California Poppy
(Eschscholtzia californica or E. mexicana)
Papaveraceae family

by Natalie Pastor

They are thought to be the same flower. Some commons names are desert gold poppy, Amapola Amarilla, Mexican gold poppy, This flower was named the California state flower in 1903, winning out over the Matilija poppy and the mariposa lily. California Poppy Day is celebrated on April 6th of each year and 1998 marks the 95th anniversary of the golden California Poppy day.
There are many species such as E. californica ssp. californica, E. californica ssp. mexicana, E caespitosa, E lemmonii; the Tejon poppy (E. lemmonii ssp. kernensis) and many more. On the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service endangered species candidate list you will find E. multiflora ssp. twisselmannii; E.aprocera, known locally as Kernville Poppy; and E. rhombipetala, known as diamond-petaled Poppy.
A perennial, this species has long grown naturally in open grasslands from Southern California to Washington. This beautiful wildflower is blooming all over this time of year starting as early as February and on into May. With regular water it can bloom through September. The cheerful four-petaled, cup shaped blossoms are 2 - 3 inches across and range from bright yellow to gold to deep orange in color. The foliage is a bluish gray-green and feathery, fern-like in appearance. It is a welcome sight every spring. Lots of winter or early spring rains will cause some desert areas to glow with this bright flower. They prefer a dry, sandy soil and full sun and can be found growing as high up as 6000 feet elevation. The weather plays a major part in the color of the blooms. In the lower elevations the flowers may be more golden than orange. As the blooming season progresses the blooms may change from bright orange to pale yellow.
They are perennial in most areas of the Southwest but can be grown as annuals in the north. In mild winter areas you can sow seeds as late as February, or again in late fall to early winter. Where the winters are harsh, sow seeds in spring. It can tolerate temperatures down to about 40 degrees however, and often survives mild winters. You must sow seeds in place as they do not transplant well, their long tap root will not allow it. They will reseed, however some years they seem to take a long vacation and don't produce very well. The following year they are once again prolific. They will probably germinate within a few weeks if they receive any water at all. If left to naturalize in dry areas they will reseed but the following year's bloom will depend on the amount of winter water received.
If you want to collect seed from the wild or your neighbor's poppy patch, you must pick the seed pod while it's still green and store them in paper bags to dry. They throw off their seed at the first opportunity and if you wait until the pods are dry, the seed will probably already have dispersed. Let them dry in the paper bag and at sowing time, sow the entire contents of the bag.
As a part of your garden landscape these poppies will attract bees and butterflies to your garden. They also offer a hot, bright color in early spring. Because of their ability to naturalize they can be the solution to some hillside problems, their deep taproots can be effective against mild erosion.
To harvest for medicinal use, collect and dry the aerial parts during blooming season. It can be hung to dry in a shady location or break into small pieces and use your dehydrator. As a medicine, this poppy is a mild sedative, anodyne or pain reliever, antihypertensive, antispasmodic, diaphoretic, gallbladder alterative, hypnotic, and nervine. It has traditionally been used for gallbladder disorders, hyperexcitability, hypertension, insomnia, and general nervousness.
It is safe to use on older children. It was used by local Indians for colic and is sometimes recommended by American herbalists for gallbladder colic. Most often it is used to relieve mild pain or anxiety at bedtime. You can make a tea by using one slightly rounded teaspoon of the chopped aerial parts per cup of boiling water, let steep for 10 to 15 minutes. Can safely be taken for anxiety, insomnia, or suffering from mild aches or muscle spasms. For adult insomnia make a tea of one-half California Poppy and one-half Passionflower, a level teaspoon of each to every cup of boiling water. Steep 20 minutes, add a drop of honey and drink about 15 minutes before bed. A tincture can also me made and used for the same problems. The usual dosage of the tincture is 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon 3 times a day, with plenty of juice or with water at mealtime.
It contains flavone glycosides that provide a gentle analgesic and sedative action. Much less powerful than the Opium Poppy and it is totally non-addictive. It can be used safely in a tea, with or without the addition of Chamomile, for children who are having trouble sleeping, anxious or nervous. It is also taken internally for incontinence in children. See a herbalist for specific problems concerning children.
There are some new varieties available, 'Red Chief" a flame-red flower with blue/green foilage and 'Milkmaid" in soft shades of apricot and cream. These are both available in the Shepherd's catalog. You can call them at 860-482-3638 or write to 30 Irene Street, Torrington, Connecticut 06790.

Copyright N. Pastor 1999