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Herb of the Month: California Poppy

California poppy otherwise known as Eschscholzia californica, is a herb traditionally used to relieve and reduce pain, relieve insomnia and mild anxiety. According to herbal medicinal texts, California poppy has anxiolytic, sedative, analgesic and hypnotic properties. 

The Land of Fire

Way back in the 1800’s, the California poppy beautifully blanketed the West coast of California reaching down as far as New Mexico. The coastal landscape exhibited golden colours of orange and yellow, which assisted early Spanish explorers with the navigation of their voyages. Due to this pretty little flower, the state of California is often referred to as the ‘Land of Fire’ and the ‘Golden West’, and it officially became the state flower in 1890.

Poppy parts

The California poppy is a member of the Papaveraceae family. The plant parts used in herbal medicine are the aerial parts. The poppy’s milky sap, contains alkaloids, which exert its beneficial effects.

Eschscholzia californica is not to be confused with opium poppy. Opium poppy otherwise known as Papaver somniferum is the plant used to manufacture pharmaceutical products such as morphine and codeine. California poppy, although it stems from the same family does NOT exhibit the same effects as the opium kind, due to the differing of alkaloids.

What are alkaloids?

Alkaloids are organic nitrogen-containing compounds that are alkaline and usually bitter tasting. It is believed that plants may have evolved the ability to synthesise bitter alkaloids as a defence mechanism against herbivorous animals. They are found in 15-30% of all flowering plants and over 40 individual alkaloids may occur in one single plant.

Alkaloids generally have an effect on the nervous system. California poppy contains isoquinoline alkaloids, which are a very large class of medicinally active alkaloids. They include californidine, and eschscholtzine, and some protopine alkaloids. It is these constituents that exert the herbs analgesic sedative, anxiolytic and hypnotic actions.  

Herbal actions

Herbs are mild in affect compared to pharmaceutical medications. In Western herbal medicine, the terms sedative and hypnotic do not have the same meaning as conventional medicines. It is important to clarify the difference. Herbal medicine interprets each as the following;

Sedative; ‘a substance that reduces activity, particularly in the nervous system and decreases nervous tension. It may alleviate pain, mild anxiety or spasm and induce sleep’.

Hypnotic; ‘A substance that induces drowsiness and sleep’.

Traditional use

The Native American tribes had abundant access to the California poppy. They would make a decoction from the aerial parts of the flower and drink it as a tea for the relief of headaches, toothaches and insomnia. The use of this herb has carried on throughout the ages. In modern times it is still used for assisting sleep onset, duration and sleep quality. Lack of sleep can place a heavy burden on the nervous system. It can leave us feeling drowsy, irritable, and forgetful and even cause us to crave unhealthy foods. Adequate, and consistent sleep is important for maintaining general health and wellbeing. Sleep enables our bodies to repair, recover, regenerate and recharge from the previous day’s activities.

California poppy has analgesic properties and may assist in relieving, alleviating and reducing aches and pains. Pain can disrupt sleep and inhibit us from doing enjoyable activities as well as day to day chores. Pain can also have a negative impact on mood and in some cases may cause nervous tension and mild anxiety.  

This herb may also support mood due to its anxiolytic and sedative affects. It may assist in calming down a busy mind and decreasing nervous tension, which in turn makes relaxation a bit easier to accomplish. California poppy is the perfect herb before bed time!

Suffering from mild anxiety, pain and lack of sleep may prove to be a vicious cycle. Is it pain or lack of sleep contributing to mood? Or both? Whichever it may be, California poppy may support, relieve and provide that much needed symptomatic relief you may be seeking. It may reduce the burden on the body and improve general wellbeing. Why not break the vicious cycle and give California poppy a try, it may just put that desirable pop back into your step!

*California poppy may interact with certain medications. Please speak with your health care professional prior to consumption. Seek medical advice if symptoms persist.