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Indigenous Peoples' Perspective Project

Evening Primrose

Scientific Name: Oenothera biennis

Common Name: Evening primrose, evening star, sundrop, weedy evening primrose, German rampion, hog weed, King’s cure-all, and fever-plant

Plant Family: Onagraceae (Willowherb family)

Etymology: Oenothera means a soporific plant. Biennis refers to its biennial life cycle.

Parts Used: flowers, leaves, roots, seeds

Season: year round

Indigenous Uses

The Cherokee, Iroquois, Ojibwas, and Potawatomi were among several Native American tribes that used evening primrose for both food and for medicinal purposes. They ate the cooked greens when young, and made a tea for overfatness and hot root poultice for piles. The bark and leaves are astringent and sedative and are used for the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders, whooping cough, and asthma. 

Edible Parts

Raw roots can be minced and marinated in salad vinaigrette for twenty minutes before use in salad. When eaten raw, the roots are similar to radish. When cooked, the taste is similar to a turnip. The cooked roots can provide a thickening element in soups and stews. The rosette leaves are mustardy and can be added to stir-fry recipes. The flowers are good raw and mixed with milder greens in salads, or lightly cooked. Seeds can be briefly toasted over low heat and used as a replacement for poppy seeds. Use seeds in energy bar recipes.

If harvested from fall through winter, the roots and rosette leaves should be collected. From midspring through the early summer, the leaves, stems, and flowers are ideal for harvesting.

Caution: Do not consume to excess. While smaller amounts of even primrose are effective at alleviating digestive symptoms, large quantities eaten by itself can lead to gastric distress.

Contemporary Medicinal Uses

Evening primrose is best when consumed as food, whether the fresh root of young plants, leaves, flowers, or seeds. It treats migraine, tonifies the female reproductive system, and gently stimulates the liver. It is slightly laxative, with a large amount of mucilage that can support treatment of indigestion.

This project was made possible by a grant from Maryland Humanities, with funding received from the Maryland Historical Trust in the Maryland Department of Planning. Maryland Humanities’ Grants Program is also supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and private funders. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed on this website do not necessarily represent those of Maryland Humanities, Maryland Historical Trust, Maryland Department of Planning, or National Endowment for the Humanities.

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