Evening primrose is a stunning native wildflower

Everyone has seen those tall weeds with long narrow leaves and covered with cup-shaped yellow flowers. Sometimes they can grow to be five feet tall. For foragers and herbalists, it has a bounty of uses.

The plant in question is evening primrose (Oenothera biennis). Most people consider it a weed as it grows along roadsides and in waste places. Some consider it a wildflower. Evening primrose is a common pasture plant, and it thrives in open fields.

This herbaceous plant is classified as a biennial. Other closely related species can be annual or perennial. They can have pink, white or lavender colored flowers. Each individual bloom lasts only a day or two, but they are prolific and blossom in summer and early fall. Flowers tend to open more in the late afternoon, hence the name.

Biennial evening primrose produces only foliage and thick roots in its first season. In the second year the plant flowers. The thick fleshy roots can be cooked and eaten like potatoes. Roots become fibrous as the second season progresses.

Evening primrose roots remind me a little of parsnips. In early spring of their second year they develop a sweeter flavor like parsnips do. Cold temperatures are partially responsible for converting some of the starches to sugars.

Roots aren’t the only palatable part. All parts of the plant are edible, even the seeds. Some people utilize young leaves as cooked greens.

Others like to make tea from the flowers. Flowers can also be used in salads. Hummingbirds and other pollinators like them too. Plants are high in natural linolenic acid, an essential fatty acid often referred to as Omega-6.

Evening primrose grows best in well-drained soils. It tolerates a wide pH range and greatly benefits from large amounts of organic matter. Some gardeners like to domesticate it and plant it in their beds.

This one is aggressive, but like most other tap rooted plants it’s difficult to transplant. Once it gets established evening primrose can take over. It’s a prolific seed producer and the thick roots can crowd other plants. However, being a native plant makes it attractive for many people.

In recent years several companies have harvested seeds and pressed them to make evening primrose oil. This oil is often used to treat eczema and acne. For women it is used to ease PMS symptoms and menstrual breast pain. During menopause it’s often used to minimize hot flashes.

Some herbalists prescribe evening primrose oil to help reduce high blood pressure and improve overall heart health. Evening primrose oil is also recommended to reduce diabetic nerve pain. Anti-inflammatory properties of this oil also contribute to its use to treat the bone pain of rheumatoid arthritis.

Taking evening primrose preparations could be a problem for those taking blood thinners. Evening primrose oil does the same thing and results can be magnified. For people who experience seizures, evening primrose oil could make them worse.

As with any herbal medicine, always consult with your medical professional before embarking on any treatment. Natural herbal medicines are not automatically safe. Read and ask questions.

Evening primrose plant beginning to go by

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I recently retired from teaching high school agriculture after 25 years teaching with my wife. Until recently I wrote a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com). I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that can be purchased on Amazon in Kindle format. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone (presently out of print), a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death (this one is not yet published). In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books. I also wrote a romance novel titled Virginia. It is available on Amazon and is a different type of romance from a man's perspective.
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1 Response to Evening primrose is a stunning native wildflower

  1. tonytomeo says:

    This and other Eastern specie are absent here of course, but we have our on native specie. They are not as useful, but they sure are pretty in profusion.

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