Evening Primrose – Oenothera Biennis: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Midnight Oil of Wild Plants

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While not a true “primrose”, common evening primrose is truly amazing. You might have heard of evening primrose oil as a medicinal supplement, but this foraged wild plant is also amazingly edible!

The flowers open at dusk hence the “evening”. Observe them and you’ll notice flowers hanging on in the morning that are wilted and gone by the same evening, before the next batch opens. The blooms odor attracts moths that fertilize it. There’s even a “primrose moth”. Moths are busy little pollinators too!

Edible Uses of Evening Primrose

Evening primrose is highly edible. It’s even been cultivated for food. For one, the up to a foot long taproots are edible. Yet another root to try along with the dandelion, burdock, wild parsnip, etc. The taste could be called an acquired taste, a spicy version of rutabaga.

Evening Primrose - Oenothera Biennis
Evening Primrose – Oenothera Biennis (Mixed w/ white daisies!)

First-year roots are recommended. Scrape the roots well. Slice and fry or cook them in soups or stews. They can also be candied. If you’re using older roots, peel and boil them for half an hour, with 2-3 water changes. Boiling reduces the bitterness of older roots.

Evening primrose can give you some itchiness in the back of the throat even when cooked. But not in the same way as Jack-in-the-Pulpit!

Young stalks of second year plants can be peeled and eaten raw or cooked. The peppery young leaves may be plucked from the early spring rosettes or further up the stem, and eaten raw sparingly or steamed as greens. As the plant gets older the basal/bottom leaves become gritty.

Buds can also be eaten, boiled with a water change is recommended. Watch confusing them with seedpods. The flowers can be eaten raw or steamed as well.

The seeds can be used like poppy seeds and contain healthy fatty acids. As a bonus, they are abundant and super easy to harvest. They are used to make evening primrose seed oil.

The seed oil contains gamma linolenic acid (GLA), an omega-6 fatty acid.

Medicinal Uses of Evening Primrose

Evening primrose is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive
  • Endocrine
  • Integumentary
  • Immune
  • Reproductive
  • Respiratory

Medicinal tags include Anti-inflammatory, Antispasmodic, Astringent, Febrifuge, Mucilage and Sedative. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes female hormone support. At least that is what I first heard of, and I took evening primrose oil supplements to support balancing my hormones.

The uses you may find more in herbals books are in the spasmic respiratory conditions and skin eruptions arena. Another herb to consider for your cough mixes and skin salves! Plus the standard list of almost everything. It’s called king’s cureall after all!

For those with allergic eczema I’d love to hear if using evening primrose seed oil (due to the GLA) has supported you! Studies have been hit and miss!

Alternative Uses of Sundrops

A yellow dye can be made from the flowers.

Growing Oenothera Biennis

They produce abundant seeds in autumn, so it’s easy to collect a handful and direct sow in the Spring after the danger of frost has passed, in a sunny spot with well-draining soil. You may find more ornamental varieties at your local garden shop, but for the best impact look for the native ones – Northern Evening-Primrose (oenothera parviflora) is probably the most likely one you’ll find in native plant nurseries. In the summer months you should be able to spot pink Evening Primrose Moths snuggled up in the flowers:

Two evening primrose moths on namesake plant
Start checking your plants as soon as they bloom for resting evening primrose moths!


And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

#ads in References

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Forest Plants of Central Ontario

Indian Herbalogy of North America: The Definitive Guide to Native Medicinal Plants and Their Uses

Ontario Nature Guide

Ontario Wildflowers: 101 Wayside Flowers

The Herb Book: The Most Complete Catalog of Herbs Ever Published (Dover Cookbooks)

The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants

Tom Brown’s Guide to Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants: The Key to Nature’s Most Useful Secrets

Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

Field Guide to North American Edible Wild Plants (Out of Print)

Field Guide to Medicinal Wild Plants

Reader’s Digest Magic and Medicine of Plants

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