Desert Gold: Californa Poppy (Escholtzia californica)
In a good rain year, the desert will have a carpet of gold from the large numbers of poppies. In a dry year, we are lucky to find a patch here or there.
This is one of our spring ephemeral flowers, that is here today and gone tomorrow, blooming only for a few weeks in the spring, when there has been enough moisture over the winter.
But lucky for us herbalists, from all over, this medicine will grow very easily from seed, in your garden at home, when provided water.
California Poppy has long been one of my favorite and most frequently used sedative nervine herbs - from the time I began to study desert herbal medicines almost 10 years ago. It is in the Poppy Family (Papaveraceae) like Oriental Poppy, but its medicine is gentle and safe enough to be used by children and teething babies, but effective enough to put an adult in pain into a relaxed enough state of mind to get to sleep.
I most often use this little gem for insomnia with pain, particularly musculo-skeletal pain- sore muscles, body aches in flu, injuries, or generalized pain that keeps one awake at night. I find I use this plant much more often than I have ever used Valerian, in similar situations of pain and insomnia. I have found that California Poppy doesn't usually leave people feeling groggy the morning after using it, but it can make you feel a bit groggy during the day if you take it before bed time. I have also found that it can be extremely helpful for people who can't fall asleep due to excessive thinking and worry, or who wake often in the night from worry. Its also helpful for those with day time nervous spasmodic jitters and/or anxiety.
Its excellent for kids, or adults, who won't lay down and go to bed and rest, either as habit or when feeling ill. I have also seen it relieve the pain of teething babies when the tincture is applied to the gums. It is a reasonable though mild antispasmodic, and can help to quell spasmodic muscle pain or spasmodic cough or digestive system, while encouraging rest and relaxation.
California poppy does not seem to be at all addictive itself, and may possibly be useful in helping those coming off opiate medications dealing with addictive tendencies. It is safe for general use on a day to day basis, but may show up on urine drug tests (as will poppy seeds from muffins.)
It tastes ghastly, no matter what form you use it in, but I generally recommend the tincture for ease and speed of effectiveness, (that and that no one wants to drink poppy tea! bitter!). An elixir is also another easier way to get the medicine down. I tincture my poppy fresh in 95% alcohol for the strongest form of the medicine, using the whole flowering tops- including seed pods, flowers, stems and leaves- and even a few small roots on smaller plants. I have seen it available sold dry from herb suppliers and herb stores. But considering how easy it is to grow, I would suggest growing it yourself and making your medicine fresh as possible!
For insomnia I usually recommend people take 15 drops 4 x in the 90 min before bed time, pulsed at 30 min intervals. For anxiety and jitters- 10 drops every 5-10 min until relief. For pain, larger doses are appropriate, and I find that two droppers (60 drops) helps with the pain of broken bones, menstrual cramps, injuries, mild headaches or other pain, and the dose can be repeated in 30 min/1 hr. Remember that you might feel groggy from large doses used in the day, so please do not try to drive or operate machinery after taking California Poppy during the day. It works beautifully in formulas with other nervines or sedatives and often makes it into my formulas for insomnia, or combined with other herbs for pain relief.
There is so much more to this little plant than I can fit it here, but truly it is a treasure to have such a good, effective and safe medicine that grows abundantly in yards or in large patches in the desert in good rain years. Especially if Valerian doesn't suit you ( as it doesn't suit me at all), you may find that California Poppy will do the trick. If you are wondering where to get this medicine-and you can't find it at your local health food or herb store, I'll have a fresh batch of c. poppy elixir made from wild poppies this spring available in a week or so. Just let me know if you are looking for some!
Wishing you the best of sleep and spring abundance!