Poppies in the vineyards are a quite a sight at this time of year. There are dots of them by the side of the roads everywhere. Sometimes there are even fields full of them.
In the UK, we associate poppies with Remembrance Sunday in November. But here in France, they burst into life in Spring everywhere. Bees are attracted by the red flowers, which emit ultraviolet rays.
Poppies spread abundantly, especially on recently disturbed land. When the little tractors plough the vineyards in spring, poppies in the vineyards often start to appear within weeks. Poppies are sensitive to pesticides and other agricultural chemicals, so it’s a great sign to see them growing freely around Le Fort Pouzols-Minervois. Poppies are a sign of rich biodiversity. There is even a movement in France to get 1,000 local mayors to sign up to ban pesticides and bring back poppies to the countryside. It is called ‘We want poppies’.
Each flower lasts only a single day, so imagine just how many flowers there are when you see a poppy field. They prefer to grow alongside crops, such as wheat.
There are several great spots to see poppies around Le Fort Pouzols-Minervois. On the way to Lézignan-Corbières, about 10 minutes from the house, the Domaine de Sérame is surrounded by beautifully-kept vineyards that have neatly trimmed rows of poppies running between the vines. You get the best views on foot, but even from the car you can admire them on the narrow road toward the pretty village of Escales.
A single poppy plant can produce up to 50,000 seeds. No wonder that they are considered invasive. The seeds can stay dormant for 5 to 8 years, with some experts claiming that they can still produce new plants after 80 years. The regular French poppy contains latex in all parts of the plant, but must not be confused with the poppies used to produce morphine. The white milky latex is poisonous and must not be touched. The dried petals are, however, used to make medicinal herbal tea. The poppy seeds are used in cooking and baking.
Traditionally, the dried petals were also used to produce a syrup that was added to porridge to help children sleep. Today, the poppy syrup is still used to produce lozenges for coughs and sore throats. In Italian cuisine, the young shouts and flower buds are used in cooking too.
Artists have often been charmed by the bright red poppy fields of the south of France. Both Monet and Van Gogh painted poppy fields, for example. And did you know that the red in the French flag symbolises poppies, alongside the white daisy and blue cornflower? It’s true.