EVENING PRIMROSE, Oenothera biennis

Evening Primrose Plant

The blossoms on some plants are very delicate. For instance, blossom on the evening primrose can’t even stand the direct rays of the sun to shine on its petals. The evening primrose, or evening star as it is sometimes called, opens its bright-yellow blossom in the evening as the sun is going down. All night long, the flower is open, giving off its delicate, lemon-like fragrance. The large, bright-yellow petals are phosphorescent and off a faint light. This attracts night-flying insects and moths to pollinate or fertilize each flower to insure reproduction. In the morning, the flower faces the sun as it is coming up. After the sun shines on the blossom awhile, it turns orange. As the day goes on, the blossom drops off and leaves a horn-like seed pod or spur.

The evening primrose is a biennial with a strong deep tap root. The first year, it forms a rosette of leaves that lay close to the ground. The second year, it grows a center a stalk about four to six feet tall. The leaves are lance-shaped with no stem. The flowers have long stems and grow out of the axil or base of the upper leaves and bloom from June to September.
The Native Americans taught the pilgrims to use evening primrose for a medicine. They would use the whole herb for a poultice. They would pound the whole plant, then they would soak it in water and bind it to the afflicted area. It was said to be a special healer. They also used the tea for coughs and colds. Some Native Americans also used evening primrose tea for heart problems. They weren’t so wrong. Recently, it has been learned, through pharmaceutical research, that evening primrose seed contain compounds that reduce the rate at which the blood will clot. This same compound is supposed to reduce cholesterol in the blood.

The whole plant (root and seeds) has been used as a nervine to reduce tension and stress. It has been used mental depression. The plant is a demulcent and is mucilaginous. It will soothe skin and can be made into a tonic and will help to cleanse the liver and spleen. It can be added to a cough syrup for colds and coughs. The whole plant is nutritious and can be eaten when fresh. The root can be peeled, boiled and eaten like a parsnip.

The evening primrose is a native to North America. Some of the pilgrims sent plants back to Europe. However, most of the plants that flooded Europe arrived in a different way. Whenever a ship would sail to Europe, especially with cotton, it would require ballast in the bottom of the ship. This ballast was usually sand that was shoveled in off of the beaches or sand dunes. This sand contained many evening primrose seeds. So now, in and around ports where they unloaded the ship’s ballast, there are areas where the yellow blossom of the evening primrose can be seen for miles.

Recent research scientists have unlocked the secrets of this beautiful herb and have given this plant a whole new dimension. In 1917, a German scientist named Ungr examined the plant and found that the seeds contain about 15% oil which was very accessible. John Williams and others did more research on the plant in the 60’s and 70’s. In the 80’s, you could buy evening primrose oil in Europe under the name of Efanol. Since then, the oil has been used for premenstrual syndrome, heart disease and high blood pressure, obesity, eczema, asthma, cystic fibrosis, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia and cancer.

Some years ago, I saw some evening primrose growing in the pasture. I had heard it was good for multiple sclerosis. After it bloomed awhile I harvested some for a friend who has M.S. After using it, he said it seemed to help him. The Native from the Rockies to the East Coast. It is mostly a biennial that grows along roadsides or out in open fields or in a dry meadow or waste place.

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