Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Evening Primrose - growing it and using it.

Of course all the best medicinal plants are weeds ..

There I was, about to get on with a 'normal' day (whatever that means) when Paul (my husband) (the designated strawberry grower) (and all around good guy) says in a pretty darn irritated tone "what the hell are these weeds taking over my strawberry patch?!".

"That's evening primrose, it's useful, give it here." says I.

"Well it's everywhere, look!" says he, still irritated, and indeed it was everywhere. Wow. Those biennial types, one day nothing, next day, especially in fall, an invasion.

Okay, so never mind that I was thinking on starting some of my much neglected housework, he was clearly peeved and I had to get them out of there. So I did, and now I have this:

That's actually a very large bowl.
So, what to do with it all?

My first thought was tincture, since that's still the most reliable for me right now (our weather is still very humid). I've tinctured the flowers in the past, and oh are they relaxing. Kiva Rose finds tincture of the whole plant to be useful for the nervous system and muscle issues, in fact she reports:

"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)"

I know how she feels, I'm super sensitive to most herbs, not just nervines. I'm interested in that action though, wondering if it might be useful for the occasional fibromyalgia type pain that I'm prone to, and I know there are others out there might be wondering the same thing. So for me, 3 drops to start. For someone who is used to pain meds, more.

Transitioning from pain meds to herbs for relief is never cut and dried. I simply cannot abide anything pharmaceutical, it doesn't do anything for my pain and makes me feel jittery and stoned. Others who can tolerate drugs might find they initially need larger doses of herbs but interestingly, they can often taper down - not up - as their bodies adjust. Others will use the herbs as an adjunct to the pharmaceuticals, so they're able to get away with taking smaller doses of their meds. I find it all quite fascinating. I suppose for clinicians it would be frustrating trying to prescribe when the reactions are all so individual. But I'm not a clinician, thank Heaven.

And although not an issue for me, I'll include this next tidbit for others; she also says:

"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."

So clearly the tincture is useful.

Apparently the dried plant is also very healing in a different way, when taken as an infusion, which I can well imagine. Split open a root and it's very moist and slippery, clearly it would be demulcent, soothing and healing internally, and if I infuse it in an oil, it would be emollient externally. (Those are the same thing, we just have different words for internal and external use. I'll be bandying terms of the trade around a bit to give you a feel for them).

Of the infusion this quote really jumped out at me, as I can think of a few folks this might be helpful to. Kiva tells us:

"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." (my emphasis)

If that intrigues you, the whole piece can be found here at her old blog .

Evening primrose and cousins, the Oenethera family, are very common and you might well find them in your area quite easily. Mine are Oenethera biennis, the yellow flowered variety. At this time of year (fall), look for them in their ungainly, dying back form:

Not all that pretty, but we've left them standing so the birds can have the seeds this winter.

Speaking of the seeds, I won't be collecting them. I don't have the technology to express the oil, that's for sure. But some people mix them into their oatmeal or roast them and use them as poppy seeds. If you'd like to try that, this is what the ripe seed pods look like..

Just shake them out, they're about the size of poppy seeds.

Now once you've found the older, second year plants, look around on the ground for the first year plants, they won't be far away. Here are a few pics to show you how variable they are in size and colour.

This puppy is about 2 ft across, at least. That doesn't mean the root is huge though!

Smaller, the characteristic red of this time of year, and note how it is nestled into the ground.

Here's what the just-so-lovely flowers look like ..

Aw. Isn't that just beautiful? The fragrance is heady and tropical on a warm night, delicate at this time of year. If you find them, do eat one! Note the 'spur' at the base. 

Now, I've been writing this in real time. As I did some research I let the plants I'd collected wilt for a bit. If I decided to make an oil, it helps if they have less moisture - but not completely dry. Some plants, sometimes, can be used dried for an oil, but it is rarely ideal.

So, I've now garbled my plants and once all the not-quite perfect leaves are removed it turns out not to be a whole lot. Perfection is important, especially when drying or infusing in oil. The tiniest bug-hole introduces the possibility of decay and it's heartbreaking. Tinctures are more forgiving but it's still best to be particular.

I've gone out and picked some unripe seed pods and some flowers and a few nice growing tips. I took those from this monster, the second biggest evening primrose plant ever.

I apologise if this is difficult to make out. I'm taking my own pics these days now that my camera has come back from being on loan for a while. That little camera sucks for most things. It takes dynamite close-ups though!

Here's what I ended up with:

Not a lot! It's all I can do not to eat every one of those flowers. 

It will likely all end up fitting into a pint jar, so I'll be making a tincture. Maybe a tiny bit of oil. Clearly, not enough to dry this year. That's okay though, because I've shown you what it looks like and if this post has twigged your interest you can (maybe) dry some for yourself!

I'm pretty glad those plants decided to grab Paul's attention; I'm looking forward to working with this tincture. I don't mention it often but when that fibro-type pain gets me, it really gets me. I'll be letting my fellow sufferers know how it works out. I expect I'll be putting this up on the "what's available" list in a few weeks.

Now, just because I'm so happy to have my little camera back, here's a shot I got the other day of a bumble bee on goldenrod.

Also a couple of very mellow wasps. It was a breezy day, so I had to hold the stem, they were practically climbing on my fingers. It was a delightful experience.


In the end, I opted for 2x250 ml jars, one each of oil and tincture.

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