I first noticed this plant next to a friend’s house in Faridabad, Haryana. It had leaves with sharp spines, yellow cup shaped flowers with overlapping petals with a white film covering the green parts. I asked the watch man who is from the Siwan district of Bihar in India what kind of plant it was and he told me that it was called Bhajkatiya. I asked the boy who does odds and ends in our office who is also from Bihar, he told me that it was called Bhadbhadiya back home.
The watchman stepped out and seizing a leaf carefully, broke it off and I could see yellow sap pouring out of the broken end. He told me that his grandma used to apply this to their eyes like eyeliner whenever they had conjunctivitis. The colleague from office told me that some people at home used it as famine food, boiling it in several changes of water.
This piqued my interest and I was finally able to identify this as the Mexican poppy, Argemone Mexicana which also goes by the names of Mexican prickly poppy or the flowering thistle. Wikipedia also adds the Spanish names Cardo and Cardosanto to this list. It was only when I read the Wiki did I realize that this was the infamous plant which had caused many deaths in India due to adulteration of Mustard (Brassica Nigra) oil.
Apart from its alleged medicinal use for conjunctivitis mentioned above, I got some other medicinal uses from Wikipedia which are listed below.
The Seri of Sonora, Mexico use the entire plant both fresh and dried. An infusion is made to relieve kidney pain, to help expel a torn placenta, and in general to help cleanse the body after parturition.
In Hispanic cultures it is used as a sedative and analgesic tea, including for use to help alleviate migraine headaches. The seeds are taken as a laxative. Argemone mexicana is also used by traditional healers in Mali to treat malaria.
It is said that its seeds resemble mustard, but on looking closer, I found that the seeds were quite different. They were knurled and had a caramel stripe running down from the tip to the base. The shape somehow reminded me of miniature onions.
Since I would get a lift in my friends car mostly from work, and my house was walking distance from there, I got the opportunity of observing all the stages of the growth of the plant closely. The sap was more runny when the plant was tender and it was raining. Once the plant became more woody, the quantity of sap reduced, however this also coincided with the end of the rains which would have contributed to the reduction of the sap as well.
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