In a world that seems set on winding up our springs and forcing us to scurry about completing our appointed tasks, it would be nice to find an alternative therapy that could ease our daily angst without sending us into oblivion or making us feel as we weren’t really there.

Enter the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica). This attractive, four-petaled emblem of California has a long and respected history as a nervine and sedative. California poppies grow up to two feet tall with thin stems, deeply divided, and their leaves tend to sprawl. The plant can be found in every western state except Montana and is widely cultivated throughout the region. California poppies grow in populated sites, across open grasslands and on sunny hillsides. The delicate and colorful orange-red blossoms shed their petals soon after flowering, leaving long, tubular seed pods that explode delightfully when they mature or when they're harvested by a herbalists.

Although it’s in the same family as the potent Oriental poppy (Papaver somniferous), California poppy’s active ingredients are isoquinolone alkaloids, rather than opioids. Principal among these compounds is californidine, which is pleasantly sedating but not disorienting; furthermore, long-term use of californidine doesn’t lead to physiologic dependence or addiction. In low doses, California poppy is a mild relaxant; in higher doses, it induces sleep. The tradition of giving California poppy to restless babies attests to the herb’s gentle nature. Like its narcotic cousin, California poppy has pain-relieving properties, too.

Eschscholzia californica, a dicot, is an annual or perennial herb that is native to California and is also found outside of California, but is confined to western North America. Root, leaves and seeds. Bitter to the taste with subtle euphoric properties, the entire plant of the Californian poppy is harvested in maturity. It’s dried and used for medicinal purposes as diffusion, tincture and powder. Gentle in effect, the major health properties of the California poppy are sedative, analgesic and antispasmodic in action.

As a member of the Papaver somniferum species, this chemically complex plant is considered a sub-opiate. It produces a milder effect than its cousin the red poppy which is the source of opium. Its distinction is found in its ability to normalize psychological functions by influencing the neurotransmitters without depressing the central nervous system.

California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is a sedative and sleep-promoting herb used in a variety of herbal remedies sold in the United States for relaxation and easing mild anxiety. Because of its mild sedative and analgesic properties, it’s often given to children.

Clinical studies with California poppy have clearly demonstrated the plant’s sedative and anti-anxiety properties, showing it can improve both sleep latency and quality.

In a large 264-participant 3-month, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, researchers noted the anti-anxiety benefits of a combination therapy containing the mineral magnesium, and the herbs hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata), and California poppy (Eschscholzia Californica).

The study, done at the Innothera Laboratories in France, followed 264 patients suffering from generalized anxiety disorder of mild-to-moderate intensity. The results indicated that the combination treatment was more effective than placebo with no significant side effects. This particular combination therapy is commonly used in France.

An infusion of California poppy can be prepared by steeping about 1/4 ounce of herb in 6 to 8 ounces of boiling water. Decoctions are prepared by simmering 1/4 to 1/2 ounce of herb in one cup of water until one-half of the volume remains. When using water or alcohol extracts of California poppy for anxiety, add 30 to 60 drops (1 to 2 ml) to a cup of water or juice. As a sleep aid, drink a cup of the infusion or use 60 to 90 drops of extract in two tablespoons of water about one hour before bedtime.

For more information about using alternative therapies in anxiety counseling visit the following websites:

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Randi Fredricks, Ph.D. is the author of Healing and Wholeness: Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Mental Health and Fasting: An Exceptional Human Experience. She has a Ph.D. in Psychology, a Doctorate in Naturopathy and accreditations as a Nutritionist, Herbalist, Hypnotherapist, and Registered Addiction Specialist. She provides counseling and psychotherapy in San Jose, California. To learn about her private practice, visit her website