Evening Primrose (Oenothera spp.)

Common Name: Evening Primrose

Botanical Name: Oenothera spp.

Parts used: whole plant

Taste: Sweet, sl. bitter, sl. spicy,

Energetics: moist & neutral temp

Primary Actions: vulnerary, anti-spasmodic, anti-depressant, anti-inflammatory, relaxant nervine

Organ affinities: lungs, musco-skeletal, upper GI, liver, nervous system

Evening Primrose is most popularly known in its seed oil form frequently sold in health food stores for its high gamma-linolenic acid content. While I’ve seen the commercially produced oil be very useful for many people, what I’ll be talking about here is the whole plant, including leaves, buds, blooms, roots and seeds. It is a common plant from India to Europe to North America with a long history of folk use and quite gentle, yet effective, in application.

We’re blessed to have about six different kinds of Evening Primrose here in the canyon, but the most commonly used medicinal species are the upright biennials. I use which spp is most common at any given time and they all seem to work wonderfully. This year the white species is especially prolific, carpeting meadow and roadside with a soft white luminosity that begins in early evening and continues through the night into the morning. Very much a moon plant, this beauty seems to shine with its own light in the dark, and when the petals are pressed, they become tinted with an iridescent rose blush. This is an energetic medicine for the solar plexus and heart, balancing receptivity with expression and allowing us to open fully to love without fear of rejection or betrayal.

A key word in the symptom picture of this beautiful herb seems to be irritation — hyper sensitive nerves, muscles and mucus membranes that just want to overreact to everything often respond very well to this plant. William Cook notes that the properties combine:

“some stimulation with considerable relaxation; acting on the peripheries of sensory nerves, relieving local and reflex excitability… It has proven useful in hyper-sensitiveness of the stomach with indigestion, uterine irritability, hysteria, hysterical vomiting, tenesmus, spasmodic cough, and other difficulties of reflex origin.”

I believe that Evening Primrose is an excellent tonic for what Michael Moore calls Adrenalin type stress where the GI, liver, skin, reproductive system and kidneys tend to all be deficient but the nervous System and musco-skeletal are in excess which leads to eventual burnout and chronic digestive disorders, often accompanied by pelvic congestion. This is a gentle, neutral remedy that can be used over a long period of time without adverse effects. Certain species are more bitter than others and I prefer to use the non-bitter white flowering type here for most uses, and reserve the slightly bitter plants for more heat clearing, stomach stimulating purposes.

Matthew Wood associates this herb with a rare class of medicines he calls balsams, that have such an evenly balanced blend of energies and tastes as to be nearly neutral and gently stimulate the solar plexus and revitalize the whole body. Other herbs of this class include Lemon Balm and St. John’s Wort. Note that both of these of plants, like Evening Primrose, are very useful for both anxiety and depression and significantly effect both the solar plexus and the heart. These are balancing remedies for the mind, spirit and body.

Outside of these tonic uses, Evening Primrose is definitely useful for simpler cases, such as any spasmodic cough, asthma, belly distress of varying kinds and causes, menstrual/muscle cramps, joint/muscle pain and all sorts of wounds.

David Winston has introduced the use of the leaves as a remedy for GI related depression, and the fact that GI problems are the root of many peoples’ depression makes this is an incredibly useful remedy.

As a nervine, it is potentially very effective, but not all respond to it immediately, and sometimes prolonged use is necessary to take advantage of it deepest benefits. It can be a most useful calmative, especially suited for nervous exhaustion, hormonally oriented irritability and depression and anxious, tense children. It is of an uplifting character, and useful in cases of mild to moderate depression, most noticeably so when associated with exhaustion, addiction withdrawal and chronic digestive issues.

Evening Primrose definitely soothes the stomach, especially in tea form, being relaxing, antispasmodic, slightly astringent and somewhat mucilaginous, very healing and gently tonic. This is an ideal remedy for dyspepsia with gastric inflammation, a large, coated tongue and an overall sense of gloom. It is especially useful where there is a spasmodic cough/asthma and/or pelvic fullness and reproductive irritation. Clymer wrote that it is indicated when a person had been consuming a bad diet over a long period of time that resulted in toxins accumulating in the digestive system. This kind of diet often negatively effects the liver as well, and Evening Primrose is indicated both in modern research on the seeds as well as through traditional usage of the whole plant for a debilitated or sluggish liver.

It is excellent for uterine/ovarian cramping for many women, either an infusion or tincture of the whole plant including roots and budding, flowering and seeding tops. Also helpful in the intestinal distress that often accompanies such cramping. Great for chronic reproductive inflammation and pelvic congestion, especially when used long term. A prime nourishing infusion herb, restorative to the nerves, reproductive organs, GI, kidneys and lungs with its greatest affinities seemingly aligned with the reproductive tract and lungs.

I also use Evening Primrose in many of my lung tonic formulas, and consider it nearly as essential as Mullein for such applications. It has a history of use in bronchitis, asthma (especially with digestive involvement), pneumonia, whooping cough and similar lung ailments. I find it useful as a soother and anti-spasmodic for the lungs, and a wonderful addition to Mullein, Rabbit Tobacco and other gentle lung tonics, especially as it is not as drying as many common lung herbs are. There are some older references to using Evening Primrose in glandular fullness, and it seems to be a gentle lymphatic along the lines of Violet, though less cooling in temperature.

A nice way to ingest the plant is to grind the dried root (or whole plant) to a fine powder and mix with warm honey, take by the tablespoon for sore throat, spasmodic coughs and similar situations. This is especially nice for small children and other picky patients. Combine the Evening Primrose with Rose, Anise or Fennel and a tiny amount of Osha or Balsamroot for an especially nice syrup.

The seeds are a traditional food for many indigenous tribes, and contain a goodly amount of essential fatty acids. You can pay a pretty penny for the extracted oil in health food stores, or you can collect the seed, crush it and add it to flax seed oil or some other EFA rich oil, keep it stored someplace cool of course, or make as needed. The leaves are usually mild, mucilaginous and slightly peppery and make a lovely addition to salads and stews. The young roots (I emphasize young, the older ones are as tough as twine) can make a tasty vegetable, depending on the species, and growing conditions, when boiled or used like parsnips in food.

It especially excels as a vulnerary and has been used extensively by native peoples for snakebite, spider bite, swellings, bruises, wounds and all sorts of insect stings/bites and other irritations. Modern use confirms these uses, and my own experience has found that a spit poultice of the leaf is amazing for many wounds and bites, the salve or fomentation is also very useful, and the plant in all its preparations and forms are necessary items in my practice. I’ve used tincture (flower, bud, seedpods, leaf and root) on infected wounds, venomous insect bites and stings and even a few rashes with wonderful results. The redness clears, everything heals up without a fuss and VERY rapidly. It’s really quite impressive, and is now up there with Cottonwood, White Sage, Rose, Yarrow and Plantain as my favorite first aid plants for infection, venom, irritation and slow healing wounds.

Suggested Dosage: 1-15 drops of whole plant tincture up to 3-4 times per day, 1-3 tsp whole plant in infusion per day, 1tb of ground root or plant in honey as needed, 1-2 tb ground seed in flaxseed oil per day

Cautions: This is really a very gentle and safe herb at the proper dosage, but research suggests that the refined seed oil should be used with caution in epileptic patients or those who routinely experience seizures.


GI Tonic for Dyspepsia and Hypo-acidity associated with Eating Disorders

2 Parts Evening Primrose

1 Part Mugwort

1/2 Part Rosemary

Menstrual Cramps

2 Parts Evening Primrose

2 Parts Blissowort (Skullcap)

1 Part California Poppy

1 Part Wild Peony root (optional)

Reproductive Tonic for Pelvic Fullness, Poor Circulation, Inflammation and Cramping (to be taken throughout the month, or at least for the last two weeks of the cycle, works as tincture or strong tea, though I somewhat prefer the tincture)

2 Parts Evening Primrose

1 Part Rose Hip (fresh or recently dried)

1 Part Sweet Clover

Lung Tonic for Inflammation, Dryness, Irritability and a tendency to spasmodic afflictions

2 Parts Evening Primrose

2 Parts Mullein

1 Part Elderflower

1 Part Chokecherry bark

1/2 Part Ginger root

note: 1 Part Elm or Mallow could be added or substituted for the Cherry for extra moistening effects.

Nourishing Formula for Inflammation of the Liver and associated digestive distress

2 Parts Evening Primrose

1 Part Mugwort

1 Part Rose

Nervine for Children

1 Part Evening Primrose

1 Part Catnip

1 Part Lemon Balm

Nerve Tonic for Exhaustion, Burnout or Substance Withdrawal (best as tincture combo)

1 Part Evening Primrose

1 Part Blisswort (Skullcap)

1 Part Nettles (or Nettle Seeds with specific adrenal involvement)

1/2 Part Sage

General Salve

1 Part Evening Primrose

1 Part Plantain

1 Part Mugwort


William Cook – A Compendium of the New Materia Medica Together With Additional Descriptions of Some Old Remedies

Matthew Wood – Admirable Secrets of Herbs, Roots & Barks: A Practical Materia Medica of Western Herbal Medicine

David Winston – an interview with Nature’s Path – The Quarterly Journal of the Association of Master Herbalists, by Gina Carrington and Kelly Holden

Michael Moore – Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West

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