The tiny black seeds you see in cakes, sprinkled on bagels, or bread rolls fly under the radar when it comes to ingredients that can help your skin. But it doesn’t need to hide. It packs a powerful punch and can improve your skin and hair health, nay your overall health.
Most often associated with baked goods, these tiny little black seeds are a powerhouse of nutrition. And when it comes to getting glowing skin, they definitely are up there with the classic ingredients that get all the spotlight.
A little bit about the ingredient
Poppy seeds are equally popular in South Asian countries as European nations such as Germany and France. They’re used in baked goods, traditional dishes, and even in drinks to add texture and flavour.
To find it on the product ingredient list, scan for its scientific name – Papaver Somniferum. It’s the seed of the poppy plant. That’s right – if you thought about opium and other drugs. But it’s the sap from the flower head that’s known to be a strong sedative and painkiller.
Don’t worry though, the seeds themselves, although coming from the opium poppy plant, they don’t display these properties.
Poppies were cultivated for thousands of years, probably first started by the ancient Egyptians. They had many different purposes. Of course, its most famous reason is that it’s the source of the drug opium. But they’re also grown for ornamental purposes. Its seeds were used for both culinary and medicinal purposes.
The poppy is a perennial plant. It can grow up to over a metre tall and its flowers can have different colours. Most people probably think of red flowers, but you could also see anything from white, orange, pink to purple with and without markings.
In temperate zones, the plant starts flowering in late spring to early summer. The seed pods mature in mid to late summer. When the seeds begin to rattle inside the pods, harvest season starts.
Characteristics and properties
The poppy seeds are kidney-shaped. When you think of your bread roll, the sprinkled seeds are dark in colour, between dark blue and black. There are also white poppy seeds.
The dark variants are popular in Western cuisine while the white ones are mostly used in Asian cuisine as a thickener but also to enhance the flavour.
Fun fact: Did you know that you about 3300 poppy seeds to make up a gram? The seeds can be used whole ground onto fine powder and added to baked goods or as a thickening agent in dishes. Poppy oil can also be extracted from the seeds.
As you’d expect, they have a nutty, yet mellow almost neutral flavour. The dark variants have a stronger, nuttier taste and the white poppy seeds are the milder version.
They go well with virtually any dish while adding texture and enhancing the health benefits of salads, yogurt, curries, and of course baked goods. When you bite into them, they are crackly and crunchy, making them a perfect complement to softer textures.
Usually, you’d turn to dairy products to get calcium. But did you know one tea spoon of poppy seeds can cover 4% of your daily needs of calcium? Everyone knows you need calcium for strong bones and teeth, but you also need it for healthy cell turnover (if you want to know why check out Why Skin Cell Turnover Is The Holy Grail For Youthful Skin).
Poppy seeds are a rich source of minerals. Other than calcium, it also contains magnesium. You need this mineral for cell-to-cell communication, new cell growth, and energy production.
One tea spoon of poppy seeds will give you about 2%-4% of iron that you need in a day. As you know, iron is important for carrying oxygen throughout the body. Then there’s zinc which helps regulate the growth and development of new cells and the structure of proteins. One teaspoon will cover about 2% of your daily needs.
To sum up, poppy seeds have long been hailed as healthy, since its a good source of minerals, vitamin B1 (thiamin), vitamin B9 (folate) vitamin E (tocopherols), essential fatty acids, and dietary fibres.
Here’s why it helps your skin
The nice thing about poppy seeds is that you can use them whole, grind them into a powder, or use poppy oil.
If you use the whole seeds, you get a natural physical exfoliant. While you scrub, you get the same benefits – and they’re even safe for our waterways.
Ward off environmental damage
Poppy seeds are lauded as a rich source of antioxidants. It contains alpha- and gamma-tocopherol, the naturally occurring forms of vitamin E.
Antioxidants are said to protect your cells from damage caused by free radicals. Your body makes these molecules when it breaks down food or when you’re exposed to the sun or air pollution.
Spoken in terms of your skin, free radical damage can cause premature ageing. Think fine lines, wrinkles, changes in skin colour and texture.
Strengthen your barrier function
The essential acids, as well as vitamin E, play an important role in strengthening your skin barrier. Some fatty acids can’t be produced in your body and you have to consume them in your diet.
If people don’t have enough linoleic acid (omega 6 fatty acid), they often get dry skin that’s also easily irritated. It’s key in restoring and moisturising dry skin (and hair).
Together with palmitic and oleic acid, it nourishes your skin and with regular use, your skin is more resilient against sharp winds, the cold, and dry environments.
The fatty acids combined with antioxidants calm inflamed skin. Poppy seeds soothe and relieve dry, damaged, and irritated skin.
The minerals that are key in cell generation such as magnesium and calcium play a vital role for your skin health. They encourage and regulate cell growth. They also boost pertain production such as collagen that is responsible for the firmness and structure of your skin.
Vitamin E plays several roles:
- It helps to support your immune system
- It’s moisturising and nourishing
- As an antioxidant it helps your skin soak up the energy from harmful ultraviolet light
Poppy seeds promote cell regeneration, revitalize dull and tired-looking skin. Basically, it improves the health of your skin as a whole.
Who shouldn’t be using poppy seeds?
Usually, poppy seeds don’t have the effects of the sap of the flower. Still, they may absorb or get coated in the sap.
Normally, the commercially produced poppy seeds are washed and processed to remove any traces so that they don’t have the opium compounds. On the other hand, unwashed seeds can cause problems.
That said, even washed poppy seeds may show up in drug tests. Small amounts of codeine and morphine can be detected in a urine drug test after you eat poppy seed, even though you don’t have any symptoms. So it might be wise to avoid anything with poppy seeds before an upcoming drug test.
How to use them?
As poppy seeds go well with virtually any kind of dish, only your imagination sets a limit to how you can enjoy poppy seeds. Here are a few suggestions to enhance your diet:
- In smoothies and juices
- In curries and stews
- Sprinkled on slides
- Topped on breakfeasts
- In baking
If you want to use it in your routine, you can get products formulated with them (check for Papaver Somniferum).
You can also use it as a facial oil at the end of your routine. In this case, go for cold-pressed and organically produced poppy oil to get the most out of it. You can also use it to make your own natural scrub or face masks.
The number of uses the poppy plant has. It ranges from something with a negative connotation, opium, to tasty bagels. And of course, how it can help your skin with regular use can’t be forgotten.
If you’d like some recipes for face packs with poppy seeds, tell me in the comments below.