The Calming Glow of Gold Poppy
Botanical name: Eschscholzia californica and spp. mexicana
Common Names: Gold Poppy, California Poppy, Mexican Gold Poppy
Taste: acrid, bitter
Energetics: very cool
Affinities: liver, gallbladder, heart
Actions: anodyne, antispasmodic, relaxant nervine, topical antimicrobial
Cautions: Ingesting very large amounts can cause nausea.
Notes: Eschscholzia mexicana and Eschscholzia californica are interchangeable for the purposes of this article.
Driving through the wild expanses of the Gila each Spring, through the twisty passes, and down into the vibrant river valleys, there is golden carpet of wildflowers that grows up from the sand and clay in a wild profusion. Here there are little villages with names like Buckhorn and Alma, a scattering of adobes and cabins in the midst of amber-tinted shortgrass prairie and towering riparian forest. Purple and yellows are the colors of a spring in this part of New Mexico, brilliant reminders of the incredible diversity that resides in our both fragile and incredibly tenacious ecology.
These gold flowered beauties are considered a subspecies (Eschscholzia californica spp. mexicana) of the more well known California Poppies (Eschscholzia californica). Common at lower elevations in southwest New Mexico, I usually have to drive down to the little villages south of here to find a good harvesting spot on a friend’s property. Where they do grow, they flourish and spread, carpeting the roadsides and grasslands with acres and acres of fire-flecked gold. They often grow in the company of their cousin, Golden Smoke (Corydalis aurea) and a small yellow bush Evening Primrose.
The plants are cool to the touch and the leaves and stems nearly succulent in texture, a welcome sensory respite in the midst of blowing sand, scorching sun, and stickery plants. The Gold Poppies have this remarkable way of staying fresh forever after being harvested, sometimes even a week later still holding enough moisture to look like they could actually be planted back in the ground and be none the worse for the experience. This is quite a feat in the dry NM air where most plants are bone dry within a couple days. With their feathery leaves and paper thin petals, these flowers may appear delicate but are actually amazingly tough in and out of the ground. Gold Poppies are generally considered to be true annuals, though the California Poppies can sometimes be short lived perennials.
Gold Poppy is safe enough for children, non-addictive, formulates very well and is endlessly useful. It is first and foremost a nervine, it is cooling and dispersive, and excels at clearing stuck energy and heat (especially in the heart or liver) from the body. Stuck energy often results in anxiety, depression, poor circulation, chronic inflammation and emotional lability. The ideal person for this plant has a red tongue, a tendency to sighing, moves between anxiety and depression quickly, has bloating and a feeling of pressure beneath the ribs, may have a flushed face, impaired digestion (typically constipation, but diarrhea or rotating between the two is not uncommon) and is prone to headaches and insomnia. Gold Poppy moves the energy, calms the spirit, cools heat and generally settles the irritability and anxiousness.
That said, this herb also makes a great general relaxing treatment, and is particularly useful for the very young and very old, whenever constitutionally appropriate. I’ve often seen small amounts of the tea work wonders with fussy, flushed, irritable babies in summer who can’t sleep, and have also had success in using it in children three years old and up, especially when they're overheated and overtired from an inflammatory condition or heating virus (think childhood eruptive diseases such as chicken pox). Gold Poppy is less appropriate when the child (or adult) is already cool, pale and quiet. For insomnia, fear or depression in such constitutions or cases, try a more warming nervine.
Gold Poppy can be useful in any case of insomnia where sleeplessness or restlessness is caused by pain, especially sharp, hot or throbbing pain. Nerve pain such as sciatica fall under this category, and the tincture can be used both internally and topically to help allay the pain. For chronic pain that results in tremors, nervous system exhaustion and systemic inflammation try a formula of 3 parts Mexican Poppy, 2 parts Milky Oats and 1 part Golden Smoke.
As medicine, I tincture the majority of my harvest and I gather the whole plant, root and all (being sure to make no visible impact on the population, leaving plenty to reseed and continue on their cheery way). Timing wise, I aim to harvest it when the plant has begun to make seedpods, but while there are still plenty of flowers. Gold Poppy does work quite well as a tea, but definitely lacks something in the tasty department. I do rather like the taste of the tincture however, and find it to be so useful I generally keep at least a quart on hand at a time. At the moment, I have three quarts. I'm unlikely to be sleepless anytime soon.
As I mentioned before, this herb combines very well in formulas and that is how I typically use it. It's lovely (but bitter) combined with Vervain and Evening Primrose for PMS with stabbing cramps, moodiness, digestive upset, feelings of heat and irritability (the kind that makes you want to break things and scream very, very loudly) and red, uncoated tongue. Milky Oats and/or Skullcap would also be appropriate if there is deep, underlying exhaustion with low libido and intermittent depression. I also love it with Prunus species (especially Prunus serotina) where anxiety, irritation, or overstimulation trigger heart palpitations.
The tincture can also be used externally for nerve pain, and in the case of various kinds of infections and fungi, being a good overall anti-microbial and decent anti-inflammatory, in my experience.