A Fogotten Tonic Herb: Evening Primrose
I’ve done some forgotten herbs for this month with Monkeyflower and Wild Honeysuckle, and I think even Wild Rose has been a bit forgotten… there’s also the Alder post from last month. Yet I had a few more thoughts specifically about our lovely Evening Primrose and wanted to share before the month was over.
Parts used: whole plant
Energetics & Taste: Sweet, sl. bitter, sl. spicy, sl. moist & neutral temp
Primary Actions: vulnerary, anti-spasmodic, anti-depressant, anti-inflammatory, relaxant nervine
Organ affinities: lungs, musco-skeletal, upper GI, liver, nervous system
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.
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. We have two of those, one white that I haven’t keyed out yet and then a beautiful golden variety called Hooker’s Evening Primrose. 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.
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 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.
In my experiences, I feel the plant most strongly in my nervous system and muscles, which become very relaxed but without affecting my mental state very much. To tell the truth, the first time I used it, I felt a bit like I’d been slipped a muscle relaxant when I took about 7 drops of the whole plant tincture. I had a hard time walking without feeling like a rag doll but I somehow also felt energized at the same time (I am very sensitive to nervine effects and experience has shown that it takes most people at least twice that dosage to experience such effects). Chewing on a bit of fresh root was distinctly relaxing but had less direct effect on the muscles. I’ve also seen the tincture be useful for severe menstrual cramps, it doesn’t always eliminate the pain but it can lessen it on par with more powerful and less safe herbs like the Nightshades. The tea/infusion is also useful for cramps but so far I feel that the tincture or whole plant in honey is the most effective for muscular issues.
A key word in the symptom picture of this plant 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.”
David Winston has introduced the use of the leaves as a remedy for GI related depression, and it seems to me through personal experience as well as hearsay from well known herbalists like Paul Bergner, that GI problems are the root of many peoples’ depression, making this potentially an incredibly useful remedy.
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.
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.
Matt 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.
A nice way to ingest the plant that I learned from Michael Moore is to grind the dried root (or whole plant) to a fine powder and mix with warm honey (Michael suggests boiling the root in honey but I prefer to retain the medicinal virtues of my raw honey), take by the tablespoon for sore throat, spasmodic coughs and so on. Especially nice for small picky children who whine about eating anything besides candy. Combine the Evening Primrose with Rose, Anise or Fennel and a tiny amount of Osha or Balsamroot for an especially nice syrup.Another trick I’ve learned from Michael is to take advantage of the nutritional GLA aspects of the seeds by grinding the seeds into a powder and blending with enough Flax oil to preserve and take a few tablespoons per day. As with all EFA supplements, I keep the container in the fridge (well, I don’t have fridge, so the pantry will have to do) to slow rancidity.
I’m infusing Evening Primrose flowers, buds and roots into an oil right now, I expect it will make a fabulous wound healing and muscle relaxing balm, and I’ll update you with my experiences later on. In the meantime, leaf spit poultices work very well for bites, stings, wounds and rashes.
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