Evening primrose (Oenothera spp) is a wildflower much loved by some and considered a weed by others. There are several native American species and a few native to Europe (see species list below). Evening primrose has a cup-shaped flower with four petals and 8 stamens and unique stigma that split into four parts at the tip. Flowers may be bright yellow, white, purple or pink.
Lance-shaped leaves spiral around the stem starting from the ground. They are dark green, serrated and usually have reddish veins.
Folknames: King’s Cureall, night candle, fever plant, night willow herb, scabish, sun crop, scurvish, wild beet
Evening primrose is famous for blooming at night, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Most evening primrose begins blooming in the late afternoon and continues throughout the night, closing up before noon the next day, depending on the temperature. However, some species do not have this habit, so if you are looking for a night-bloomer, take special care to select your seeds or plants based on their scientific names.
- History Folklore
- Medicinal UseO. biennis is the evening primrose species most commonly used medically. The oil is pressed from the seeds and is available commercially in liquid or capsule form. The beta-linolenic and gamma-linoleic acids in the oil are believed to have therapeutic value.
- Culinary Use
- Magical Use
Known as Common Evening Primrose. This is an annual that can reach 2-4 feet in height. It has lemon-yellow flowers that open in the late afternoon from May to July. This is an easy wildflower to keep but it reseeds readily and may take over. Clipping the spent flowers before they drop seeds will prevent this. Zones 4-8
Pinkladies, Mexican Primrose, Pink Evening Primrose. This is a perennial primrose and a US Native. The flowers are delicate in appearance, white with pink veins and yellow throat. The can reach 1.5 feet in height, and tend to sprawl. In the South, these flowers open in the morning, but in the North, they open in the evening. May be invasive as the perennial roots will spread and the flowers will drop seeds. Clip spent flowers before they drop seeds to prevent this. Zones 5-10
Common Evening Primrose, Evening Star. O. biennis is a biennel evening primrose native to the US. It blooms in its second year. Its bright yellow flowers pop open in the evening and are closed the by the following noon. One identifying feature is the hairy purple stem.
This primrose grows from 2-6 feet tall. Zones 5-8. O. biennis seeds are the source of evening primrose seed oil.
Large-flowered evening primrose, red sepal evening primrose. This is a biennial evening primrose with bright yellow flowers with red sepals. The colors of the flowers darken to orange then red as they age. Zones 3-10
Small-flowered evening primrose. Common British wildflower.
Chilean evening-primrose, Fragrant Evening Primrose, Sweet Sundrop. 1.5 to 2 feet. Flowers begin yellow, turn peach and then red as they age. They open in low light conditions, at night and on cloudy days. Zones 5-9
Tufted Evening Primrose. Fragrant Evening Primrose. Perennial. 4-6 inches tall. Flowers are white and turn pink as they age. Ideal for rock gardens. Zones 3-8
Chihuahuan Evening Primrose. Saltillo Evening Primrose. Baja Evening Primrose. Perennial from Mexico. Up to 5 inches tall. Yellow flowers open at night. 2 ft spread. Zones 10-14
Mexican Evening Primrose. 6 in to 1 ft. 6ft spread. Perennial. Good groundcover. Extremely invasive. Pink & white blooms appear early spring and continue through fall. This evening primrose blooms during the day. Zones 5-9
Narrowleaf Evening Primrose. Sundrops. 1.5 to 2 ft tall. Perennial. A day-blooming evening primrose with bright yellow flowers and thin reddish stems. Zones 3-9
Evening primrose is easy to grow in zones 3-11. They enjoy full sun in slightly acidic soil with good drainage but tolerate less than perfect soil conditions. Depending on the variety, evening primrose blooms every evening, as long as it’s not cold out.
Evening primrose can be planted by seed as soon as the soil warms. They need only a light covering of soil and a watering and should germinate in two to four weeks, but don’t be disappointed if they don’t bloom their first year. Some species do not, but will bloom forever after. Do not let them dry out until they are well-established.
Many evening primroses are perennials and even the annuals reseed themselves readily, so make sure you really want them where you put them and be prepared for enthusiastic spread over a few years, assuming they’re happy where you put them. To avoid reseeding, clip off the flower heads as they start to fade.
Due to evening primroses habits and the structure of its pollen, the bees, butterflies and moths that pollinate it tend to be specialists. Flower moths, like Schinia florida, aptly named the Primrose moth, frequent evening primrose and Schinia felicitata feeds only on O. deltoides. Because of this, evening primrose may be a good addition to a butterfly garden as it encourages species you would never see otherwise.
Its evening blooming habit and the fact that it seems to glow slightly in the dark makes it a good choice for moon gardens and, since folklore has it that faeries collect dew from evening primrose flowers to make potions, it is also a good choice for a faerie garden.
In the Victorian language of flowers, evening primrose represents fickleness.
The scientific name comes from the Greek, but it’s unclear exactly which Greek words it comes from Could be ονος θηρας (onos theras), meaning “donkey catcher”, or οινος θηρας (oinos theras), meaning “wine seeker”“. To make things more confusing oenothera means “a plant whose juices may cause sleep” in Latin.
Medicinal UseO. biennis is the evening primrose species most commonly used medically. The oil is pressed from the seeds and is available commercially in liquid or capsule form. The beta-linolenic and gamma-linoleic acids in the oil are believed to have therapeutic value.
Evening primrose oil is a nutritional supplement used primarily by women to help relieve PMS symptoms and other issues related to hormone imbalance, including infertility. It is also purported to reduce the risk of breast cancer and is used by pregnant women to encourage their cervix to ripen in preparation for the onset of labor.
Capsules may be taken orally, but it is believed that it is more effective to insert them as a vaginal suppository for this purpose. There is no evidence that this works to encourage labor, but these things are difficult to measure and it doesn’t seem to do any harm. It should not be taken during the first two trimesters of pregnancy.
The oil may also be used topically to treat skin irritations such as eczema and rosacea and to encourage hair growth and it is recommended that capsules be taken internally to support this treatment as well.
A poultice of the entire crushed O. biennis plant may be used for bruising and to help encourage the healing of wounds.
Evening primrose oil should not be taken in the first two trimesters of pregnancy. People with epilepsy should not use evening primrose. Evening primrose can interfere with anticoagulant medication. Schizophrenic patients should also avoid evening primrose.
Evening primrose is edible. The roots of O. biennis may be used as a root vegetable. They should be gathered at the end of the first year of growth. The leaves can be used as a potherb when young, they get too tough when they get older. The flowers make a very nice garnish.
Eliphas Levi recommended evening primrose to decorate altars for moon ceremonies.
Use the whole plant as a bath tea to make your inner beauty show through and increase your desirably to potential lovers and friends.
Evening primrose is also used in magick related to hunting and success in achieving one’s goals. Try it in a spell to increase your luck in finding a new job!
Evening Primrose Correspondences
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Harry Rose on Flickr.