Aug 192009

Through the dry heat of this long Summer with very little rain, I have been drawn time and time again to the sweet cooling presence of the Onagraceae tribe. From the golden glow of the Suncups to the delicate white blossoms of the Evening Primrose to the feathery silk of the Willowherbs, I find myself entirely enamored of their medicine, that of their presence as well as their power as herbal remedies.


Of course, with flowers like these, it’s easy to fall in love, isn’t it? While some members of this family have very tiny flowers, as far as I can tell they are all exquisitely detailed and utterly gorgeous. Above, you can see a Gaura coccinea (sometimes classified as Oenothera suffrutescens) from earlier in the Summer. Only about a foot tall, these wildflowers have an amazingly enticing scent when they first open, reminiscent of both Honeysuckle and Roses, but really completely unique to the Onagraceae family. Its common name is Scarlet Gaura or Yerba de la Virgen (Herb of the Virgin).

All of the Gauras, Epilobiums, Oenotheras and other closely allied Onagraceae family members are both cooling and moistening. They tend to be astringent, mucilaginous and relaxing, with a taste that is usually bland and sweet, although some Oenothera spp. have a peppery bite to them. They also tend to be high in oils, especially in the flowers and copious seedpods. All of this makes them an excellent overall nourishing Summer tonic where signs of heat, dryness and tension are present.

 Above is seen Gaura mollis (otherwise known as Gaura parviflora or Oenothera curtiflora), more commonly called Velvetweed. It’s leaves are soft and, true to their name, velvety soft and very cool to the touch. The abundant herbs can be found from riversides to grasslands to vacant lots in New Mexico and beyond, often growing up to six or seven feet tall. They bloom all Summer long and are a wonderful and plentiful weedy ally.

This is Epilobium ciliatum, otherwise known as Fringed Willowherb or by the Navajo as Feather-top, named as such for the delicate feathers so resembled by the mature seeds. The flowers vary from vivd magenta to nearly white in color, and the stems are often streaked with scarlet red. It loves to grow on rocky riversides and gravelly islands. This sweet little herb is wonderful in nourishing infusions, especially since it lacks the tiny hairs that many of the other members of this family are known for.


I’ll be doing much more writing on the individual members of this family but for now it is useful to understand that they have much in common and can be used very similarly. That is to say that they all serve as very effective relaxant nervines, gut healers, gut flora modulators, anti-inflammatories, mildly to strongly spasmolytic (that part of that relaxant bit), mildly anodyne and vulnerary. If you understand the meaning of herbal actions, you’ll be able to see the great flexibility and usefulness of these plants in the everyday practice.

They all seem to have an affinity for the gut, mucus membranes, kidneys and  urinary tract. They are also dependable but usually mild nervines while remaining very uplifting in nature. Worthy of noting is their specific relaxant effect upon the liver, and their ability to clear up many cases of eczema related to liver heat and tension. I use one of these spp. in nearly every gut healing formula I make, especially if there is clear flora imbalance or a tendency to gut-related mood imbalance.

They have essentially no contradictions, and are mild enough for very small children as well as elders and those debilitated by exhaustion or long illness. They are very nutritive, serving as both oil and water tonics (in the sense of being deeply restorative) in the body and very nutritive in nature. They are essentially a food-like herb with great long-term healing potential.

Lastly, we have a gorgeous Evening Primrose, likely Oenothera caespitosa, shown in the evening’s last rays among Alders, Beebalm, Moonwort and Cottonwoods of the riparian forest. The large flowered white and yellow species of the Evening Primroses can often be seen to glow under moon or starlight.  These are plants of both nourishment and enchantment, providing gentle guidance into the mystery of healing, wholeness and the primal magic of the living earth.


All Pics (c)2009 Kiva Rose Hardin

  4 Responses to “The Onagraceae Family: Faery Flowers of the Riparian Forest”

  1. Fascinating post! I can’t wait to read more about these plants – looking forward to future posts. I’m especially intrigued by the concept that they help heal the gut and help to modulate the gut flora… I’m so curious as to how! Do you use these plants as tinctures or teas or what? Your blog rocks! It’s the best herbal blog I’ve ever come across – keep up the good work.

  2. This is wonderful Kiva! In fact, until the MT Herb Gathering, when white-flowered Willowherb was on the plant walk, I then recognized it was one of the unidentified (by me anyway) weeds in my yard a couple years back! Now I have TONS of Evening Primrose (the biennis species) and I find that interesting as well! Thanks once again, I love your lens on Herbal Medicine!!

  3. Gaura is medicinal? I’ve known this plant for many years, and had no idea! This is so wonderful that you speak of the herbs of THIS land, of meliotus, gaura, verbascum, and the like. I live in southern Colorado and get so tired of herbalists who speak of the exotic herbs of the eastern forest, and have never met a cholla or a chamisa. Sure, those are wonderful and useful herbs and I love nettles, but let’s face it, nettles are a bit more challenging to grow here than in say, Indiana. By contrast, my acreage is full of cane cholla, several of the prickly pears, yucca, chamisa, gaura, prickly poppy, and I am going to work hard to bring Pinones to this property, it being the best tree for the area. Mine is a land of Scaled Quail, not Bobwhite. If you ever write a book…

  4. Came across your website when I was looking for information on Gaura which I was recently drawn to. Love your photography and the medicinal information. I also found out these plants are loved by the honey bees and butteflies, so I’m glad I bought these plants to add to my garden. Thanks for your post. Will be signing up to receive further blogs.

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