I've come to rely on very few bedfellows to accompany me as I cross the threshold from a day's worrisome, strenuous activities into the land of sleep.  Being aware of several herbs that have the potential to grant sleep, I've tried them over the years when the need for their help has arisen.  My experiences with them have distilled down to three remedies I find particularly effective, and of those three, one stands alone as my favorite.

California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica), California's state flower and a native of the western US, is also known as California Sunlight or Cup of Gold.  Described as red, orange, yellow, and sometimes pink in color, John Steinbeck offers up the most interesting description of the flower.  In East of Eden he writes:  "California poppies . . . are of a burning color - not orange, not gold, but if pure gold were liquid and could raise a cream, that golden cream might be like the color of poppies."

Apart from its ornamental beauty, California Poppy is a highly-regarded medicinal herb with several gifts to offer.  It is related to the opium poppy but not narcotic.  Rudolph Weiss writes that "like the opium poppy, it contains a number of alkaloids with hypnotic and sedative effects, however the overall effect is mild, generally more balancing, and non-narcotic.  It can be prepared as a tea (1 tsp per cup) and is tolerated well, even by children, where it is most commonly prescribed for treatment of childhood neuropathy (nerve pain) but also for nocturnal enuresis (bed-wetting)."

California Poppy is gentle and safe enough to be used in formulas designed to assist those withdrawing from addictions to alcohol, tobacco, or drugs. It moves us with its nervine/tonic action toward a state of equilibrium, calming and balancing our overstretched selves.  The heart is relieved by the flower's peaceful influence on rapid heart beat and palpitations; blood pressure lowers.

California Poppy has an anti-spasmodic action helping to relax muscles, soothe stress-related gut problems, relieve tension headaches, and ease asthma and coughs triggered by stress.  It may assist with the pain of colic or whooping cough in children.

It may be used topically for toothache, earache, headache, sciatica, and shingles.  Applying it to scrapes and minor cuts not only helps ease pain but also helps fight infection due to California Poppy's anti-microbial action.

Capable of enhancing cognition, it may be used by adults and children alike for ADD and ADHD.  It has beneficial cognitive effects for the elderly as well.

But I am especially fond of California Poppy's ability to help promote satisfying sleep.  Stronger even than nervine relaxant herbs, it is a nervine hypnotic.  It induces a trance meaning it brings about a deeper state of relaxation, a stronger calm, that encourages sleep and is better suited to be used later in the day for that purpose.  Such a strong nervine hypnotic as California Poppy is well-adapted to acute conditions of pain, uncomfortable levels of anxiety, and unnerving panic attacks, any one of which can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Regarding pain (a significant driver of sleeplessness):

Sajah Popham writes, "Oftentimes in order for them [nervine hypnotics] to really be effective for the treatment of something like pain they should be used in dosage ranges that begin to generate an adjusted state of consciousness (basically you start to feel a little ditsy).  [I interpret you start to feel a little ditsy to mean that you feel your spirit loosening, rising from physical, emotional, or mental constraints.  The calm provided by California Poppy is profound and deep.  In that stillness, the spirit can finally roam free]. In that way the main caution with herbs of this type is that they can definitely make one feel overly tired if used in excess during the day . . . Many of these remedies are somewhat dose dependent, everyone tends to respond to them very differently.  Experiment with how much you take until you find that sweet spot."  

And Richard Whelan writes, "Although the effect of California Poppy is much less potent than that of morphine or codeine, it will still have pronounced sedative and hypnotic (sleep inducing) effects when taken in sufficient dosages.  In moderate amounts, it can be seen to be non-sedating but still able to relieve neuralgia (nerve pain)."

Dosing suggestions:

If making a cup of tea, steep 1 - 2 heaping tsp per cup for 15 minutes.  Sip and enjoy the sensation of relaxation spreading throughout the nervous system.

For long term use, the liquid extract is more practical, but knowing how much to take to address pain or anxiety or sleeplessness is somewhat challenging.  Some people fare well with small doses; others require larger ones.  The range is approximately a dropperful to five dropperfuls.  Please start at the low end of this range and, if necessary, work your way toward the high end.  As Richard Whelan writes, "The best dose is the amount that the person can palpably feel relaxing them and making them feel more comfortable.  More is not better when you get to that point, and it may in fact be less helpful.  Feel the relaxing action and wait for a good 1 - 2 hours to assess if it is making a difference."

Additionally, he suggests combining California Poppy with other sleep-enhancing herbs.  For children, Chamomile and Oatstraw are gentle companions to California Poppy, and for the rest of us, Scullcap and Passionflower can lend their support.  And for pain, he suggests combining California Poppy with St. John's Wort, Scullcap, Passionflower, Licorice Root, and Peppermint

I wonder if California Poppies, those beautiful cups of gold, are under siege due to the current extraordinary number of wildfires in California.  Should you seek this remedy, bear in mind that now, for a number of reasons, it's gifts are especially precious.  Just like liquid gold. 



Avoid during pregnancy or lactation.  Avoid use with MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors), tranquilizers, central nervous system depressants (e.g. alcohol, opiates, benzodiazepines, anaesthetics, tricyclic antidepressants, anti-epileptics), and Pentobarbital. May cause drug tests to test positive for opiates. Forbidden in glaucoma.  Avoid with low blood pressure.  Standard Dose:  15 - 25 drops of liquid extract three times daily or an infusion of 2 - 4 ounces of dried herb.  Large doses may cause nausea.  If dosing in large amounts, avoid operating heavy machinery.  Be cautious when dosing children.  Based on the child's age, start with only a few sips of a weak version of the tea or, if using a liquid extract, start with drops, not dropperfuls.

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