Poppy Meaning in Myth, War and Eternal Life

Poppy Flower Meaning

Poppy meaning begins in mythology and continues into modern times. Poppies denote sleep, rest and repose. This has led to their association with death. The Egyptians included poppies at funerals and in burial tombs. On the other hand, poppy meaning includes beauty, magic, consolation, humility, fertility, prosperity and eternal life. 

Poppy Meaning in Mythology

The Greeks used poppies in the shrines of Demeter, goddess of fertility, and Diana, goddess of the hunt. Demeter was given poppies by the gods to help her sleep after her daughter Persephone was abducted. After this, poppies sprang from Demeter’s footsteps. The Roman god Ceres was also associated with the poppy.

Poppy Meaning in China

Poppies also represent the loyalty and faith between lovers. According to Chinese legend, a beautiful and brave woman, Lady Yee, was married to Hsiang Yu, a warrior with Herculean strength.

When Hsiang led his troops into batt le, Lady Yee chose to follow him and stood by his side in every battle. During a long and arduous war, Hsiang’s army was surrounded and defeat was imminent.

Lady Yee tried to boost his spirits by dancing with his sword. The petals of the poppy flower reflect her spirit as she dances in the wind with the sword. When this attempt failed, Lady Yee committed suicide. A cluster of poppies sprang in full bloom from her grave site.

Poppy Meaning and World War I

In modern times, poppies have been associated with Flanders fields as an emblem of those who died in World War I.  A poem was written by a brigade surgeon who saw the red flowers growing on a destroyed battlefield. Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae tended the dead and dying. His poem “In Flanders Field” has been used in countless memorial services. The poem was published in the Ladies’ Home Journal.

A woman named Moina Michael read the poem and decided to create silk poppies to sell to raise money for returning veterans. Eventually the National American league voted to use the poppy as a national emblem of remembrance.

Poppy Meaning

Poppy Photo Credit Kathleen Karlsen

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Best Places to Grow Poppies

Poppies do best in cool climates. They are both a cultivated flower and a hearty wildflower. Although poppies are perennials, they are often grown as annuals. Poppies grow throughout Europe, the Orient and the Americas. Poppies should be watered moderately and kept in full sun. Poppies grow between 2 and 5’ tall with blooms up to 12 inches across. There are single leaf and double leaf forms. Poppy colors include scarlet red, deep orange, light orange, white, purple and pink with black centers. Learn more about red flower color meaning

Culinary and Medicinal Uses of Poppies

Poppies have been used for centuries in seasonings, medicine and health tonics. Tea from poppies has been used for its calming effect. The oriental poppy is the only poppy that contains opium, but other poppies do have mildly sedative effects. Water made from poppies is said to remove wrinkles and freshen the skin. Poppies can also be used for dye and for adding flavor and texture to breads and pastries. Poppies are the state flower of California (USA).

Kathleen Karlsen Book Author

Kathleen Karlsen

Author of Flower Symbols and Vocal Medicine

The information in this article has been excerpted from the book Flower Symbols: The Language of Love by Kathleen Karlsen. This book includes ancient and modern flower meanings and folklore about the world’s most beloved flowers. Buy one for a flower lover in your life. Learn to “say it with flowers” for any occasion! 

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