Oenothera biennis (fever plant, scabbish, tree primrose, evening star, night willow-herb, King’s cure-all)

description: herbaceous biennial

place of origin: North America

urban habitat: grows best in dry, sandy or gravelly soil in full sun; common in neglected residential and commercial landscapes, vacant lots, minimally maintained parks, rubble dumps, small pavement openings and cracks, along chain-link fences, highway banks and median strips, railroad rights-of-way.

ecological function: disturbance-adapted colonizer of bare ground.

history: Oenothera biennis is native to central and eastern North America, and was introduced into Europe soon after North America was colonized and has become fully naturalized there. It has a long history of medicinal use: it has been used in traditional herbal medicine to treat coughs, asthma, skin diseases, and premenstrual syndrome. Its oil has been taken internally for treatment of eczema, acne, rheumatoid arthritis and alcohol-related liver damage, and is believed to help reduce blood cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure. A tea made from its roots has been used for treatment of obesity and bowel pains. Recent research suggests that the oil is potentially useful for treatment of multiple sclerosis and hyperactivity. Its oil is currently used as an additive in skin preparations and cosmetics, often combined with vitamin E to prevent oxidation, and a ground powder made from its flowering stems is used cosmetically to counteract redness in skin. A yellow dye can be obtained from its flowers. It is edible: its boiled root is said to have a peppery taste and contains many nutrients. Its flowers can be used in salads as a garnish and its young seedpods are a good source of gamma-linolenic acid, an essential fatty acid.

Urban Herbs: Evening Primrose