California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica)
Early Spanish explorers called the plant ‘copa del ora,’ which means ‘cup of gold,’ after the legend which said that the orange petals of the California filled the soil with gold.
In 1820 a Russian expedition to California landed botanists who named the plant after the ship’s surgeon and naturalist, Eschscholtz.
“On December 12, 1890, the California State Floral Society voted to select a State Flower. The three nominees were Eschscholzia californica, the California poppy, Romneya coulteri, called giant poppy at the time, but now usually referred to as Matilija poppy, and Calochortus (no species indicated), the mariposa lily. The California poppy won by a landslide; only three votes were cast for Calochortus, and none for Romneya,” writes Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences at Cal Poly Pomona, Curtis Clark (3)
Eschscholzia californica, California poppy, was used by Mendocino, Pomo, Yuki and Kashaya women to decrease and stop milk production.
The Pomo referred to the plant as ‘milk disappear plant’. The usual procedure for stopping milk production was to mash the seed pods and rub this on the mother’s breasts. It is not known what compound in the plant may decrease milk production. It could be that the bitter flavor of Benzophenanthridine alkaloids discouraged infants from suckling, which decreased milk production.(4)
Among the Ohlone, they would boil down the poppy flowers and rub into hair to kill lice. One or two of the flowers were placed under the bed to put a child to sleep. Pregnant or lactating women avoided because they belived the scent of the plant was poisonous. The leaves could be eaten and the roots could be used medicinally for toothaches, headache and stomachache.(5)
The Tongva (Gabrieleño) people referred to the plant as Mekachaa and used its root to treat tooth and stomach ailments. In addition, scrapings from the stem were applied to the navel of newborns for faster healing, and boiling the poppy allowed the creation of a salve to kill lice; the Costanoans also used the poppy in the same application.
Whole plant: leaf, flower, seedpod, root. Some traditions advocate use of whole plant including root, others of only the aerial part. Constituents are concentrated in leaves and seedpods in highest amounts, but there is a significant amount of activity in the root portion. If you are harvesting and want to keep the plant growing, then by all means leave the rootstock in the ground and use only the aerial portion.
Major constituents: isoquinoline alkaloids, some carotenoids and proteins.
Actions: Sedative, Anxiolytic, Analgesic, Muscle-relaxer, Antidepressant, Soporific
Energetics: Cooling, drying
Collecting and processing
It is illegal to wild harvest California Poppy in California because it is the state flower. The fine is steep at $1500. You can grow it yourself and harvest it during the spring when the first orange blooms appear. Harvest the whole plant with seedpods, flowers, leaves and root. Remove dead basal leaves before processing. Based on some recent scientific observations, California Poppy is a general indicator of high copper content in the soil.(1) In addition, Selenium rich soil will turn the flowers yellow instead of orange.(2) Michael Moore states that California Poppy is known to concentrate minerals (arsenic, too) from the soil, so the plants with orange blooms are preferred over yellow.
California Poppy is a mild sedative. It was traditionally used for mild pain, headache, toothache, muscle pain, nerve pain, sleep disorders, anxiety, depression, restlessness.
The plant may be useful to highly motivated individuals trying to eliminate stronger opiate habits or non-opiate pharmaceutical habits for pain relief. it is a gentle nervous sedative and neuro-muscular relaxant.
For insomnia, take 15-60 drops (depending your weight and tolerance) of tincture before going to bed. Play around to find your dosage. The taste isn’t exactly awesome, try mixing it with some honey or your favorite juice if you are not fond of weird tasting tinctures.
For pain, try 40-80 drops.
For anxiety, use it in smaller doses — 5-10 drops every couple of hours as needed.
Topical use: the plant exhibits significant anti-microbial activity, it may be indicated in a wide array of bacterial conditions that would also respond well to berberine.(7)
TEA: Use fresh plant or freshly dried herb only—this plant degrades very quickly. It’s best to grow your own and dry it as needed, or use it fresh, or as a tincture (the preferred form). Standard infusion, 2 to 4 ounces as needed.
TINCTURE: Fresh Plant tincture 1:2, 50-75% alcohol 3-6 ml per day. Lower doses are more anxiolytic (relieves anxiety), higher are sedative to soporific, helping to sleep better. Too much may make you feel drowsy.
GLYCERITE: Fresh Plant glycerite 1:2, 100% glycerine 5-8 ml/day.
ACETUM: 1:5, 100% apple cider vinegar (5% acidity) 5-8 ml/day.
Single dose: 480-600 mg
Daily dose: 960–1500 mg
One single dose with dinner and another single dose 30-60 min before bedtime.
Cautions, Adverse Effects, Contraindications
May cause false positive in urine testing for opiates. Higher, sedative doses may interfere with activities like driving, operating a drill press or working as a flight controller.
The alkaloids protopine and sanguinarine in particular have shown heart-slowing and hypotensive (blood pressure lowering) activity.(8)
1. Clark, Curtis. “The Genus Eschscholzia.” Cal Poly Pomona.
2. Grade and tonnage relationships among copper deposits, By D. A. Singer, Maurice A. Chaffee
3. “California Poppy.” Maunakea Visitor Information Station
4. Women’s Health Among the Chumash, James D. Adams, Jr1 and Cecilia Garcia
5. Timbrook, Jan – Chumash Ethnobotany: Plant Knowledge Among the Chumash People of Southern California, Publication: Heyday Books, 2007
6. Julie James – Green Wisdom Herbal Studies – California Poppy Monograph
7. Herbal Medicine of the American Southwest, Charles W. Kane
8. The Energetics of Western Herbs, Peter Holmes
9. Rebecca Altman @ Kings Road Apothecary