The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications

Eschscholzia californica Chamisso


Golden Poppy, California Poppy




Papaveraceae (Poppy Family); Subfamily Papa-veroideae, Eschscholzieae Tribe

Forms and Subspecies


Numerous forms (over thirty) have been cultivated for ornamental purposes, especially white-and red-blooming cultivars, including some with double flowers (Grey-Wilson 1995, 55*). Several varieties or subspecies of the wild plant have been described (Kreis 1993, 111):


Eschscholzia californica Cham. var. alba

Eschscholzia californica Cham. var. crocea (Benth.) Jepson

Eschscholzia californica Cham. f. dentata (deeply incised leaves)

Eschscholzia californica Cham. var. douglasii (Benth.) Gray

Eschscholzia californica Cham. var. maritima (Greene) Jepson (perennial)

Eschscholzia californica Cham. ssp. Mexicana (Greene) C. Clarke

Eschscholzia californica Cham. ssp. [or var.] peninsularis (Greene) Munz (Southern California, Baja California)




Chryseis californica Torr. et Gray

Eschscholtzia californica Cham.

Eschscholtzia douglasii Benth.

Eschscholtzia douglasii (Hook. et Arn.) Walp.

Eschscholtzia maritima Greene

Eschscholtzia mexicana Greene

Folk Names


Amapola amarilla, amapola de California, amapola de los indios (“opium of the Indians”), amapolla, California poppy, Californian poppy, copa de oro (Spanish, “cup of gold”),148 cululuk (Rumsen), globe du soleil, golden poppy, goldmohn, indianischer mohn, kalifornischer mohn, knipmutsje (Dutch), pavot de californie, schlafmützchen, slapmutshe, yellow poppy



The Indians of California have used the golden poppy for medicinal and/or psychoactive purposes since prehistoric times.

The genus is named after the surgeon Dr. J. F. Eschscholtz (1793–1831), who served as naturalist in the 1816 and 1824 Russian expeditions to the coast of the Pacific Northwest (Grey-Wilson 1995, 55*).

The golden or California poppy is the official state flower of California (Bremness 1995, 250*).

The plant has been cultivated in European gardens since 1790 (Grey-Wilson 1995, 55*).

Since the 1960s, the California poppy has been regarded as a “legal high” and as a marijuana substitute (cf. Cannabis indica) (Kreis 1993, 113).



The plant is indigenous to western North America (California, Oregon). It thrives at altitudes of up to 2,000 meters above sea level and requires moderately dry soil and much sun. It occurs as far south as Baja California and northern Mexico (ssp. mexicana).



Propagation occurs through the seeds. These are pressed into the ground to a depth of 0.5 to 1 cm and watered. At temperatures between 10 to 22°C, they germinate within eight to fifteen days. The young plants must be transplanted so that their later growth is not disturbed. In central Europe, it is advisable to raise the plants indoors and transplant them into a garden or planter box at the end of April.

California poppy seeds germinate so effectively that only a few seeds are needed. The plant can tolerate various soil types.

Cultivation for pharmaceutical purposes occurs primarily in southern France (Kreis 1993, 112).



The California poppy is an annual that can grow as tall as 40 cm. The multipinnate leaves are opposite and are blue-green or even grayish in color. The silky flowers are luminously orange-yellow and sit at the end of long, slender stalks. The wild plant blossoms from June to August. The fruits are long, thin, tapered pods that point straight up and contain numerous tiny seeds.

The genus Eschscholzia is composed of some ten species that occur in the wild only in North America, especially California. Eschscholzia californica is easily confused with Eschscholzia caespitosa Benth. [syn. E. tenuifoliaBenth.], a species found in the Sierra Nevada of California, and with Eschscholzia lemmonii Greene (Grey-Wilson 1995, 60f.*).


One of the many cultivated sorts of golden poppy (Eschscholzia californica).



The flower and fruit of the golden poppy (Eschscholzia californica). (Wild plant, photographed in northern California)


Psychoactive Material


—Leaves/herbage (eschscholziae herba, herba eschscholtziae, herba eschscholziae, eschscholzienkraut)



Preparation and Dosage


The leaves, flowers, and fruits can be dried and smoked, either alone or mixed with other herbs (cf. smoking blends). The effects are very mild. The maximum dosage appears to be rather open (Gottlieb 1973, 9*).

To make a tea with sedative effects, add one to two heaping teaspoons of dried herbage to one cup of boiling water and allow to steep for thirteen minutes.

The fresh fruits (and the fresh herbage) can be chewed if desired. Tinctures and extracts at first should be dosed according to the instructions on the packaging material. Dosages can then be increased as desired for experimentation.

Ritual Use


It is possible that the California Indians may have used the plant for ritual purposes in prehistoric times.



Because of its beauty, the golden poppy is often depicted in paintings of California and on postcards and posters (e.g., The Panama-Pacific International Exposition, 1915).

Medicinal Use


The California Indians use the flowers, stalks, and leaves primarily as a sedative for toothaches (Bremness 1995, 250*). They usually chew the fresh leaves. A decoction of the flowers is used to treat head lice. Two flowers may be placed under a child’s pillow to aid in sleep. Indian women avoid the golden poppy while pregnant (Kreis 1993, 113).

In northern Mexico, the golden poppy is used in folk medicine in the same manner as opium (cf. Papaver somniferum) (Martínez 1994, 36*). In pediatric medicine, it is also popular in place of opium as a mild sedative and analgesic (Sturm et al. 1993). Tinctures made from material collected during the flowering period are preferred (Columbo and Tomé 1993). In homeopathic medicine, preparations of the fresh flowering plant (Eschscholtzia californica hom. PFX, Eschscholtzia californica hom. HPUS88) are used in accordance with the medical description to treat such ailments as sleep disturbances (Kreis 1993, 114).



The entire plant contains alkaloids. The concentrations are highest during the flowering period. Material collected at this time can contain as much as 1.1% alkaloids by dry weight. The root contains up to 2.7% alkaloids, including 0.014% magnoflorine (= escholine; an aporphine alkaloid), 0.013% (–)-α-canadinmethohydroxide, 0.05% norargemonine, and 0.08% bisnorargemonine; these substances are present in the herbage in only trace amounts. The primary alkaloid in the root is allocryptopine (approximately 1.8%). The seeds contain protopine (= macleyine; = fumarine; = biflorine), allocryptopine, chelerythrine, and other substances (Kreis 1993, 111). The herbage contains magnoflorine as well as californidine, protopine, allocryptopine, sanguinarine (= pseudochelerythrine), coptisine,149 chelerythrine (= toddaline), escholzine (= eschscholtzine; = californine), N-methyllaurotetanine (= lauroscholtzine), corydine, isocorydine, chelirubin, macarpine, chelilutine, and O-methylcariachine (Kreis 1993, 112). The alkaloids in the aboveground parts of the plant increase dramatically when the plant is grown under strong light (Colombo and Tomé 1991).



The psychoactive effects of the golden poppy are very subtle: “Eschscholzia elevates the body’s oxygen supply and promotes the absorption of vitamin A. . . . When smoked, the leaves and flowers induce a mild state of euphoria—side effects are unknown!” (Bremness 1994, 250*).

In animal experiments (mice), the extract has exhibited clear sedative and anxiolytic effects. In other words, the pharmacological behavior is that of a tranquilizer (Rolland et al. 1991). The extract extends the effects of barbiturates (Kreis 1993, 113).

The two alkaloids chelerythrine and sanguinarine bind to vasopressin (V1) receptors, a neuro-chemical behavior that may explain the golden poppy’s psychoactivity (Granger et al. 1992).

Commercial Forms and Regulations


The seeds may be purchased in most nurseries (usually a variety of cultivars are offered). Health food stores in the United States sell liquid extracts of California poppy (fresh roots, leaves, and flowers) from guaranteed organic sources. All products are available without restriction.

“The plant promotes sleep and alleviates pain. It should be able to substitute for opium for children.”















See also the entries for Papaver spp.


Colombo, M. L., and F. Tomé. 1991. Growth and alkaloid content in Eschscholzia californica in controlled conditions. Planta Medica 57 suppl. (2): A91.


———. 1993. Nuclear DNA changes during morphogenesis in calli of Eschscholzia californicaPlanta Medica 59 suppl.: A596.


Granger, I., C. Serradeil-Le Gal, J. M. Augereau, and J. Gleye. 1992. Benzophenanthrine alkaloids isolated from Eschscholzia californica cell suspension cultures interact with vasopressin (V1) receptors. Planta Medica 58:35–38.


Kreis, Wolfgang. 1993. Eschscholzia. In Hagers Handbuch der pharmazeutischen Praxis, 5th ed., 5:110–15. Berlin: Springer.


Rodríguez, Eloy, Mann Chin Shen, Tom J. Marby, and Xorge A. Domínguez. 1973. Isorhamnetin 3-O-glucoside 7-O-arabinoside from Eschscholzia mexicanaPhytochemistry 12:2069–71.


Rolland, Alain, Jacques Fleuretin, Marie-Claire Lanhers, Chafique Younos, René Misslin, François Mortier, and Jean-Marie Pelt. 1991. Behavioural effects of the American traditional plant Eschscholzia californica: Sedative and anxiolytic properties. Planta Medica 57:212–16.


Rusby, Henry Hurd. 1889. Eschscholzia californica Chamisso. Druggists Bulletin 3 (6): 176–79.


Sturm, S., H. Stuppner, N. Mulinacci, and F. Vinceieri. 1993. Capillary zone electrophoretic analysis of the main alkaloids from Eschscholzia californicaPlanta Medica 59 suppl.: A625.