California poppy is a beautiful wildflower that doubles as a medicinal herb. It has been used for centuries by Native Americans to treat a variety of maladies and is still valued by herbalists today, particularly for supporting the nervous system.
Here's more about this lovely, sunshiny flower and the most significant benefits of California poppy for your health and wellbeing.
What is California Poppy?
California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is a gorgeous orange flower that belongs to the poppy family. It's the state flower of California and grows natively along much of the western coast of the U.S. as well as northwestern Mexico.
In the wild, you'll find California poppy growing on sunny hillsides, fields, and roadsides. It gets about a foot and a half tall and wide with finely cut blue-green foliage that almost looks like dill.
If you don't live where California poppy is native, you can easily add it to your garden as an annual or short-lived perennial (in USDA zones 6-10). It does best in full sun and thrives in dry, sandy, and/or rocky soil.
Unlike other types of poppies, including the somewhat infamous opium poppy, California poppy does not have a narcotic effect and is not addictive.
The entire plant-- leaves, flowers, seeds, roots-- can and has been used for medicinal purposes and has played a key role in the traditional medicine of certain Native American tribes.
For example, the roots were used either externally or internally as a cleansing agent and also chewed to relieve tooth pain. The flowers were placed under the pillow to aid sleep or decocted to make a soothing tea.
The leaves were used not only as a medicinal remedy but also as a spring green that was enjoyed as food.
Today, not many people know all that California poppy can do, or they make the mistaken assumption that it has narcotic effects like other poppies. However, this plant remains a treasured one for many, especially herbalists in its native domain.
Benefits of California Poppy
Nervous System Tonic that Eases Stress
Perhaps the best and most well-known use for California poppy is as a nervine, which means an herb that acts like a soothing tonic for your nervous system to ease stress, tension, and anxiety.
Early American herbalists and indigenous peoples both used California poppy to promote relaxation and aid mood disorders like anxiety, depression, and exhaustion.
California poppy is especially notable because it's considered gentle enough to be safe for children. It was even once used to help with bedwetting that was connected to anxiety at night.
Promotes Relaxation & Sleep
Because of its calming effects, California poppy can be very effective at promoting sleep, especially when used to help with sleeplessness caused by stress, anxiety, or nervous energy.
There isn't much modern research on California poppy, but enough has been done to determine that a set of plant compounds known as alkaloids are present within the plant. These alkaloids are thought to react with GABA receptors in your brain to produce a sedative-like effect that makes you feel sleepy. (1)
You can take California poppy on its own to aid sleep or with other herbs to enhance its effects.
Helps Relieve Certain Types of Pain
Like other poppies, another one of the benefits of California poppy is pain relief. Traditionally, the root was utilized specifically for tooth pain and the whole plant for nerve-related pain, headaches, menstrual cramps, arthritis, and more.
As mentioned earlier, California poppy is an especially beneficial herb for pain relief (and for other uses) because it does not have a narcotic effect and is non-addictive.
It can be used both internally as a tea or tincture or externally as a lotion, infused oil, or liniment to rub into sore muscles and nerves.
Herbs with antispasmodic action help to calm and relax muscle spasms. They can be used for a wide range of issues, but California poppy is particularly beneficial for gut-related problems and menstrual cramping.
It can also help with tension headaches and spasmodic coughing and is most powerful when used for any condition that is stress-related (for example, asthma attacks or headaches set off by stress).
In this case, California poppy is usually most effective when taken internally (like in this Kids Cough Crusader extract) and is safe for children as well as adults.
A final way to get the benefits of California poppy is by using it topically as a wash, tincture, ointment, etc.
In certain Native American tribes, the root and/or whole plant were commonly used as an infusion or juice to cleanse wounds and other skin issues. The herb could also be infused into oil and turned into a liniment for sore muscles.
Interestingly, it seems that the root was also chopped and turned into something like a poultice that was applied fresh to certain types of injuries.
How to Use California Poppy
As you've probably guessed by now, there are multiple ways you can use California poppy in your home.
One of the easiest options is to use 2-3 teaspoons of the dried aerial parts to make an infusion by steeping the herb in hot water for 15-20 minutes. The infusion will be on the bitter side, so you can use a sweetener of your choice or other herbs like lemon balm to make it taste better.
If you have experience making herbal preparations, another alternative is to infuse the herb into oil and use it to make a topical salve, lotion, etc.
Of course, if you try growing this flower in your garden or live where it grows in the wild, you can collect it fresh to eat in salads or to make your own remedies!
Overall, California poppy is considered safe for use by both adults and children.
However, it's contraindicated during pregnancy and historically has been avoided while breastfeeding. (One of its uses is to stop the secretion of milk, which means it may interfere with lactation.)
Though not a narcotic itself, there is some potential for California poppy to interact with narcotic drugs and other medications.
Enjoying This Native Medicinal Wildflower
Some of the best herbs you can use are those that are on your doorstep. California poppy is a perfect example of this, growing wild across western North America and easy to grow in the home garden.
You can enjoy this flower for its beauty and also make use of it for stress relief, relaxation, and much more.
Particularly if you live in North America, why not discover the benefits of California poppy for yourself before trying other, more exotic herbs?
Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute medical advice and should not be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your health care provider, herbalist, midwife, or naturopathic physician before taking herbs, supplements, etc. Here's the link to our full disclaimer.