California poppies are the State's official flower and you can see why. I photographed these along the Big Sur coast a couple of weeks ago, and from my holiday herb reading discovered that early seafarers would say they could see there was gold in California from far out to sea, when they saw the fields of golden poppies along the shore. Certainly their bright colour was visible miles ahead of us as we wove along the windy and precipitous Highway 1.
It's exciting for me to see them growing in such profusion, since California Poppy, or to give it its rather unpronounceable botanical name, Eschscholzia californica, has long been a favourite herb in my practice. In London I only ever saw it as a bottle of tincture in my dispensary or the odd rather sorry looking plant in a garden. Unsurprising, I suppose, that a plant which evolved for long, dry summers and mild winters doesn't thrive there. Here I see it not only in the wild places like Big Sur but pretty much everywhere: on traffic islands in the busy downtown area, tumbling down embankments and sprouting between cracks in masonry. It's ebullient and sunny and somehow very Californian.
It's interesting that its lively appearance kind of belies its medicinal qualities, because California Poppy helps you sleep. It's effective but gentle enough to be given to over-excited children - though I'm always cautious about using sleep herbs too often for children as sleeping is a skill which I believe needs nurturing and learning like any other. But for a long flight, or jet lag, it's a safe and useful possibility.
Like much in Herbal medicine, helping people fall asleep and stay asleep is an art as much as a science, in my view. Even the most powerful pharmaceutical tranquilisers don't work in some cases and the problem with the 'knock 'em over the head' approach is that it can leave the sleeper with a foggy head the next day. The beauty of a well balanced and tailored herbal prescription is that you can balance the herbs to provide what that person needs. In many cases this is mostly about feeling relaxed and safe, sometimes it's to do with an overactive mind and tense, under-exercised muscles. sometimes it's a lack of routine and too screen time before bed.
I use California poppy when I want to help someone fall asleep, it's less effective when the problem is waking in the night. It helps quieten the mind and seems to induce a pleasant heaviness of the eyelids, so its easier to drift off to the land of Nod. Once there, some people report they dream a little more, and I've heard tell of quite vivid dreaming, but it always seems to be pleasant. I combine it with whichever herbs are indicated for the individual, which can often mean deeper sleep herbs such as hops (Humulus lupus) or wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa) and maybe a herb to relax the muscles like Chamomile or Vervain (Verbena officinalis).
So if you're having a temporary problem with falling asleep, you could consider seeing whether this beautiful flower can help. You can buy tincture from your herbalist or a herb store. If you'd like to prepare your own don't be tempted to wildcraft, as it is very rightly protected in the wild so you'll need to grow it or make friends with someone who has it in their garden. If you manage to get hold of some, make a tincture of the whole arial parts - ie leaves, flowers and seed pods.