Eschscholzia californica from the Papaveraceae family is best known as the symbol of state California in the USA. This tender and fragile plant grows to a height of about 18 inches. Its round stems can be either erect or creeping, bearing alternate parsley-like lobed leaves usually at their lower parts. The stems and the leaves have bluish-green color and are easily broken.
California poppy blooms from April to September, covering vast areas with orange to yellow blossoms, which resemble those of Opium poppy, except for the color. A single flower develops on a plant’s long stem. It consists of four silky petals about 2 inches long and wide. The cup-shaped flower contains multiple stamens and two carpels inside. The floral bud is covered with two green fused sepals, which fall off when the flower opens. California poppy is distinctive for its flowers feature to close at night or cold cloudy weather and open when it is warm and sunny.
The fruit of the plant is an elongated (about 3 inches long) slender pod, enclosing numerous black or dark brown seeds. In the favorable conditions they rapidly start growing developing long and stout taproot and slender stems.
Eschscholzia californica perfectly suits warm and dry climate. It prefers full sun, sandy soil and little moisture. In these conditions it grows as a perennial, while in colder areas it is usually cultivated as an annual plant.
California poppy is native to the western United States. It is found in abundance in California, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona and in the northern parts of Mexico. Nowadays the plant is widely cultivated all over the world, and it is quite easy to grow in one’s private garden.
Dried aerial parts, gathered at the peak of blooming period, were and still are used in the traditional herbal medicine. The root of the plant is also used for medicinal properties, but to a lesser extend.
California poppy is available as a dry herb, in liquid extracts and capsules.
Eschscholzia californica main constituents are alkaloids (e.g. protopine, cryptopine, californine and chelidonine) and flavone glycosides. Protopine and californine are, these days, the most researched chemicals. The sedative, anti-spasmodic, analgesic, nervine, slightly hypnotic and anodyne properties of the herb are traced to the presence of these elements. They are thought to work practically similarly to pharmaceutical drugs called benzodiazepines, however, lacking their ability to relieve seizures.
Chemical structure of California poppy allows the plant to influence neurotransmitters in the human brain without depressing the central nervous system. The plant is a mild sedative, and although it is a relative of Opium poppy, it is not an opiate; thus, it does not cause dependence. Such action of the plant makes it safe to be used even in children.
Along with the improvements in the physical and psychological state of a patient, California poppy has also antimicrobial properties, which explains its use as a topical remedy in the treatment of various skin conditions.
Eschscholzia californica is said to be very helpful in cases of mild muscle spasms, cramps, pain of different origin, headaches, anxiety, irritability, nervousness and insomnia. It may also be useful in cases of bedwetting, fever, acute nerve and muscular pain, rapid heartbeat, bladder and liver disorders.
As an herbal supplement California poppy may improve intellectual capacity, memory, and concentration, especially in the elderly.
Topical poultices of the plant’s leaves serve as effective means to heal cuts and scrapes. They are also capable of killing lice. If suppression of the lactation in breastfeeding mothers is needed, external washes are prepared from the plant as well. The fresh root applied directly to the tooth soothes toothache.
In addition, California poppy has always been used as an ingredient in the cosmetic products.
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