Autumn - my favourite foraging time. Seeds are ripening, nuts are swelling, mushrooms make their elusive appearances, and even when things seemed to have died off for good, one can dig for their hidden goodness below ground. A wonderful autumn crop to forage for is Evening Primrose. The tall, lanky stalk with the large, somewhat ghostly, pale yellow flowers that only open in the evening is a very common sight. Indeed, in some parts it is considered a weed. The plant's true beauty is revealed only at night, when the flowers open fully and their subtle scent perfumes the air.
Evening Primrose is not a particularly choosy or demanding plant. It is quite happy with poor, sandy soil as long as it gets its sun. Waste grounds, verges of railway tracks, neglected corners of the yard - that type of terrain. In such places it can be quite prolific.
All parts of the plant are edible. The leaves of both, first and second year's growth can be picked and used cooked or fresh - but they are quite pungent and a little hairy and may not be to everyone's liking. Best to try a little bit first, to see if you like the taste, and mix with other, milder herbs according to your taste buds. The flowers are slightly sweet to taste and can be used to decorate a salad, for example.
When fall comes along, the seed pods ripen. The elongated capsules hold quite a good quantity of tiny seeds. But if you think you could press your own oil, I have to disappoint you. The seeds are miniscule so you literally would need millions of them to make the effort worthwhile. Furthermore, pressing seeds produces energy - heat in other words that can destroy the beneficial properties of the oil.
However, you can use the seeds like poppy seeds in cooking and baking and they will still convey some of their goodness. However, the quantity that can be gotten this way is very small. Grind them before adding them to your recipes, as this will help to release the oil. Whole seeds are likely to simply pass straight through the digestive system without bestowing their beneficial properties to the body.
The beneficial nature of Evening Primrose oil has long ceased to be a secret. So many incredulous claims have been made for its miraculous properties that after the initial craze people have become jaded and almost ignore the plant entirely. Worse still, some call it a weed. Yet, it is truly a valuable plant ally, especially for vegetarians who sometimes find it difficult to get adequate supplies of certain essential fatty acids through the diet. Omega 3 fatty acids are mostly found in oily fish and eggs. There are also some other seeds that supply a good amount of Omega 3, such as Flax seed oil. However, some people lack the enzyme necessary to convert Linoleic Acid into GLA (Gamma Linoleic Acid). And this is where Evening Primrose comes to the rescue: it is one of the best sources of GLA, which the body uses in many different ways. It helps to prevent blood clotting, dilates blood vessels and is highly anti-inflammatory, making it useful in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Evening Primrose oil first became known as a secret remedy to combat symptoms of PMS and menopause. The more research that was done on it, the more useful it seemed to become. The list of conditions this seed oil is said to benefit is truly extensive.
Some people absolutely swear by it. It is particularly useful for hormonal conditions such as PMS, menopause and even prostate enlargement. The GLA in Evening Primrose oil is very easy for the body to absorb, which means that it can be highly effective, even in small quantities. It is often used for dry skin conditions, eczema, brittle nails and hair, but more significantly, it is thought to help prevent cancer, reduce inflammatory auto-immune responses, improve circulation, keep the arteries subtle and aid digestive processes and liver function, to name but a few.
The forager tends to be more interested in the roots and leaves, which are quite versatile and nourishing. The important thing to remember about the root is that only the first year's root is used. How can you tell? Well, Evening Primrose is a biannual plant, which means in the first year it forms a rosette of leaves which lie close to the ground. Only in the spring of the second year does the flower stem shoot up. By this time it is too late to dig for the root. However, searching the ground near a stand of second year plants, which are easy to spot, should point the way to some first year plants. The rosette is quite distinctive - its leaves are elongated ovate and pointed, and have a distinctive white midrib. The plant forms a long reddish taproot, which can be a pain to dig up unless the soil is very light. Once dug up they can be used as regular root vegetables in bakes and stews. They have a slightly peppery taste, reminiscent of black salsify.
The flowers (second year plants) are also edible and can be used to decorate salads. The early flowers only open in the evenings and exude a beautiful sweet scent. Later on flowers are open during the day as well. The plant has a long flowering season, from June to September.
Clean and peel/scrub vegetables well. Cut into 2 inch chips. Coat with olive oil and salt If you want the different veggies to taste differently, keep them separately, so you can sprinkle the parsnips with curry, the carrots with coriander seed powder and the potatoes and evening primrose roots with Chinese 5 spice mix.
Cut onion into big chunks. Separate garlic into cloves, no need to peel. Preheat oven to about 425F
Place all ingredients onto a baking tray and cook for about 30 - 50 minutes on a high shelf. (cooking time depends on the size of the chunks - check frequently)
You can add a few sprigs of fresh sage and rosemary towards the end for additional flavour. (Putting them in at the beginning will burn them)
Serve with meat (e.g. a roast) or cauliflower cheese.
Not something for 'fat-free' fans, but delicious nonetheless.
Prepare a standard batter:
Cut Evening Primrose root into long pieces, not too thick and dip each piece into the batter. Fry in very hot oil until golden brown. A deep-fryer does the job best, but if you don't have one, frying in a pan will do too.
Cook Evening Primrose roots till tender (you might want to blend with other root vegetables) mash with butter, stir in one egg and a little flour and/or oats to make sticky dough. Season to taste. Form little patties and shallow fry in pan until tender.
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Please note that although all the references to edible and medicinal herbs are tried and tested, their efficacy cannot be guaranteed and has not been approved by the FDA. Furthermore, everybody responds differently to various plants, and adverse reactions cannot be ruled out. Historical information regarding poisonous plants is included for educational purposes only and should not be tried out at home. Everybody uses herbs at their own risk and thus must make themselves fully aware of their potential power. Any information given here is educational and should not replace a visit to the doctor should this be necessary. Neither Sacred Earth nor Kat Morgenstern accepts responsibility for anybody's home experimentation. Links to external sites are included as pointers to further resources - we do not endorse them or are in any way responsible for their content, nor do we thus verify that their content is accurate.