Poppy seeds are less than a millimeter in length and are minute: it takes 3 300 poppy seeds to make up a gram and a pound contains between 1 and 2 million seeds. According to The Joy of Cooking “the most desirable come from Holland and are a slate-blue color.”
They are harvested from the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) seed pods and have been cultivated by various civilizations. The Sumerians grew them and the seed is mentioned in ancient medical texts from many civilizations. For instance the Egyptian papyrus scroll named Ebers Papyrus written ca. 1550 BC lists poppy seed as a sedative. The Minoan civilization (approximately 2700 to 1450 BC) a Bronze Age civilization which arose on the island of Crete cultivated poppies for their seed. Since poppy seeds are relatively expensive they are sometimes mixed with the seeds of Amaranthus paniculatus which closely resemble poppy seeds.
Poppy seeds have long been used as a folk remedy to aid sleeping promote fertility and wealth and even to provide magical powers of invisibility.
Poppy seed is used as an ingredient in many foods. The tiny kidney-shaped seeds are used whole or ground often as a topping or filling in various baked goods.
The seeds of the poppy are widely used in and on many food items such as rusk bagels (like the Montreal-style bagel) bialys muffins and cakes for example sponge cake flavoring. Most scones fillings are spices including cinnamon and poppyseed. Poppy seeds are an ingredient in many baked goods. Across Europe buns and soft white bread pastries are often sprinkled on top with black and white poppy seeds.