Plant Profiles Home
© W.L. Wagner @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Smithsonian Institution, Dept. of Systematic Biology, Botany.
© Thomas G. Barnes @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database
Eat Your Vegetables, If You Can
Some First Nations gathered the notoriously tough evening-primrose roots for food. Only the roots of first-year plants were collected, but even so they sometimes had to be boiled for several hours before they could be chewed.
A native plant, evening-primrose can be found in every province. It tends to appear on disturbed or waste land where there is sun, thin soil, and good drainage. It is also found across the central and eastern U.S., as well as some areas in the west.
History and traditional uses
Both First Nations and settlers used evening-primrose for several medicinal purposes. They treated wounds and bruises with a poultice of leaves, while a tea or infusion of the plant was drunk to soothe coughs and digestive complaints.
Current findings and new possibilities
Current interest in evening-primrose focuses on the oil pressed from its seeds, which is rich in Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA), an omega-6 fatty acid. Omega-6 oils are one of the two "good" fats essential for health.
Evening-primrose oil is being studied as a supplement for those who don't get enough omega-6 fat from their diet and also is showing some promising results in reducing nerve damage caused by diabetes.
In the Canadian garden
Oenothera biennis is a tall - up to 2 metres - biennial which produces sunny yellow flowers on summer evenings in the second year, followed by about 150,000 seeds per plant. Its size, tendency to reseed prolifically, and preference for dry, poor soil tends to get it banished from tidy perennial borders to wildflower meadows, mixed native plant gardens, and areas where its ability to grow in difficult conditions is an asset.
Commercial growing and harvesting
Evening-primrose from Canada is primarily cultivated, rather than wild harvested. The major areas of production are Nova Scotia and Ontario, but the Canadian crop is still quite small.
Although evening-primrose grows wild across much of southern Canada, attempts to establish it as a profitable crop have met with mixed success. Researchers continue to try to develop strains of plants and new growing techniques that will generate a higher yield of GLA per hectare in Canada's climate.