To gardeners, poppies are regarded as herbaceous plants with beautiful flowers. One special member of the poppy family, the California poppy, is a flowering plant often used in home gardening that also grows wild along the roadsides of The Golden State, where it is revered as the state flower of California. To natural health practitioners, the California poppy is used in dietary formulations to support optimal health and wellness, promote a healthy mood, support a normal sleep cycle, and promote a healthy internal response. Read this article to learn more about the potential health benefits and uses of California poppy.
What is California Poppy?
California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), part of the poppy family (Papaveraceae), is a native wildflower to the western U.S. and northern Mexico. The annual plant has also become naturalized in parts of southern Europe, Asia, and Australia. (1, 2) In Chile, the California poppy is considered an invasive plant species.(3)
The California poppy has fern-like, blue-green leaves and four-petaled, silky, cup-shaped flowers that can range in color from pale yellow to orange in the wild, while cultivated varieties are available in white, pink, or red. The California poppy typically blooms between June to July and can grow up to 1.5 feet in height. It thrives in sandy, well-drained soil in direct sunlight along hillsides, roads, empty lots, and open spaces. On cloudy or rainy days, and at night, the flower petals close to preserve the plant. (4, 5)
Herbalists have been known to use the whole California poppy plant – its leaves, stems, and flowers, as well as the roots and sometimes the seeds – for their potential health benefits, which include promoting mood health and providing a normal sleep response. The California poppy can also be combined with other herbs such as skullcap, passion flower, and wild oat in formulations that claim to support vascular health, nerve function, issues related to fatigue, sensitivity to weather changes, and temporary stress relief. (6)
How California Poppy Works
The California poppy contains a variety of natural compounds, including several alkaloids, that are believed to have an effect on brain receptors, as indicated in animal clinical trials. For instance, the aerial (aboveground) parts of California poppy, such as the leaves, stems, and flowers, may have depressant properties, partially blocking serotonin and noradrenaline transporters. However, further clinical studies, especially on humans, are needed to determine the link between the plant and its alleged sedative (tranquilizing), anxiolytic (anxiety relieving), analgesic and antinociceptive (pain blocking) effects. (7, 8, 9, 10) In addition, some research suggests that California poppy extracts may inhibit Dopamine-B-Hydroxylase, a neurotransmitter that carries signals between brain cells, contributing to feelings of reward and reinforcement, as well as addiction. (11, 12)
Not to be Confused with the Opium Poppy
There are many species of poppy plants. It’s important to note that the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is a distant cousin to the black-market opium poppy (Papaver somniferum
The opium poppy was used as far back as 3,400 B.C.E., when it was cultivated in lower Mesopotamia (Southwest Asia) and later cultivated along the “Silk Road” (interconnected trade routes from Europe and China), causing the Opium Wars of the mid-1800s. During the California Gold Rush of the 1800s, Chinese immigrants came to the U.S. to work on the railroads, bringing with them their opium pipes. Soon, opium dens opened across America, offering places for people to buy and sell opium. Opium as a drug has many derivatives, including morphine, codeine, oxycodone, and heroin – all very dangerous and addictive. (13)
According to an article, in recent years, people have tried home-brewing poppy seeds from the opium poppy plant, leading to fatal results. “The high concentration of morphine contained in unwashed poppy seeds and extracted through home-brew methods may pose a danger of overdose or death.” While the article refers directly to the Papaver somniferum plant, not the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), home-brewing any poppy seeds – especially unwashed seeds in unregulated quantities – could potentially pose a health risk, so it is highly unadvised.(14)
History of the California Poppy
Unlike the opium poppy, the California poppy contains no opiates and is non-addictive. It also has a more charming history.
Long before the Europeans settled in North America, Native Americans in the Southwestern U.S. used California poppy as a food source and as a traditional medicinal plant to temporarily relieve pain related to issues of the head, teeth, stomach, and to provide sleep support. Later, early Spanish settlers saw the California poppies growing along the California coastline and nicknamed the region the “land of fire.” They referred to the plant as the Golden Poppy, the Cups of Flame, and the Cup of Gold (“copa de oro”). (15, 16)
In 1816, a naturalist named Adelbert von Chamisso, was traveling aboard the Russian exploring ship, Rurick, when he saw the beautiful golden California poppies growing in California. He gave them the botanical name Eschscholzia californica in honor of Johann Friedrich Eschscholtz (1793-1831) of Estonia, the entomologist who accompanied the infamous Otto von Kotzebue on his first expedition around the world (1815-1818). (However, Chamisso inadvertently left out the “t” from his name.) In the 19th-century, seeds of the California poppy plant were introduced back in Europe, and the plant became a popular ornamental plant in English gardens. It can now be found in many gardening seed catalogs in various colors around the world. (17, 18)
California Poppy as a State Symbol
The California poppy became the official state flower of California on March 2, 1903, chosen for its bright orange flowers, symbolizing The Golden State, and harkening back to the history of California during the Gold Rush of the mid-1800s. The gold color permeates through Californian symbols. In fact, the state colors are gold and blue, and gold is the official state mineral. To this day, California Poppy Day is celebrated every year on April 6, while May 13-18 is the state’s annual Poppy Week. (19, 20, 21)
Potential Health Benefits of California Poppy
Not only is the California poppy a beloved symbol of the state of California, but it is also a popular herbal ingredient in dietary supplements.
The main appeal of California poppy is its natural sedative and mood-supportive quality, which is derived from alkaloids in the aerial parts of the plant, providing temporary relief from minor pain and anxiety, as well as sleep support. These alkaloids affect GABA-A receptors in the brain as anti-inflammatory agents, blocking serotonin and noradrenaline transporters, and delivering antidepressant-like effects on animal models. (22)
For instance, a study on mice confirmed that liquid extract of California poppy at doses above 100 mg/kg helped induce sleep. When administered at a dose of 25 mg/kg, the supplement had a positive effect on mood and behavior in the mice. (23) Another study on human patients diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder who were given California poppy extract showed statistically significant benefits associated with anxiety over a period of three months. (24)
Reasons to Try California Poppy
- Supports a healthy mood
- Provides sleep support
- Promotes a healthy internal response
- May support vascular health
- May support nerve function
- Provides stress relief support
California poppy is most commonly available as fresh (undried) whole plants, including the root, leaves, and flowers; dried aerial parts; capsules or tablets; or liquid drops, such as a tincture. Although it has a bitter taste, California Poppy tincture is used as a mild sedative, painkiller, and anti-anxiety remedy. It is taken as a dietary supplement to help stimulate the digestive and immune systems. (25)
How to Buy California Poppy
Some research suggests that the typical dosage of 300 mg per capsule of California poppy as a dietary supplement (recommended for use at bedtime) most likely does not contain enough alkaloids required to induce the desired biological effects as noted. In addition, it is currently unknown how this plant affects the central nervous system. Future researchers would need to increase the dried plant dosage to above 1 g or combine the plant with other medicinal plants containing sleep-promoting alkaloids during clinical trials to study their effect on the human body. So, if you decide to try California poppy for yourself, be sure to read and follow the instructions on the label of the supplement in regard to the correct dosage. (26)
As with any supplement, always consult with your healthcare provider first before use as there may be a risk for potential herb-drug interaction. (27) In addition, California poppy has potential side effects that users should beware of before use. For instance, smoking the dried herb is not recommended, because it may make you sick. In addition, eating large quantities of poppy seeds or drinking poppy tea is also not recommended. In addition, the use of the California poppy is not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
According to news reports, in recent years, there have been several reported deaths caused by college students who home-brewed poppy seeds from the ground or cut pods in water and then drank the bitter tea, hoping to experience a euphoric state. In their case, they drank opium poppy seed-derived tea. While the California poppy does contain some natural sedative alkaloids, it contains no real opium, like its distant cousin, the opium poppy. However, since there is no way to regulate the strength of a poppy seed tea from a fresh or dried plant, there is a chance that drinking California poppy tea could have a negative reaction in your body, causing nausea, muscle stiffness, an allergic reaction, or other more serious side effects. Therefore, it is recommended that you proceed with caution when it comes to ingesting the plant. (28, 29, 30)
Also, eating any form of poppy seeds, even the poppy seeds found in baked goods such as muffins, bagels, or cake, could lead to a false positive result on a drug screening, which may result in disciplinary action such as the loss of a job. According to one study, when it comes to California poppy specifically, “Although the plant does not contain the same alkaloids found in opiates, it contains alkaloids that are similar enough that they might create a false positive on a urine test.” (31) An article in The New York Times concurs: “Do poppy seeds really register in urine tests as opiates? Absolutely, experts say.” (32) The reasoning behind this lies in the poppy seeds themselves. “Opiates (morphine and codeine) can be detected in urine for at least 48 hours after one eats food containing poppy seeds. As little as a single bagel covered with poppy seeds could produce a false positive test for these drugs.” (33)
California Poppy for Gardening Decorative Use
If ingesting California poppy concerns you, the plant has other uses that may appeal to you instead, such as freshening up your garden with a splash of golden color.
California poppies are beautiful and easy-to-grow. That’s why, in addition to medicinal use, they are commonly used in gardens and for landscaping. To plant the California poppy in a garden or elsewhere, plant the seeds by scattering them outdoors in the fall or very early spring in sandy, well-drained soil for early summer blooming. (California poppies don’t bloom well in moist or rich soil.) Be sure to grow the plant in full sun. As a cool-season annual, it provides its best color early in the growing season but tends to fade by the peak of the summer. California poppies serve best as an ornamental garden plant instead of an addition to a bouquet, because their petals tend to easily fall off after being picked. (34)
Varieties of California Poppy for Gardening Use
- Mission Bells: 6” tall, ruffled semi-double flowers in red, pink, orange, or yellow.
- Thai Silk: 10” tall, silky flowers in bright colors on bronze-tinted foliage.
- Champagne and Roses: 8” to 10” tall, ruffled, fluted flowers in rose and pink.
- Buttermilk: 8” to 10” tall, cream colored flowers over blue-green foliage.
- Carmine King: 8” to 10” tall, ruffled flower petals in red and white faded coloration with yellow centers. (35)
No matter how you choose to introduce the California poppy into your healthy lifestyle, you’ll want to find the best products that have already been vetted for high-quality ingredients that meet good manufacturing practices. NaturalHealthyConcepts.com has the dietary supplements to get you started! (36) All domestic orders receive free shipping!
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4609799/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27054913
- http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/homegardening/scene43bf-2.html https://www.naturalhealthyconcepts.com/