Evening primrose, also known as Ozark sundrops and Evening star, is a plant that is native to the Great Plains prairie region of North America. It was originally used by Native Americans as a source of food and a medicine. There are four subspecies of evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) that live in various states including Virginia, Mississippi, Kentucky, Kansas, and Texas. It was exported to Europe in the 1600s and spread as a wildflower throughout Europe and into Asia. Today, the main interest in the plant is the oil that is extracted from its seeds, as discussed below.
The evening primrose plant is a short shrub that grows no more than a foot off the ground. It has long, narrow leaves that appear silvery because of numerous fine hairs. The plant lives for two years and produces large, impressive yellow flowers its second year. These flowers have an extremely short life span and can open anywhere between May and July, depending on the region. They open during the evening, hence the name “evening primrose”, and the flowers wither, turn a salmon color, and drop off the plant the next day. The flowers are self-pollinating, but can also be pollinated by nocturnal insects such as moths. Pollination will produce a small seed pod that has four compartments filled with tiny dark brown seeds. The pod has a distinctive wing-like shape that helps it to be blown away by wind.
Evening primrose oil
Most of the evening primrose plant is edible, including the roots, stems, leaves, and flowers. However, the most useful part of the plant is its seeds. Thirty percent of the seed consists of an oil that contains essential fatty acids. The oil is made up of 70% linolenic acid (an omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid), 20% various compounds including tocopherol, tryptophan, sitosterol and vitamin B, and 10% gamma-linolenic acid, a derivative of linolenic acid.
Gamma-linolenic acid, abbreviated as GLA, can be found in breast milk, black currant oil, borage oil, and evening primrose oil. The body can also produce GLA from the linolenic acid found in plant products like vegetable oils. Gamma-linolenic acid is converted into certain kinds of prostaglandins that help to prevent inflammatory events. Research seems to indicate that GLA can help ease a variety of conditions, including PMS, rheumatoid arthritis, eczema and rosacea, and lupus. It is also thought to keep cholesterol levels and blood pressure low and may help keep fingernails, skin and hair moisturized and healthy.
Evening primrose oil can be purchased at most health food stores in liquid or capsule form. The oil is often enriched with vitamin E to prevent the breakdown of GLA. Currently, the recommended dose of evening primrose oil is to take 1000 milligrams three times a day. There have been only a few reports of toxicity due to the oil, but research on the safety of long-term use of the oil has not been completed. Please treat this oil, as well as any natural supplements, like you would any prescription drug. Take the time to research it for yourself and discuss taking it with your doctor before you start using it.