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California poppies, or Eschscholzia california, are the state flower of California. They grow wild on hillsides there, and in the Western United States generally. You might recognize their cheerful golden color here in Arizona from the side of the road in springtime.
They also have a long history of traditional herbal use. While E. california are in the same family as the opium poppies (Papaver somniferum), they are non-narcotic, and do not interact with opiate receptors.
California Poppies for Insomnia
California poppies are probably best known for their sedative effects. Alkaloids in California poppies interact with GABA receptors, calming neurotransmitters involved in initiation and maintenance of sleep.
Much of what we know about California poppies for sleep are limited to tradition and clinical experience. There are a few studies on them, but those are in combination with other herbs, vitamins and hormones.
For instance, this study demonstrated a 30% improvement in symptoms of insomnia with California poppy extract combined with valerian root extract.
This study also showed a significant improvement in sleep symptoms, but combined California poppy with passionflower, lemon balm, melatonin, and Vitamin B6.
California Poppies for Anxiety
The GABA receptors play a role not just in sleep, but in mood regulation as well, and particularly anxiety. Because of this, and since California poppies do stimulate GABA receptors, we could expect that the flower would likewise have anti-anxiety effects.
California poppy appears to affect other neurotransmitter levels and receptors besides just GABA, too. This study shows that the herb maintains catecholamine levels as well, including dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. Low levels of these neurotransmitters have likewise been associated with anxiety.
It has been shown in animal studies that E. californica does indeed decrease anxiety, at 1/4 the dose needed to initiate sleep.
This clinical study also combines E. californica extract with hawthorn and magnesium, but it does demonstrate benefit for anxiety symptoms.
California Poppies for Pain (and possibly muscle spasms)
Other traditional uses for california poppies include pain relief and muscle spasms. I was unable to find any studies that corroborated the latter, but this animal study suggests efficacy of poppies as an analgesic.
This effect may also be mediated in part by its effect upon the GABA receptor.
Cautions and Contraindications
California poppies have been used traditionally to decrease breast milk secretion, so they are not recommended in breast feeding, nor in pregnancy.
Large amounts can also cause nausea, or increase effects of sedatives.