California Poppy (Eschscholzia Californica)

Botanical name: Eschscholzia californica and spp. mexicana

Common Names: California Poppy, Mexican Poppy, Mexican Gold Poppy, Gold Poppy,

Taste: acrid, bitter

Energetics: very cool

Affinities: liver, gallbladder, heart

Actions: anodyne, antispasmodic, relaxant nervine, topical antimicrobial

Cautions: Moore suggest that Eschscholzia is probably inappropriate in pregnancy. Ingesting very large amounts can cause nausea.

NotesEschscholzia mexicana and Eschscholzia californica are interchangeable for the purposes of this monograph.

These gold flowered beauties are considered a subspecies (Eschscholzia californica spp. mexicana) of the more well known California Poppies (Eschscholzia californica). Common at lower elevations in sw New Mexico, I usually have to drive down to the little villages south of here to find a good harvesting spot. Where they do grow, they flourish and spread, carpeting the roadsides and grasslands with acres and acres of fire flecked gold. They often grow in the company of their cousin Golden Smoke (Corydalis aurea) and a small yellow bush Evening Primrose.

The plants are cool to the touch and the leaves and stems nearly succulent in texture, a welcome sensory respite in the midst of blowing sand, scorching sun and stickery plants. The Gold Poppies have this remarkable way of staying fresh forever after being harvested, sometimes even a week later still holding enough moisture to look like they could actually be planted back in the ground and be none the worse for the experience. This is quite a feat in the dry NM air where most plants are bone dry within a couple days. With their feathery leaves and paper thin petals, these flowers may appear delicate but are actually amazingly tough in and out of the ground. Mexican Gold Poppies are generally considered to be true annuals, though the California Poppies can sometimes be short lived perennials.

As medicine, I tincture the majority of my harvest and I gather the whole plant, root and all (being sure to make no visible impact on the population, leaving plenty to reseed and continue on their cheery way). Timing wise, I aim to harvest it when the plant has begun to make seedpods, but while their are still plenty of flowers. I have tried to make an infused oil with these multi-purpose beauties, but to no avail. Oil extracts just don’t seem to have the kick that alcohol extracts do. It does work quite well as a tea, but definitely lacks something in the tasty department. I do rather like the taste of the tincture however, and find it to be so useful I generally keep at least a quart on hand at a time. At the moment, I have three quarts. I’m unlikely to be sleepless anytime soon 🙂

Mexican Poppy is safe enough for children, non-addictive, formulates very well and is endlessly useful. It is first and foremost a nervine, it is cooling and dispersive, and excels at clearing stuck energy and heat (especially in the heart or liver) from the body. Stuck energy often results in anxiety, depression, poor circulation, chronic inflammation and emotional lability. The ideal person for this plant has a red tongue, a tendency to sighing, moves between anxiety and depression quickly, has bloating and a feeling of pressure beneath the ribs, may have a flushed face, impaired digestion (typically constipation, but diarrhea or rotating between the two is not uncommon) and is prone to headaches and insomnia. Mexican Poppy moves the energy, calms the spirit, cools heat and generally settles the irritability and anxiousness.

That said, this herb also makes a great general relaxing treatment, and has been used by native people to calm fussy babies for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. I have not used the tincture in very small babies or children yet, but have had success in using it in children three years old and up, especially when they’re overheated and overtired from an inflammatory condition or heating virus (think childhood eruptive diseases such as chicken pox). Mexican poppy is less appropriate when the child (or adult) is already cool, pale and quiet. For insomnia, fear or depression in such constitutions or cases, try a more warming nervine.

Mexican Poppy can be useful in any case of insomnia where sleeplessness or restlessness is caused by pain, especially sharp, hot or throbbing pain. Nerve pain such as sciatica fall under this category, and the tincture can be used both internally and topically to help allay the pain. For chronic pain that results in tremors, nervous system exhaustion and systemic inflammation try a formula of 3 parts Mexican Poppy, 2 parts Milky Oats and 1 part Golden Smoke.

As I mentioned before, this herb combines very well in formulas and that is how I typically use it. It’s lovely (but bitter) combined with Vervain and Evening Primrose for PMS with stabbing cramps, moodiness, digestive upset, feelings of heat and irritability (the kind that makes you want to break things and scream very, very loudly) and red, uncoated tongue. Milky Oats and/or Skullcap would also be appropriate if there is deep, underlying exhaustion with low libido and intermittent depression.

The tincture can also be used externally for nerve pain, and in the case of various kinds of infections and fungi, being a good overall anti-microbial and decent anti-inflammatory in my experience.

Some herbalists have used Mexican or California Poppy for weaning clients off opiate addiction. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to try this, but it’s certainly worth noting.

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