How does it feel?
A preparation of California poppy made by combination of infusion and tincture has a warmly aromatic odour. The initial taste is slightly sweet and warm, then the bitterness comes through from the properties of the alkaloids within.
All around the world the actions of traditional medicines were understood by their immediate sensory impacts. Click on each of California Poppy’s key qualities below to learn more:
What can I use it for?
California poppy can ease nervous tension. It is beneficial to help bring about sleep if taken before bedtime. If one is feeling tired and wired it can help calm and bring about a state of relaxation. It can ease spasm in the gut and muscular aches so can be used after a hard day’s physical labour. It is non-addictive.
Into the heart of California poppy
California poppy has a long tradition of use in Western herbal medicine for calming the nervous system and has been used for states of unrest such as insomnia, nervous agitation and mild to moderate pain. It can be used for any such presentations in children too including over-excitability.
California poppy has a long tradition of use in Western herbal medicine for calming the nervous system, being used for states of unrest such as insomnia, nervous agitation and mild to moderate pain. It can be used for any such presentations in children too including over-excitability.
It was used by Native Americans as a food, (the whole plant was cooked and eaten as a vegetable) and as a medicine in various preparations for both children and adults. Tribes from different parts of California used the plant in various ways and for a variety of conditions. The Mendocino used a root preparation applied to a painful tooth, taken for stomach aches or applied as a wash for headaches.
The Costanoan tribes used a decoction of the flowers to promote healthy sleep and as a preparation to be rubbed into hair to kill lice. ii The Chumash made a poultice of the seed pods to halt lactation in breast-feeding.
What practitioners say
Nervous system: California poppy is primarily used these days for its effects on this system. It is dose-dependent, so at lower doses it has anxiolytic effects and at larger doses becomes more sedating and analgesic.
Children’s remedy: It is often prescribed in children as a sleep aid when there is anxiety, pain, over-excitability. Some of the literature suggests it can be helpful for bedwetting.
Pain: It is a favoured remedy of many herbalists for the use in minor aches and pains, especially if this is associated with nervous tension. It has a tradition of use headaches and for colicky pains, so can help to ease cramps, spasms and is well-indicated for irritable bowel syndrome. For overworked muscles it can be taken in the form of a strong tea, perhaps whilst relaxing in an Epsom salts bath; both remedies helping to ease the soreness.
Insomnia: it is used to good effect for quietening an overactive mind that keeps one wakeful with inner monologue and also to help with the initiation and maintenance of sleep if disturbed by mild pain.
In combination: It is often mixed in with other nervous system relaxants where there can be a synergistic effect. It combines well with passionflower for hyperactivity and sleep disturbances but other combinations work well too, such as a blend with hops and valerian.
There are combinations that have been studied which are covered in the Evidence section, including in with another member of the poppy family Corydalis cava, where the analgesic effects were looked at and studies in combination with valerian (in insomnia) and hawthorn (in anxiety).
Did you know?
The opium poppy – Papaver somniferum is renowned for possessing excellent sedative properties. The opioids, (alkaloids within the plant) are utilised by the medical profession in the production of codeine and morphine. As well as the strong sedative quality, morphine is an extremely powerful analgesic which herbalist doctors in Germany are allowed to prescribe. California poppy is a far safer distant cousin. As it contains no morphine it is a non-addictive, safe option and is actually used within programmes of opiate withdrawal.
California poppy tincture (using the whole fresh plant)
If you are lucky enough to live where these grow wild, leave them be and use only those you’ve sown & grown. Try to harvest when there are a combination of flowers and seed heads on the plant.
- Gently shake the aerial parts free of bugs and dust, and if you are including the roots rinse those well.
- Cut into smallish chunks and put into a clean, wide-necked jar gently packing down and cover with vodka.
- Leave for a month or so upturning once or twice daily.
- Strain through a double layer of muslin and squeeze the plant material well to get as much liquid out as you can.
- Try drop doses of between 40- 80 (2-4ml) either straight onto the tongue or diluted in a little water. Maximum daily dose: 6ml.
Few comprehensive clinical studies have been carried out to explore its role in the management of pain, however California poppy has a long history of use and despite it being a member of the Papaveraceae (poppy) family, it is considered one of the safest anodynes in our herbal dispensary and is often prescribed for children.
No health risks following proper administration have been recorded, including during pregnancy and lactation, however it is wise to use safer alternatives or seek the advice of a qualified herbalist before use in these circumstances.
California poppy may bind with the same receptors as those targeted by certain antidepressants (SSRIs or MAO inhibitors), so it should be avoided here.
One also needs to be mindful that it is likely to have an additive effect when taken with other sedatives or analgesics, whether pharmacological or herbal.
Finally, it is wise to be very cautious when treating children with analgesic doses of this herb, (which tend to be higher than those to reduce anxiety). Use for the shortest possible time on the lowest effective dose for pain, again, seeking the advice of a qualified practitioner beforehand.
Western herbal actions are
Extracts have been shown to inhibit adrenalin synthesis and enzymatic breakdown of catecholamines in vitro, contributing to the herb’s calming properties.
In an in vitro study, a 70% ethanol extract of California poppy was able to bind to serotonin receptors 5-HT(1A) – these are responsible for neuromodulation, decreasing blood pressure & heart rate by blood vessel dilation and stimulation of the vagus nerve. The activity on the 5-HT(1A) receptor was at least partly due to the presence of the aporphine alkaloidN-methyllaurotetatanine. An extract combination of Californian poppy and Corydalis bound to opioid receptors in vitro which shows promise to explain in part the tradition of use as a pain reliever.
In a double-blind randomised controlled trial a combination of California poppy, Hawthorn (Crataegus oxycantha) and Magnesium was compared to placebo to evaluate safety and efficacy of the combination on mild to moderate anxiety disorders. The Hamilton anxiety scale, somatic scores and change in patient self-assessment showed that anxiety fell during treatment. The combination proved safe and more effective than placebo.
A more recent prospective 4 week observational study on a combination of Californian poppy and Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) was carried out on adults with insomnia within a GP practice. Sleep efficiency increased with the duration and frequency of night awakenings decreasing and there was a decrease in anxiety.
Of course, the above combinations don’t distinguish between the herbs within and more studies are needed on Eschscholzia alone. From other research the findings are that the relatively low levels of alkaloids in the aerial parts of the plant mean higher doses are needed for a sedative effect than an anxiolytic effect.
To see the references used in this summary check our downloadable Expert Herbal Reality Resource pdf
Tea 2-6g of dried herb per dose as an infusion. Two to three cups daily or a single cup at night. This has a bitter taste so a tincture may be more palatable.
3-6 ml per day of a 1:2 strength tincture. Drop doses can be given
- Isoquinoline alkaloids – these are major in the medicinal actions of California poppy and include: californidine. sanguinarine, chelirubine, macarpine, chelerythrine, protopine, eschscholtzine, allocryptopine and N-methyllaurotetatanine
- Flavonoid glycosides – occurring mainly as quercetin isorhamnetine glycosides