California Poppy: A Cooling Sedative Herb for Relaxation

Reader Contribution by Marlene Adelmann and The Herbal Academy
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This article is excerpted from theHerbal Self-Care for Stress Management Courseat the Herbal Academy.

Unfortunately, the word stress has become commonplace in our day-to-day language. How many times have you felt stressed or said that you were “stressed out” this past month? We use the word “stress” for anything from a feeling of being run down to severe overwhelm to mild frustration. Though its overuse may diminish its meaningfulness, we should not underestimate the detrimental effects stress can have on our bodies, our minds, and our emotions.

Fortunately, there are many herbs that can help with symptoms of stress and bring us to a more relaxed state. In the Herbal Self-Care for Stress Management Course, we have identified a number of herbal allies to support our overall health and wellbeing. Here, we take a look at California poppy, a helpful sedative herb that can be used to manage our stress response.

First, a Look at Sedatives

Herbs are often classified into actions—the effect that an herb is believed to have on the human body. A sedative herb, also known as a relaxant, calms and soothes the nervous system, and can help induce sleep.  

The stress response is likely to present as signs and symptoms such as increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, palpitations, poor digestion, insomnia, and anxiety amongst others. Sedatives are often used to help a person who is unable to sleep because of stress causing these problems.

California Poppy for Relaxation

This delightful herb is a great choice for someone who is unable to stop overthinking and worrying about things or simply cannot switch off their thoughts. Being a sedative herb, California poppy (Eschscholzia californica Cham) is commonly employed to improve sleep and rest. So if you find yourself counting sheep at night, it might be time to add California poppy into your bedtime routine.

Interestingly enough, California poppy is in the same family as the opium poppy; however, California poppy contains different alkaloids that produce a mild sedative effect instead of a narcotic effect. The group of alkaloids in California poppy are much less potent than morphine and codeine.

California poppy has been used to address a variety of mental complaints including depression, anxiety, melancholia, nervous agitation, hyperactivity, restlessness, insomnia, neurasthenia, and nervous tension (Tierra, 1988; Tierra, 1998; Mars, 2001; Romm, 2009; Marciano, 2015). It can be used to reduce stress, aid in relaxation, and to calm the spirit (J. Snow, personal communication, 2010).

California poppy is said to exhibit a dose-dependent effect, such that lower doses are predominantly anxiolytic, and higher doses have a sedative effect (Romm, 2009), while excessive use may lead to a hangover effect (Mars, 2001). Many practitioners use California poppy in lower doses, combined in formulations with other nervine herbs (Abascal & Yarnell, 2004). In a clinical trial with over 250 patients, researchers studied the efficacy of a French formula (Sympathyl®), containing California poppy, hawthorn flower (Crataegus laevigata), and magnesium, for treating mild to moderate anxiety disorders. Participants taking the California poppy formulation had significantly improved anxiety symptoms after three months compared to those taking placebo (Hanus et al., 2003).

If you have California poppy growing in your area, harvest the plant when it is just beginning to flower. Tincture the plant fresh, or use for infusions. A latex-like solution present in the leaf, stem, root, and flower is the target to capture in tinctures and infusions.

** For California poppy’s dosage and safety considerations, please consult a clinical herbalist or reference the Herbal Self-Care for Stress Management Course by the Herbal Academy.

California poppy is just one of many herbal aides that can be helpful in overcoming symptoms of stress and managing your stress response. If you are interested in exploring more relaxing botanicals and approaches for stress management, we welcome you to join us at the Herbal Academy in our Herbal Self-Care for Stress Management Course.

Discover What “Herbal” Self-Care Really Means

Herbal self-care is much more than just taking herbs when we are frazzled or blue or tired. The Herbal Self-Care for Stress Management Course explores stress and its effects on wellbeing and then delves into the holistic approach to self-care for stress management. You’ll walk away with an understanding of the nutritional choices, lifestyle practices, and herbs that can transform your response to stress and enhance your wellbeing.

Learn more and register for the class.

Marlene Adelmann is the Founder and Director of the Herbal Academy, international school of herbal arts and sciences, and meeting place for Boston-area herbalists. Through the school, Marlene has brought the wild and wonderful world of plant medicine to thousands of students across the globe. Learn more about the Herbal Academy at


1. Abascal, K., & Yarnell, E. (2004). Nervine herbs for treating anxiety. Alternative and Complementary Therapies, 10(6), 309-315.
2. Hanus, M., Lafon, J., & Mathieu, M. (2003). Double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled study to evaluate the efficacy and safety of a fixed combination containing two plant extracts (Crataegus oxyacantha and Eschscholtzia californica) and magnesium in mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders. Current Medical Research and Opinion, 20(1), 63-71.
3. Marciano, M. (2015). Eschscholzia californica. Retrieved from
4. Mars, B. (2001). Addiction-free naturally: Liberating yourself from sugar, caffeine, food addictions, tobacco, alcohol, prescription drugs. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.
5. Romm, A. (2009). Insomnia. Journal of the American Herbalists Guild, 8(2), 14-22.
6. Tierra, M. (1988). Planetary herbology: An integration of Western herbs into the traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic systems. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.
7. Tierra, M. (1998). The way of herbs. New York: Pocket Books.

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