Family: Papaveraceae


  • California poppy {Eschscholzia californica}
  • Ladybird poppy {Papaver commutatum}
  • Field poppy {Papaver rhoeas}
  • Opium poppy {Papaver somniferum}
  • Welsh poppy {Meconopsis cambrica}

The poppy is widely spread across the temperate zones of the world. For thousands of years, corn and poppies and civilization have gone together. The Romans looked on the poppy as sacred to their corn goddess, Ceres, who taught men to sow and reap. The ancient Egyptians used poppy seed in their baking for its aromatic flavor.

The field poppy grew in Flanders fields after the battles of World War l and became the symbol of Remembrance Day.

California poppy is the state flower of California. It is a wondrous sight to behold in the spring when vast hillsides and fields light up with its vibrant color. Sometimes considered to be the “gold” in the Golden State, this wild, low-growing beauty will make a great addition to your garden, often reseeding to bring both beauty and healing year after year.


The attractive grayish green and reddish feathery leaves of California poppy are topped by golden, cup-shaped flowers on long stalks that last until the first killing frost. Slender, spear-shaped seedpods follow as the plant blooms on. The bright orange, translucent roots contain up to three times the active compounds found in the foliage, but all parts of this plant are used medicinally.

Preparations and Use:

The whole plant is often used though the root is the strongest part. Take 2 to 4 droppers or 1 teaspoon of the tincture in a little water or herb tea as needed, up to three or four times daily. Use 1 to 4 droppers full at night to remedy sleeplessness in children. The tea is rather bitter, but infusions can be made with 1 cup of boiling water poured over 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried herb and infused for 10 minutes. Follow the label directions on commercial products.

The edible flowers can be used to beautifully decorate salads, casseroles, and desserts for a summer treat.

Healing Properties:

California poppy tea was used by American Indians to help soothe fussy babies and to promote a calm and healing sleep for their parents. The root contains a variety of nonnarcotic alkaloids that have shown to relax smooth muscle, especially in the uterus and bronchial airways, treating menstrual cramps and spasmodic coughs.

Poppy teas, tinctures, and other preparations are recommended by herbalists for relieving anxiety, nervousness, stomach and uterine cramps, and bronchial constrictions. California poppy promotes healthy sleep and is a mild pain reliever. Health professionals use it to help their patients slowly reduce prescription drug use and withdraw from addictive substances, as well as to treat children with hyperactive tendencies.

The unripe seed capsules of the opium poppy are used for the extraction of morphine and the manufacture of codeine.


Safety concerns are all theoretical. For instance, the extract, because it is mildly sedative, has been suggested to strengthen the effects of pharmaceutical sedatives – but that’s very unlikely to happen in practice. A clinical study that followed 264 participants for 3 months showed that California poppy plus hawthorn and magnesium was just as safe as -and more effective than – a placebo treatment for reducing mild to moderate anxiety. The safety of California poppy during pregnancy has not been studied, but no harmful effects have been noted.

All parts of the opium poppy, except the ripe seeds, are dangerous and should be used only by trained medical staff.

In the Garden:

california poppy seedlings

California poppy, native to California, likes warm, dry, sandy soil and full sun. You can lightly water it during periods of active growth, but it does best if you give it dry conditions while it’s flowering. Don’t over-fertilize. In warm climates, if it looks spent after flowering, you can renew it by cutting it back to the ground and watering it a bit. Start it from seed {stratification helps}, and direct-sow it in fall or early spring, since it rarely transplants well. You might find that it self-sows and spreads very easily in warm, dry climates. When grouping California poppy with other flowers, give the poppy’s 12 to 16 inches all around – they really extend.

Harvesting California Poppy:

Collect the aerial parts or the whole plant while the flowers are still blooming and the seedpods are present. Dig the root after fall die-back. Dry it and the aerial parts separately, so you don’t over-dry the thinner portions. All parts of the plant, particularly the above-ground portions, are easily degraded by sunlight. California poppy is delicate in storage, but it will last 18 months if kept in an airtight container.


Sprinkle the ripe seeds on bread, cakes and biscuits for a pleasant nutty flavor. Add to curry powder for texture, flavor, and as a thickener.

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