Kate Briggs, Certified Herbalist
Whole plant, root-flowering tops
California poppy has a distinct cup-shaped flower of four golden petals delicately held by fringed grey-green leaves. Loved as a garden ornamental and one of the first to blossom in spring, California Poppy can be found growing wild across the western states into Canada and on the east coast. Look for it on low elevation hillsides that receive moisture in the spring.
California is known as the "Golden State" thanks to these little beauties. In exchange, the state made California poppy it's state flower. The first Spaniards to arrive in California noticed local Native American Nations using the herb as a sedative for children. They also crushed the entire plant into a compress as a topical vulnerary and used the root for various pains. The medicinal applications of California poppy today are largely true to its original uses by Native Americans.
Unlike other members of the family, California poppy is non-addictive, very safe, and gentle enough for children. Think of California poppy first and foremost as an excellent nervine that is cooling to an otherwise hot and wired system. The cooling effect relaxes heat and can help to counter hyper and often agitated nervous system states.
Herbalists have traditionally used California poppy to help calm anxiety and to relieve both mental and physical tension. I have found that it has the remarkable ability to make you forget or lose interest in what you're stressed about. California poppy functions as a relaxing sedative too, it is conventionally used for insomnia related to nervous system imbalances like repetitive thoughts or a lack of calm.
Like its family members, California poppy can be used for pain both topically and internally. Specifically it can be used for pain that gets in the way of sleep or nerve associated pain like sciatica and shingles. It has also been used in formulas for toothaches, teething in children, menstrual cramping with sharp pains, and intestinal spasm.
California poppy is also connected to the heart — the nervous heart in particular — due to its complex array of alkaloids that are hypotensive in nature. It has been used to gently relax blood vessels and breathes a sense of serenity into the heart. This effect harmonizes restlessness that settles in around the heart such as nervous palpitations or hypertension resulting from anxiety and stress.
Preparations & Applications
The tincture of the whole fresh plant in flower is used internally and topically as a pain-relieving liniment. Dried whole plant material is used in an infusion. Steep 2-3 teaspoons per cup of water for 15 minutes. Take note that California poppy tastes bitter.
Rosemary Gladstar's Soothing Poppy Blend
1 part California poppy
1 part Chamomile
1 part Milky Oat tops
1/2 part Marshmallow
Enjoy as often as needed to soothe the cares of the day
Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra
Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West by Michael Moore
The Energetics of Western Herbs by Peter Holmes
Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health by Rosemary Gladstar