres in the west to 2,000 metres near the Caucasian frontier. The summer is dry and warm, the winter cold, the temperature falling and snowfall increasing as one goes farther east. The annual rainfall is between 300 and 700 mm.

  2. The coastal belt. In the north this area is temperate in winter, and in summer; rainfall varies from 700 millimetres in the north-west to 2,000 millimetres in the north-east. In the west the climate is mild and humid in winter, dry and warm in summer. In the south the weather is warm throughout the year and more humid in winter than in summer.

  3. The so-called "transitional" area is situated between the high plateau and the coasts. It is bordered in places by high mountains, particularly in the north and south, whilst to the west the high plateau descends in wide valleys, ranging from 300 to 700 metres in height.

Rainfall varies from 500 to 800 millimetres. The summers are rather dry and the winters cold and snowy.

2. The poppy-growing area

The poppy is one of the most delicate plants cultivated by man. In order to obtain a good harvest all the requisite conditions must be fulfilled or the quantity harvested will be considerably reduced. The poppy can be grown almost everywhere in Turkey, but almost everywhere it is exposed to dangers. It would be a risky crop, for example, on the humid coast of the Black Sea, in the mountains, on the humid coastal plains, and on the high plateau itself, where there is no snow in winter.

A good opium harvest can be counted on in more than 50 per cent of cases in the so-called "transitional" area mentioned above. The valleys in that area receive plenty of rain during the autumn; the ground is covered with snow in winter and the climate is dry when the poppy is ripening.

The poppy is usually grown in Turkey at a height of between 300 and 700 metres, although it is found at 60 metres and also at 1,300 metres. In the latter case it is a spring crop. Between 60 and 70 per cent of the poppy grown in Turkey is sown in autumn (winter cropping) as against between 30 and 40 per cent in spring (spring cropping). If the winter is severe, dry and without snow, the frosts destroy the poppy and the percentage of spring cultivation increases.

3. Atmospheric conditions

  1. Moisture, rain. The poppy dislikes moisture. In damp climates it is attacked by the peronospera and other plant diseases. If there is much rain, the plants grow very tall and may be laid flat when they ripen. Moisture is beneficial only during the first period of growth, and particularly at the time of sowing, when fresh, damp weather is preferable. If the soil is too dry, good germination is impossible, and it is therefore preferable to sow after the autumn or spring rains. The poppy dislikes moisture while it is maturing and especially during the incision season; if moisture comes shortly after the heads have been incised it can wash away some or all of the latex and so considerably reduce both the yield and the morphine content.

  2. Wind. Generally speaking, the poppy cannot withstand strong winds. During the sowing and first growing period damp south winds are beneficial, but when the plant is maturing it prefers the dry, cold north winds. When there is no snow, the icy winter winds damage the plant and it is equally unable to endure the hot winds of summer.

    The poppy is very sensitive to storms. Its shallow roots do not penetrate very deeply into the soil, and the plant can therefore be easily uprooted. During the growing period the capsules become heavy and a strong wind may then beat down the crop. After incision, buffeting by the wind will cause the plant to lose its latex. The open-capsule varieties are very sensitive to the wind when the seeds are ripening: too strong gusts may spill the seeds out of the capsules.

  3. Frost. The poppy can resist the winter cold if the fields are covered with snow; otherwise, the young plants may be completely destroyed by frost. For this reason, in areas where frosts are frequent, the poppy is cultivated only as a spring crop.



The wild poppy grows everywhere, but the cultivated poppy yields good harvests only on favourable soil. The poppy is not fond of heavy, clayey soils, which are too moist during rainy, and difficult to till during dry, periods. It is not fond, either, of excessively sandy, permeable soils which dry up too quickly. As the poppy is grown only in districts where there is not much rain during the last period of growth, such soils are too light and insufficiently moist. Moreover, the shallow-rooting poppy cannot anchor itself firmly in such soils. The ideal site is an average type of soil, rather light, and with protection from the wind.

The Afyon-Karahisar region, the most important region in Turkey for poppy-growing, has a volcanic soil, clayey but not very heavy.

The soils of the Amasya-Tokat area, also an important poppy-growing district, are sedimentary and sandy but not too light. They are rich in humus. These soils produce the "soft" kind of opium, which is the richest in morphine.

The fields in which the opium-poppy is grown must always be protected against the wind. They should face the sun in high altitudes and the north in low altitudes.


The poppy-plant impoverishes the soil. It yields good harvests only in rich fields and when it follows another crop which has been treated with manure. It may also be grown on land that has lain fallow. Such a fallow field must be ploughed in early spring, and during the summer droughts only the light plough or harrow should be used to destroy the weeds that rob the soil of its moisture. At the beginning of autumn a soil thus prepared is light and may be sown immediately after the first rains.

A definite rotation is not much practised on the small farms where the poppy is grown. On such farms the poppy is very often preceded by a barley crop or, in cases where spring cropping is customary, by well-manured crops of melon, watermelon, maize or tobacco. For such crops, between thirty and forty tons of manure per hectare are used.

Small growers are not very familiar with chemical fertilizers. Besides, manure is preferable because it keeps the soil warm in winter and thus protects the poppy against the danger of frost.

For poppy-growing, the peasant often selects a field near the village which has therefore been fertilized by herds. Such fields close to the cultivator's dwelling are within easy reach of the family who can thus help with the harvest.

In the case of spring cropping, the soil must be prepared during the previous autumn. Deep ploughing in spring takes so much moisture from the soil that the spring rains are often insufficient to replace it.

If the ground can be irrigated, this should be done before sowing. The fields should never be irrigated after the blossoming season, or the quality of the opium will be impaired. It should, moreover, be possible to drain irrigated fields fairly quickly, or the poppy will suffer from excessive moisture.

Varieties of the Poppy Plant Cultivated in Turkey

The opium poppy, Papaver somniferum L. is a plant which is often self-pollinated, sometimes cross-pollinated. For that reason its morphologicalfeatures are not stable. Cross-breeding between different varieties, however, is sometimes rather difficult. The poppies cultivated in Turkey form a "population" composed of various strains whose characteristics are constantly changing. Attempts to obtain varieties with stable characteristics and a high yield have not yet given satisfactory results. In spite of the presence of different strains, however, the poppies of a given region or area display common characteristics under the influence of climate and soil and, taken together, they form a more or less definite type.


A. Poppies from the "druggist" opium production area

Turkish opium of the "druggist" type is produced in western Asia Minor. The main production districts are the provinces of Afyon-Karahisar, Konya, Burdur, Isparta and Kütahya.

The poppies producing opium of the "druggist" type are plants averaging in height from 45 to 130 cm. They bear from 3 to 10 capsules which are round and fairly big. The morphine content of the opium produced is average.

B. Poppies from the northern "soft" opium production area

"Soft" opium is produced in two districts, one north and the other south of the central plateau. The northern district comprises chiefly the province of Tokat.

The poppies in this district are between 70 and 150 cm. high, and bear from 6 to 12 capsules which are round and oblate. The blossoms are very often white and sometimes violet, although other colours are found. The morphine content is high.

C. Poppies from the southern "soft" opium production area

The second district in the "soft" opium production area is situated south of the central plateau and comprises the province of Malatya.

The poppies in this district are plants averaging in height from 50 to 140 cm. The morphine content of the opium is low.

Other types

Other types in addition to these three main types existed before poppy-growing was prohibited in certain areas of the country. The so-called muhacirmali poppies imported from Macedonia were, at that time, grown in European Turkey. As long as they were grown there, these plants retained the characteristics of Macedonian opium. After poppy-growing was prohibited in European Turkey, the seeds sown in western Asia Minor produced plants which, in time, acquired the characteristics of the local poppies.

Before cultivation was prohibited in southern Asia Minor, a type called "southern druggist" was grown in this district. It has now completely disappeared.

Attempts have been made to establish a classification of the poppy on the basis of various morphological characteristics including:

  1. Form of the capsules: they may be spherical, oblate, ovoid, oblong. Their upper end may, when the plant is ripe, remain closed (closed capsule) or it may partially open in order to give free passage to the seeds (open capsule).

  2. Colour of the seeds: they may be white, yellow, or coffee-coloured, black, smoke-grey, deep blue, mauve, etc.

  3. Colour of the blossoms: they may be white, pale lilac, rose, red, mauve, purple. They may also be variegated, displaying different colours.

  4. Stems. The stems may be glabrous or hairy.

  5. Leaves: these may be of various shapes.


The best classification may be that based on the capsules. The form of the capsule is the poppy plant's most stable characteristic and the one which is almost infallibly transmitted if there is no cross-pollination. An attempt has been made to classify Turkish poppies according to capsules in two categories:

  1. The Papaver somniferum L. variety, with closed capsules.

  2. The Papaver subspontaneum variety, with open capsules.

Interestingly enough, both open and closed capsules have been found on the same plant, a phenomenon which is due to cross-pollination, but the "closed capsule'' characteristic is dominant, and the open capsules in such cases tend increasingly to disappear.

The number of septa in the capsules. The number of these has no relation to the variety. It is rather higher in the bigger capsules and limited in the small capsules. It may vary between 18 and 4 but is usually 6. It appears, however, that climate has an influence on the number of septa, for poppies grown at a low altitude have a larger number than those grown at a high altitude.

A. Closed-capsule poppies

The capsules of these plants do not open automatically when the plant ripens. They have to be thrashed in order to collect the seeds.

The closed-capsule poppies are the opium poppies properly so-called, and represent the dominant variety in Asia Minor. The plants usually bear from 3 to 12 capsules, are of average height, and their morphine yield is from 2 per cent to 3 per cent greater than that of open-capsule poppies grown in similar conditions of soil and climate. The lower leaves are long, indented and very often hairy. The upper leaves on the stalk are long, triangular and a little fleshy. The petals bear a small number of hairs and the colours white and violet are predominant. The seeds are of various colours. The capsules are large, round and rather wide at the base.

B. Open-capsule poppies

The capsules of this variety of poppy open when the plant is ripe and the seeds easily fall out. For the most part they are semi-wild plants or poppies previously grown only for seed, the extraction of opium from such poppies having been begun later.

Neither the opium yield nor the morphine content is very high. The plant is resistant to atmospheric influences, produces up to 30 capsules and has a short stalk. The capsules are smaller and round, and have visible septa. The flowers are often red, yellow, purple or pale lilac. The seeds are often black or dark in colour.

Open-capsule poppies are not very common in Asia Minor. They are grown at Aydin, Denizli, Isparta and Afyon-Karahisar. Before limitation they were also grown at Izmir.


An attempt has also been made to classify poppies according to the colour of the seeds, and two main varieties have been established: Papaver somniferum L. album, with white or light-coloured seeds and smooth, glabrous leaves; and Papaver somniferum L. nigrum, with black or dark-coloured seeds, and red flowers.

Full size image: 9 kB

As will be shown below, however, seeds varying between these two extremes may be found even in the same field. The colour of the seeds is due to a morphological transformation of the seed-case itself. A sub-epidermal layer of a reddish-grey colour produces a colourless interior and a grey seed. A sub-epidermal layer which disperses light rays results in a seed which is rather ashy in colour. The other colours are the result of different combinations.

Turkish poppy-seeds are usually white, yellow, grey, coffee-coloured, blue, or dark blue but black and all other colours are also found. The table below gives the colours met with in various districts:

Place where grown


White, coffee-coloured
Isparta (I)
White, yellow
Isparta (II)
Yellow, deep yellow
Afyon-Karahisar (I)
White, coffee-coloured, black
Afyon-Karahisar (II)
Yellow, white, black
Afyon-Karahisar (III)
Black, grey
White, black, grey, yellow, violet
Black, grey, coffee-coloured, white
White, yellow, red
White, coffee-coloured

There are two areas in which dominant colours are encountered: white at Aydin, and coffee-coloured at Afyon-Karahisar.

The colour of the seeds in any one capsule is almost always uniform: it is only the shade which sometimes varies.

If there is no cross-pollination, the colour of the seed is hereditary and remains unchanged.

If cross-pollination between poppies of different colours takes place, the colours black and grey predominate, whilst white and other light colours are recessive. According to Mendel's law this means that, when a poppy with black seeds is fertilized by a poppy with white seeds, the majority of the descendants produce black or dark-coloured seeds and these colours become increasingly predominant in subsequent years.

It has not been possible to establish a final correlation between the colour of the flowers and that of the seeds, but in most cases the poppy with white or rose-coloured flowers gives white or light-coloured seeds and poppies with violet or dark-coloured flowers give blue or dark-coloured seeds.


An attempt has also been made to classify poppies according to use. Thus, Turkish poppies were called Papaver somniferum L. Gr. opeifera, which means the opium poppy. On the other hand, the poppies grown in Central Europe for seed were called Papaver somniferum L. Gr. oleifera (oil poppy).

Cultivation of the Poppy


A. General observations

A good farmer always chooses good seeds. He refrains from incision a certain number of the well-developed principal capsules; and after the seeds have ripened he collects these capsules and keeps them separate until the sowing season.

These rules should be observed by all growers, but this is not always done.

B. Time of sowing

It is always advisable to sow poppies as early as possible, as the plants can then develop, in the case of winter cropping, before the winter frost, and, in the case of spring cropping, before the dry season.

Poppies may be sown in the autumn or spring. In Turkey they are mostly sown in the autumn. Between 60 and 70 per cent of the poppies grown are winter crops. The time of sowing varies, according to local climatic conditions, between September and December.

For spring crops, sowing time varies between February and April.

The plants sown in autumn are usually more robust and healthier and give better yields. In areas, however, where the winters are severe but without snow, autumn cropping is not possible.

Very often the grower divides his field into three parts and sows it as follows: one third at the beginning of autumn; one third at the end of autumn; one third in spring. Thus, part of the harvest is always to some extent guaranteed.

The first lot, for example, may suffer from drought at the beginning of autumn, but once that period is past the winter frosts (especially if there is snow) and the summer droughts can do no further harm.

As regards the second lot, too early winter is dangerous, because the young plants may then be easily destroyed.

The third lot has nothing to fear from the frost. Its only enemies are the spring droughts. As a spring crop it never gives very good harvests, but an average volume is ensured provided the drought is not severe. When the sowings are staggered in this way the work of thinning-out, weeding and incision is similarly staggered. The grower can carry out the work in one part of the field after the other with the assistance of the members of his family and without having to use hired labour.

C. Method of sowing

The small farms on which the poppy is grown have almost no machinery. Moreover, drills for sowing poppies are unknown, and the ordinary machines for cereals cannot be used for the small poppy seeds.

The poppy seeds are either sown broadcast or in rows, the broadcast method being the more common. In most cases the seeds are sown broadcast without dividing up the field, but sometimes the field is divided into strips of about two metres wide with a space of 40 centimetres between each. When sowing by rows, furrows from about 60 centimetres apart are made. The seeds are dropped in them and afterwards covered by means of a harrow.

Before sowing, the seeds are mixed with sand in a proportion of from two to five times their volume. In certain areas it is also customary to moisten them before sowing.

A quantity of from 3 to 5 kilogrammes of seed would be sufficient per hectare if drills were used. The row method takes from 5 to 15 kilogrammes, and the broadcast method about 20 kilogrammes. If the field is not well prepared, some growers use up to 25 or even 30 kilogrammes of seed per hectare.

If the broadcast method of sowing is used, a large proportion ofthe seeds remain uncovered or go too deep down and are thus lost. That is why the quantity of seeds used with this method is so great.

The seeds should not be buried deeply, or the rudimentary shoot will be unable to develop. The layer of earth covering them should not be more than 1 to 1.5 cm. deep.

If the soil is dry, one must wait for rain or, if possible, irrigate the field before sowing. If the field is irrigated after sowing the seeds may easily be carried away by the water.


A. Various stages of growth

The germination of the poppy seeds usually lasts from two to three weeks. Seeds sown in late autumn or early spring may in cool weather require up to six weeks for germination.

Three to four weeks after germination the first four leaves of the plant are formed.

In spring, as soon as it is warm enough for growth to be resumed, or, in the case of spring crops two or three weeks after the development of the first four leaves, the stem begins to form. The plant reaches full development in from 40 to 60 days. During this first period of growth the poppy needs moisture.

The flowering season varies according to the region, altitude, situation of the field and variety of poppy. For example: at Aydin, flowering occurs at the end of April or beginning of May; atAfyon it occurs in the second half of May; at Çorum and Malatya it occurs towards the end of May or the beginning of June.

Flowering takes place during the day, the flowers hardly ever opening on rainy days and almost never during the night. A flower remains open for thirty to forty hours, after which it begins to wither. A field will remain in flower from four to five days.

Often the pollination is direct and in the remainder indirect. Thus, the poppy is also fertilized by neighbouring plants.

After the petals fall the capsules continue to grow for a fortnight longer. Then comes the right time for incision.

B. Work to be done during growth

During the first period, the growth of the opium poppy is slow, and, in particular, if the field has not been carefully prepared, weeds may easily smother the young poppy plants, and prevent them from developing. In addition they impoverish the field in moisture and nutritive material.

Thinning-out and weeding are not usually done in autumn except when the seed was sown very early, or when, after a rainy autumn, the weeds begin to invade the fields before the winter sets in: If, however, it is not desired to do thinning-out or weeding during the winter, the weeds can simply be uprooted by hand. In spring, on the other hand, thinning-out and weeding should be done for winter crops as well as for spring crops as soon as the weather permits. It is after the first weeding that the poppy plants recover their strength.

Thinning-out is always done after the first four leaves are formed. The superfluous seedlings are removed so as to leave about fifteen plants per square metre (25 cm. between the plants) if the seeds were sown broadcast, and about 10 to 15 cm. between the plants if the seeds were sown in rows. Plants which have been left too close together do not grow well and remain small. They yield small capsules and the work of incision and collecting is also more difficult.

If the plants are too far apart they cannot support one another during wind and rain, and there is a danger that they may be blown down.

Weeding should be repeated two or three times, or oftener, if possible.

In the case of line sowing the first weeding may be done with a weeding plough.

The second weeding should be accompanied by ridging.

When the stems are formed it is necessary, in the case of varieties which produce numerous capsules, to thin out the capsules, or they will remain small and the harvest will not be so good.

Turkish closed-capsule poppies do not form many capsules, but even here good growers sometimes remove the secondary capsules in order to allow those remaining to develop and grow larger. The growers are thus able to save a lot of labour during the harvest.

C. The enemies of the poppy

The poppy plant has many enemies during the various stages of growth. The following are the more important:

  1. Mildew (Perenospora arborescens) attacks more especially the poppy leaves, on which it forms white spots. In time the leaves shrivel up, wither and die;

  2. A plant parasite (Orobanche papaveris) battens on the poppy by using its suckers to absorb the nutritive matter in the plant;

  3. Rodents like fieldmice or insects of the beetle type and their larvae do damage to the leaves and roots;

  4. Before the campaign against locusts was successful, they were also an important enemy of the poppy.


A. Collecting opium

1. The right time. Opium is collected by cutting slashes on the poppy capsules before the seeds are ripe. The latex comes out in little drops. After it coagulates this latex constitutes raw opium.

The incision period varies according to climatic conditions. Normally it occurs towards the second half of June or the first fortnight of July. In extreme conditions incision may begin as early as May (in the valleys of Aydin) or it may be deferred until the beginning of August in higher areas.

A rainy, cool summer prolongs the period of growth, whereas a warm, dry summer curtails it.

The right times for incising winter- and spring-grown poppies are only about a week apart.

The best time for collecting opium is about a fortnight after the petals have fallen. The upper part of the stalk then begins to darken, the capsules grow hard, and the lower leaves begin to turn yellow. The capsules change in colour from a light to a brownish green and become covered with a kind of film of moisture. In the case of some varieties of poppy, however, such as those grown in the Isparta area, the capsules do not change colour but remain light green and are not covered with a film of moisture, so that it is difficult in that region to determine the right time for making the incision.

Capsules that are still soft are not ripe. The duration of the right time for harvesting depends on the climate. In hot, dry years it is from four to seven days, and in normal years from seven to ten days. After that the capsules begin to get soft again. They lose their bloom, turn yellow and finally dry up.

Since not all capsules ripen at the same time, the work of incision takes about two weeks for any given field.

2. The latex. When properly incised the stalks and leaves also provide latex, but incision of the capsule draws the juice upwards. The latex is between the epicarp and the mesocarp. The juice channels go from below, upwards. In order to gather as much juice as possible a great many channels must be cut. If incisions are made too deeply, however, the wall of the capsule will be cut right through and some of the juice will run down inside and be lost.

The latex accumulated on the outside of the capsules is white and liquid, but the moisture begins to evaporate immediately and the latex becomes more and more solid and its colour more and more brown.

On warm, humid, calm nights, the latex emits such a strong odour that it is quite impossible to remain near a poppy field without contracting a headache or dizziness. The peasants who live near the fields often have to remain confined in their houses, even when it is excessively hot.

3. Incision. The incision of the poppy capsule is a very delicate and expert operation. Incisions which are too deep or too shallow or which are made too early or too late give bad results. The cut must be a shallow one but it must also be deep enough to allow the drops of latex to flow down outside. Incisions made in the middleof the day when the sun is shining give bad results and there will be hardly·any flow of juice. It is therefore preferable to make the incisions either in the morning or in the evening.

When the incision is made in the morning, the opium is gathered in the evening. In such cases the opium is clear-coloured and its qualities are regarded as superior by drug addicts who attach great importance to clear-coloured opium. On the other hand, incisions made in the morning give a smaller yield. It is, therefore, now considered preferable in Turkey to make incisions in the evening, since colour is of little importance in the case of opium intended for medical purposes. In such cases the opium is gathered the following morning. For this purpose, it is necessary to wait until the morning dew has disappeared. If the capsules are incised in the evening, the yield will be more abundant.

The latex takes from eight to fourteen hours, according to atmospheric conditions, before it solidifies and is ready for collection.

In case prolonged bad weather makes it impossible to observe these conditions, the grower will take advantage of a fine interval to incise the capsules and gather the latex in its liquid form.

The incisions are usually made with knives of various shapes, but there are also special instruments which are now increasingly employed. The best known of them is the so-called "Amasya" type. It has a broad end terminating in four to six lancet points, which have the advantage of not penetrating deeply and not piercing the capsule.

Full size image: 13 kB

The cuts made in the middle of the capsule produce most latex.

In a pamphlet published and distributed free by the Turkish Soil Products Office, the following advice is given to growers with regard to the incision:

  1. The capsule must never be cut all round. Spaces should be left unslashed between the extremities of the cuts in order that the capsule may continue to grow and the seeds ripen normally;

  2. In order to obtain more latex, it is advisable to make several incisions (each covering a third or quarter of the capsule) at intervals of one day;

  3. Incisions made on clear, sunny, calm days give the best results. In warm districts it is preferable to make the incision in the evening, and in cool districts in the morning. It should be borne in mind that rain washes away the juice and that wind makes it fall to the ground;

  4. Care must be taken to incise only the ripe capsules. This is why the farmer must go to the fields every day to select them.

4. Collecting the opium. The latex which has caked on the capsule is raw opium. It is collected with a bladeof some kind, as it may not be completely hardened, the peasants prefer to use an instrument that has a kind of gutter in which the semi-liquid opium accumulates. Very often a special copper tool is used which has the advantage of not scratching the epicarp and thus of preventing the admixture of vegetable tissues.

Full size image: 9 kB

Where the grower uses ordinary blades the opium is usually gathered on poppy leaves.

The opium thus collected is deposited in a bowl or other receptacle, or, if sufficiently coagulated, the grower makes it into little balls immediately.

5. Labour needed for harvesting work. Depending on his skill and the length of his working day, one person can gather between 200 and 400 grammes of opium a day, the average yield for a good labourer being about 1 kilogramme in thirty-six hours. The same time is needed to incise the number of capsules sufficient to provide 1 kilogramme of opium. During the opium-harvesting season, the labourer works from morning till night, as long as he can and only stops work during the midday heat. Work goes on until nightfall. For incision and collection a good labourer needs seventy-two working hours to gather 1 kilogramme of opium

Women and children need two or three times as long to do the same amount of work. When the harvest is poor or scanty even a skilled worker will need much more time to obtain the same amount.

The price paid to peasants in 1948 by the Soil Products Office for a kilogramme of opium was about $12.50. It will be seen that, for the incision and collection of one kilogramme of opium, the labour of a good workman brings in $12.50 divided by seventy-two, that is, approximately, 17 cents an hour.

Considering that there are other expenses for the preparation of the field, for sowing and weeding, etc., it is practically impossible for a grower to employ hired labour for harvesting. Such labour would reduce his profits to nil. The opium is harvested by the grower and his family during the time when there is not much else to be done on the farm. At that season the regular harvest has not yet begun. The peasant and his family can devote themselves to the opium harvest, a job which combines work with pleasure. This is why the opium poppy is grown only on small-sized lots and in districts where the only other crops are grains.

B. Harvesting the seeds

For the seed harvest, the capsules must be dry, and the grower therefore waits fifteen to twenty days more to ensure this. If it is the so-called open-capsule variety that is being grown, the seeds must be gathered shortly before the capsules are completely dry.

The capsules are gathered by hand. The stalks are thrust into the ground in bunches and left there for some days to allow the capsules to dry up completely.

The threshing of the open-capsule poppy plants is easy, as a shake is sufficient to make the seeds fall out.

The closed-capsule plants have to be beaten with a flail and the seeds passed through a sieve.

As the poppy is grown only on small family farms, threshing machines are never used.



The area under opium poppy cultivation in Turkey is usually between 25,000 and 30,000 hectares; during the period 1937 to 1946 it averaged 28,900 hectares.

The total area under cultivation in Turkey is about 10 million hectares, not counting four or five million hectares ploughed fallow.

Thus, the opium poppy occupies about 0.3 per cent of the total area under cultivation.

The Turkish Central Statistical Office's figures for poppy cultivation do not differentiate between poppy which is grown both for opium and seeds and poppy which is grown for seeds only. It is difficult to say exactly how great an area is devoted to opium, but it may be mentioned that of the 28,900 hectares sown with poppy only about 5 per cent are intended solely for seeds. It can, therefore, be inferred that during the period 1937 to 1946 an average area of 27,000 hectares was used for opium harvest.

The average annual production of opium for the same period was about 243 tons, which corresponds to a raw-opium yield of 9 kilogrammes per hectare.

This average would seem to be very low, since a poppy field usually yields between 10 to 25 kilogrammes per hectare. In explanation, allowance must be made for climatic factors: the amount harvested from a field, and sometimes even from a whole district may be destroyed or considerably diminished by frost, drought and rain.

Realizing this the peasant sows the poppy at three different times: in early autumn, in late autumn and in spring. Usually in one or two of these three cases the harvest is unsatisfactory. This is what lowers the average.

In unfavourable conditions the yield per hectare falls to 5 and sometimes even to 2 kilogrammes. In exceptional circumstances it may rise to 30 or even 50 kilogrammes. Sometimes the average yield for a whole province drops to 2 kilogrammes a hectare. On the other hand, the yield per hectare for the province of Burdur reached an average of 25.7 kilogrammes for the period 1944 to 1946.


The opium yield of a capsule varies a great deal-from 0.01 gramme to 0.1 gramme, and even in special cases to 0.2 gramme. A normal capsule produces about 0.08 gramme.

As incision and harvesting account for most of the work, the grower prefers plants with a small number of well-developed capsules to plants with a large number of small capsules.

To establish the yield per plant, the yield per capsule is multiplied by the number of capsules, though it should not be overlooked that the central capsules are normally larger and give more opium than the secondary capsules.


In Turkey, the yield in capsules per hectare is between 0.5 and 1 ton, i.e., definitely less than the yield in Central Europe. The morphine content, however, of the non-incised capsules in Central Europe is as low as 0.2 per cent, whereas in Turkey it sometimes approaches the established maximum of 1.0 per cent.

The morphine content of incised capsules is low.

The poppy capsules themselves may be put to use. Even in ancient times they were crushed or pulverized and given in the form of potions, infusions, injections or enemas to sick persons. In later pharmaceutical practice the capsules were used alone or in conjunction with other substances according to the Turkish pharmacopoeia, but they have dropped more and more into disuse since the beginning of the twentieth century and have by now almost completely disappeared.

In Turkey, morphine is not extracted directly from the dried capsules.


The yield per hectare in seeds has fluctuated during the last ten years, as an average and from district to district, between 100 and 1,600 kg. The situation in this respect is the same as for opium. If the poppy plant is affected by atmospheric conditions, the yield in seeds will necessarily be reduced.

A normal poppy field gives between 600 and 1,000 kg. per hectare. The yield from non-incised poppies is substantially higher than from those from which the opium has been collected.

The general average for the whole country was about 500 kg. per hectare for the period 1937-1946. The lowest average was that registered in 1945, 291 kg., and the highest average in 1941, 689 kg.

Various Properties of Turkish Opium


This kind of opium, which is produced in the western districts of Turkey in Asia already referred to, takes the form of a paste which is almost always coarse and firm and of a dark chestnut colour. The morphine content generally varies between 11 and 14 per cent. It may fall as low as 1.4 per cent and rise as high as 25.7 per cent.

Druggist opium has never been esteemed by addicts and this type of opium has been used almost exclusively for medical purposes.


The soft opiums from the northern and southern areas of central Asia Minor were formerly produced for export to the countries where opium was used by addicts.

Turkish addicts have hardly ever used opium and have preferred hashish (Indian hemp), the use of which has almost completely disappeared also.

There are two kinds of soft opium:

  1. Northern soft opium. Produced in the provinces of Tokat, Amasya and Corum. The best quality known is the Gümüşhacıköy.

    Northern soft opium takes the form of a fine and very smooth paste which is sticky, greasy and rather soft. It may be golden, or light or dark brown in colour. The dark colours are caused by the dew which frequently occurs in that area. The morphine content is high and varies from 13 to 16 per cent. In certain cases it may reach 28.6 per cent. The production of the northern soft opiums has not been adversely affected by the establishment of the Soil Products Office. As they have a high morphine content, the Monopoly pays rather more for them than for the druggist opiums.

  2. Southern soft opium. This kind of opium is now produced only in the province of Malatya. Before limitation it was produced over a wider area.

The paste does not differ greatly from that of the northern soft opiums, but it is almost always golden in colour. The morphine content varies from 8 to 11 per cent. This opium, with its lower morphine content and lighter colour, is the one to which addicts gave preferance.

The production of southern soft opium has fallen greatly since the establishment of the Soil Products Office. As it has a low morphine content, the Office pays a lower price and so there is no profit in growing it. The production of opium in this area has therefore fallen more and more and now represents less than 2 per cent of the total Turkish production.


The growers deliver the raw opium to the representatives of the Office in the form of irregularly shaped cakes, of a flat or spherical shape, and usually wrapped in poppy leaves.

Apart from any possible illicit traffic, the total production is, in practice, bought direct or through dealers (domestic trade inside the country is free) by the Soil Products Office. The Office mixes and kneads together the opiums from various sources and forms standardized types with a more or less fixed morphine content.

The morphine content of purchases made by the Office fluctuated during the Period 1938-1947 between 8.3 and 16 per cent. The lowest annual average was 11.66 per cent and the highest 12.71 per cent.

The general average for the same period was 12.15 per cent.

In the case of the standardized opium exported the lowest average morphine content was 12.04 per cent in 1938 and the highest 13.71 per cent in 1942.

The average morphine content of exported opium during the period 1938-1947 was 12.87 per cent.

It may be noted that in drought years less opium is produced but the morphine content is higher.

It has not yet been possible to establish any correlation between the morphine content and the various morphological characteristics of the plant.

Poppy Seeds

Poppy seeds are used in Turkey almost exclusively for the extraction of oil. They are also used by the peasant women in pastry-making. Unlike other oleaginous seeds, poppy seeds are not used for industrial extraction. Almost all the poppy oil is extracted in local oil mills and used by the peasants unrefined.

Poppy oil is not used as table oil in the towns. It is, on the other hand, used for the manufacture of oil varnishes and fine colours, as well as for perfumes, drugs and soap.

The crude oil is yellow, transparent, greasy, sweet and agreeable. It does not readily turn rancid but it has a nutty taste which does not appeal to those unaccustomed to its use.

From 100 kg. of seed about 40 kg. of oil and 60 kg. of oil-cake are obtained. The oil-cake is excellent as cattle feed owing to its high protein value.

The average oil content of the seeds varies from district to district as the following table shows:





Oil content of Turkish poppy seeds:
46.00 40.30 42.07
52.90 44.40 49.30
49.00 41.00 43.85
50.20 45.00 47.48
50.00 41.70 45.84
41.30 34.00 39.20
44.30 38.30 41.65
49.30 41.60 45.55
48.00 43.00 47.15

Technical Work for the Improvement of the Poppy Plant

The Yesilkoy Agricultural Station has, for some fifteen years past, been engaged in technical work for improving the quality of the poppy plant. Research is conducted on selected specimens which appear to have suitable properties. The quantity of opium obtained from each plant and its morphine content are ascertained. If the analysis gives positive results, the seeds of the plant in question are sown the following year in a separate lot. The plants obtained are then observed throughout the period of growth and the following characteristics are determined:

  1. The quantity of opium obtained per plant;

  2. The morphine content of the opium obtained;

  3. The size of the capsules;

  4. Resistance of the stalk to wind and rain;

  5. Resistance of the plant to frost and drought;

  6. The yield in seeds obtained per plant:

It is also noted whether, as often happens with poppy plants, the parent plant has been produced by cross-pollination.

The work began in 1934 and has continued since then and in this way many choice specimens have been selected and observed. In the very first year specimen num- ber 1964 from Merzifon displayed very remarkable characteristics. The opium collected from this plant amounted to 2.440 grammes and had a morphine content of 24 per cent. This means that, theoretically, a field sown with the seeds derived from this plant would, at the rate of 15 plants per square metre, give a yield of about 366 kg. of opium per hectare, which on the basis of a 24 per cent morphine content would give about 88 kg. of morphine.

Unfortunately, the characteristics met with in any one plant are rarely hereditary. This was the case with specimen number 1964 and with hundreds of·other specimens selected since then. Thus, the descendants of plant number 1964 included plants which gave only 0.060 gr. of opium with a morphine content of 7.3 per cent. These figures would correspond to 9 kg. of opium and 0.657 kg. of morphine per hectare.

All the characteristics of the parent plant vary in the descendants. Take, for example, one of the most important: morphine content of the opium and let us see what has become of the very high morphine content of three parent plants in their descendants.


Morphine content of single plant (per cent)




Average content for the whole lot planted (per cent)

Descendants of a selected plant from:
7.30 28.60 21.58
11.70 24.10 19.32
8.90 25.70 19.50

Even these results would be very satisfactory if the characteristics were inherited. This was not the case and, furthermore, most of the plants with remarkable characteristics showed very little resistance to bad weather.

The purpose of selection is not to find plants which possess remarkable characteristics in one particular respect but to find healthy and normal plants with good powers of resistance which give a satisfactory average yield. This has not yet been achieved. The work of choosing new specimens and selecting their descendants is being continued, every care being taken to avoid cross-pollination that might influence the descendants' characteristics.

The station has also experimented in artificial hybridization, taking, for example, a plant which gave an abundant harvest and another which was specially resistant to atmospheric conditions. These experiments have not yet given satisfactory results.

Work of this kind for the improvement of seeds is always very complicated. Even in the case of plants which are not cross-pollinated many years elapse before results are achieved. With a plant like the poppy which is often cross-pollinated by its neighbours the characteristics vary still more and the work is made more difficult.

Poppies in Turkey are plant populations with varying characteristics. One and the same field will contain plants producing opium with a 7 per cent morphine content and others for which the corresponding figure is 28 per cent.

If a plant with a high opium content is selected, the descendants of that plant do not retain that characteristic and will very often show a divergence as great as that mentioned above.

It is never possible to tell how many years of work must be done in order to find a plant which will transmit all its characteristics. Nevertheless, there is always a possibility of finding such a plant. It is also possible to find a mutation (spontaneous variation) which gives descendants with constant genes.

The station is making observations on hundreds of different plants and analyses as many as 5,000 specimens a year.


1 Provinces in which the harvesting of opium is also authorized in certain districts (see table above).


Türkiyede ve Dünyada afyon (Opium in Turkey and in the world). Turkish Narcotic Drugs Monopoly (Istanbul) 1936.

Hasbaslarin Kültür sekline girmesinde türk çesitlerinin mevki ve rolü (The role and importance of Turkish varieties for opium-poppy growing). ALI KÜRÇAY, Çankaya Printing Works (Ankara)1946.

Afyon ve diger uyusturucu maddeler (Opium and other narcotic drugs). S. KAYIHAN, Ahmet Sait Printing Works (Istanbul) 1946.

Tarla mabsulleri istatistigi (Agricultural statistics) 1937-1946. Central Statistical Office No. 279 (Ankara) 1947.

Statistical Yearbook 1948. Central Statistical Office No. 285 (Ankara) 1948.

Ibno-y-Bensussan L'Opium (Opium). (Paris) Vigot Frères, 1946.

Various pamphlets published; various documents; Soil Products' Office (Ankara).