Mar 10, 2017

Evening Primrose

By Lawanda Jungwirth

         If you are male, you’ve likely never heard of evening primrose. If you are female, you may have, especially if you are interested in natural health remedies. Without going into detail, evening primrose oil is said to help with a range of “female problems.” It is also effective for a long list of other maladies related to both sexes, but you can look those up yourself (try since the focus of this column is the plant’s edibility.

         With a lovely name like “evening primrose” you might think the plant would be found growing in some exotic locale in an always warm climate, but it grows right here in Wisconsin, often in sunny spots at the edges of gravelly dry trails, roads, fence rows and parking lots.

         Evening primrose has a tall, dramatic flowering stalk, sometimes over six feet tall. It is a biennial plant, meaning its lifespan is two years. You probably won’t even notice it during its first year of growth unless you happen to be out hiking in April and spot its flat-to-the-ground bright red rosette of lance-shaped leaves up to 16 inches across. Later in the season, the leaves fade to green. The second year, a tall flower stalk shoots up from the center of the rosette. Stalks are densely covered with small green leaves. Atop the flower stalk, clusters of pretty yellow four-petaled, two-inch flowers open late each day. Each flower blooms only one or two days, but may remain open longer if weather is continuously cloudy. Only a few flowers open on each plant at one time but an abundance of flowers atop each stalk ensures bloom for several weeks on each plant. The flowers have a light, lemony scent and you’ll find them blooming from June until September.

         After flowering, elongated seed capsules form. You’ll often find many evening primrose plants growing near to each other as the seeds germinate easily. After producing seed, when the plant has done all it can to ensure the propagation of the species, it dies.

         Evening primrose roots, shoots, leaves, flower buds, flowers, seed pods and seeds are all edible.

         The reddish leaves of first year plants can be eaten raw, steamed, boiled in salted water or stir-fried. Many other plants form rosettes the first year, so to properly identify evening primrose, look for the dried stalks of second year plants nearby.

         Just below the first-year rosette of leaves is a fleshy, large root. The taste has been described alternately as “parsnippy, sweet, succulent, or peppery.” The taste is dependent upon the plant’s growing conditions and the time of year the root is dug. Dig the root that first year in spring or fall, clean it, and slice and boil or roast it like you would carrots. Use in soups or stews. Roots can also be eaten raw although some people find the raw roots irritate their throat. Roots can be dried in a dehydrator and reconstituted later for use in soups or stews.

         Young shoots of second year plants can be eaten raw or cooked. Peel them if they are harvested after the outer layer of the shoot has toughened. The shoots are described as “mucilaginous and peppery,” so they should be mixed with blander greens.

         Flower buds can be collected just before they open and tossed in a salad or used in stir-fries. Once the sweet-tasting flowers open, they can be added to salads or cream cheese (harvest them just before use). For a sweet treat, dip flowers in egg-whites, roll them in sugar and deep-fry.

         Once the flowers fade and the seed pods begin to form, they can be twisted off the plant while still green and eaten raw, boiled, steamed, roasted or stir-fried.

         If you time it right, you can collect the dried seed pods before they release their seeds. Evening primrose seeds are one of the few plant sources of an essential fatty acid called gamma-linoleic acid. GLA and Omega-6 fatty acid, also found in the seeds, support the immune system and soothe inflammation. Collected seeds should be ground and stored by mixing them with fish oil or flax seed oil. Otherwise, store them whole in a cool place and grind them just before use. Seeds meal can be added to smoothies, hot cereals, fruit salads, nut butters or soft cheeses, or baked into breads, muffins or pancakes.        

CAUTION: As with any new food, if you have never consumed evening primrose, try all plant parts carefully and sparingly at first.


6 evening primrose roots

1 c. brown sugar

Salt, pepper

Melted butter 

Clean and scrape roots. Boil in two changes of salted water until tender. Let roots cool to the touch until you can peel and slice roots lengthwise. Boil brown sugar with ¼ cup water until it becomes a thick syrup. Dip roots in syrup, season with salt and pepper and baste with melted butter. Place roots in a baking pan. Bake at 375° for 15-20 minutes, until brown, basting occasionally with syrup. Serves 3-6.


8 evening primrose roots

1 egg

1 c. milk

1 ¼ c. flour

¼ t. salt

Oil for deep frying

Clean and scrape roots. Boil in two changes of salted water until tender. Cool until you can peel and cut them into 1/8” slices. Beat together egg and milk. Add the flour and salt and mix until batter is smooth. Dip sliced roots into the batter and deep fry until golden brown. Drain on paper towel. Sprinkle with salt and serve warm. Serves 2-4. 


Evening primrose root to make two cups

2 T. minced onion

1 t. salt, divided

3 T. melted butter

5 eggs

3 T. cream

¼ t. pepper 

Clean and scrape roots. Boil in two changes of salted water until almost tender.   Peel and dice roots. Saute´ the diced roots, onion and ½ t. salt in melted butter until tender and brown. Beat together eggs, cream, ½ t. salt and pepper. Pour egg mixture over roots. Cover and cook slowly until omelet is set, about 8 minutes. Fold and transfer to a hot platter. Serves 4.


** All recipes are adapted from the book Wild Plants You Can Eat by Karl Knutsen