California poppy is a medicinal plant with a long history of use as a sleeping aid.
With its bright orange flowers, California poppy is a beautiful plant that is beloved in the Western United States.
In this article, we will look at California poppy’s health benefits, traditional use, and safety.
Table of Contents
What is California Poppy?
California poppy is a bright golden wildflower native to California; it primarily grows throughout the western United States as well as in Canada and Mexico.
The scientific name for this herb is Eschscholzia californica. It is commonly known as California poppy, gold poppy, or ‘copa de oro’ (Spanish for ‘cup of gold’).
This medicinal plant is primarily known for its calming effects, as well as its ability to manage pain and support sleep.
It should be noted that although California poppy is in the same family as opium poppy (Papaver somniferum), it is not a narcotic and is much gentler and non-addictive.
Health Benefits of California Poppy:
Although there is limited clinical research on California poppy, it has a strong traditional use as a medicine for the nervous system and in pain management.
Below are some of the top researched-backed benefits of California poppy, in addition to the plant’s traditional uses and excerpts from respected herbalists.
1. May Improve Sleep
As a sedative, California poppy is commonly used as an herbal sleep aid.
In a review study, researchers examined California poppy’s alkaloids and their positive effects on GABA and sleep. GABA is the primary neurotransmitter in the brain, it promotes sleep and relaxation. These findings suggest that California poppy may help wind the brain down and improve sleep quality.
A four-week observational study evaluated the combination of 80mg of California poppy extract and 32mg of valerian (Valeriana officinalis) extract on insomnia. Results showed a significant improvement in sleep duration and sleep efficiency, and a decrease in the number of times awaken during the night. In addition, anxiety levels in the participants appeared to significantly decrease as well.
In a four-week clinical trial, 40 participants with insomnia were given a combination treatment of California poppy, passionflower, lemon balm, melatonin, and vitamin B6. The findings revealed a significant improvement in overall sleep quality.
California poppy can often be found in various sleep-promoting herbal formulas.
Dr. Aviva Romm, a well-noted herbalist, notes that California poppy is a relaxant herb that promotes sleep. She uses this herb for those who have difficulty falling asleep or have sleeping issues associated with muscle pain or restless legs.
World-renowned herbalists, Rosemary Gladstar and David Hoffman, note that California poppy can be used as a sedative for children, especially for over-excitement and sleeplessness.
Summary:Traditional usage and mixed-use research indicates that California poppy is helpful for improving sleep. Isolated human clinical studies are needed to verify the exact effects that this herb has on sleep.
2. May Work to Manage Pain
California poppy is commonly known for its pain-relieving properties.
An open-lab trial of two studies was conducted on the analgesic effects of California poppy’s alkaloids (including protopine, californidine, escholtzine, and sanguinarine). Results revealed that the plant has a strong pain management effect for chronic pain and for pain-related insomnia.
An animal study examined the pain-relieving effects of Eschscholzia californica extract. The findings reported that California poppy may be an effective treatment for acute and chronic pain such as sciatic nerve pain and osteoarthritis.
Additionally, a product containing 3 grams of the dried herb standardized to contain 0.8% isoquinoline alkaloids (californidine, escholtzine, and protopine) is authorized by Health Canada for use as an analgesic and mild sedative (hypnotic) to be used in the management of chronic pain.
Physician William Boericke notes that Eschscholzia californica has shown to be more powerful than morphine.
Additionally, California poppy has been considered safer than morphine for pain management, without the side effects.
Summary:It appears that California poppy may be helpful in pain management. Human clinical trials are needed to verify the exact effects that this herb has on pain perception.
3. May Help Reduce Anxiety
As a nervine relaxant, California poppy is often used to reduce stress and anxiety.
A double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled study of 264 participants assessed the effects of California poppy, hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha), and magnesium on individuals with mild to moderate anxiety. The findings revealed that this combination treatment was effective in reducing anxiety.
Two animal studies examined the sedative and anxiolytic properties of California poppy, concluding that this medicinal herb has strong anti-anxiety and sleep-promoting effects.
Many herbalists today use California poppy in anti-anxiety herbal formulas.
Dr. Aviva Romm states that California poppy has a calming effect and can be used to reduce anxiety and nervousness. She combines California poppy with other relaxing herbs to support sleeping problems that are associated with anxiety.
As a gentle soothing tea for infants and children, Rosemary Gladstar combines California poppy with chamomile (Matricaria recutita), milky oats (Avena sativa), and marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis).
Summary:Mixed studies, along with traditional usage, show that California poppy benefits those who are struggling with anxiety. Human clinical trials are needed to verify these claims.
California Poppy Safety:
Safety Class: 2b
Interaction Class: A
The safety class of 2b indicates this herb should not be used during pregnancy.
The interaction class of A indicates that no clinically relevant adverse reactions are expected to occur when taken appropriately.
Consuming large doses of this herb may cause nausea.
Use caution if taking California poppy alongside sedative drugs as it may be able to increase their effects.
Pregnancy & Lactation:
It is not recommended to consume California poppy during pregnancy and lactation unless under the supervision of a qualified health practitioner.
Tincture (1:5): To promote sleep, take 1 to 4 mL before bed. For muscle spasms, take 0.5 mL to 2 mL three times per day.
Infusion (tea): Add 1 cup of hot water to 1 tsp. of dried herb. Cover and steep for 15 minutes. To aid in sleep, drink one cup in the evening.
Powdered Herb (capsules): For adults, 2 capsules 2 times daily. Up to 5 capsules, if necessary. For adolescents under 12 years of age, 1 capsule 2 times daily.
California poppies are easy to grow, drought-tolerant, and produce a lot of seeds. That said, there is no sustainability concern with this herb.
This flower is so prevalent that it can be found growing up entire mountainsides throughout California and the west coast of America.
Naming & Taxonomy:
California poppy belongs to the Papaveraceae (poppy) family of plants.
The Latin binomial name of California poppy is Eschscholzia californica. It was named after the 19th-century German botanist and physician, Johann Fredrich von Eschscholtz. The second part of the name ‘californica’ comes from the region (i.e. California) that this herb grows in. In fact, E. californica is California’s state flower.
California poppy is a bright orange-yellow color. It’s flower is cup-shaped with four petals.
The plant grows about a foot tall and has nyctinastic flowers, meaning the flowers move in a circadian rhythm; they open when exposed to sunlight in the morning and close at night when it’s dark.
History & Traditional Use:
California poppy was traditionally used to aid in pain, neuralgia, anxiety, stress, depression, migraines, and sleep.
Native Americans used California poppy as a sedative and hypnotic. They also used it as a tea to treat headaches, anxiety, insomnia, fever, and cough and used the root juice topically to relieve tooth pain. Women used the root juice as a wash to inhibit the secretion of breast milk.
In the late 19th century, medical practitioners used this herb for its sleep-promoting and pain-relieving effects.
In 1890, California poppy was included in the Parke-Davis catalog, in which it was referred to as an “excellent soporific (sleep-inducing) and analgesic, above all harmless”.
- Alkaloids – californidine, eschscholtzine, protopine, allocryptopine, sanguinarine, chelerythrine
- Flavone glycosides – rutin
- Nervine, sedative, hypnotic, antispasmodic, anodyne
California poppy has a strong history of use in native populations and with physicians and herbalists as an overall nervous system supporter for sleep, anxiety, and pain.
Further human clinical research on this plant and its benefits is highly recommended.
As always, consult with your qualified healthcare practitioner before adding a new herbal supplement to your routine.
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