Evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa) is fairly common in subtropical and temperate regions, but is often treated as nothing more than a wild flower found in roadsides and neglected fields.1 But while it is common, its various uses and applications remain to be unknown to a number of people.
In earlier times, the evening primrose plant was a staple in the Native American diet, including the Cherokee, Iroquois, Ojibwa and Potawatomi. They boiled its roots and applied it as poultices to bruises and other injuries to speed up healing.2 It was eventually introduced to Europe in the 17th century.3
In current times, evening primrose is used to help alleviate pain and various skin conditions.4 Additionally, most parts of the plant can be incorporated in salads and other dishes to add flavor and color.5 The evening primrose plant is also the source of a valuable oil used in holistic medicine and cosmetics: evening primrose oil (EPO).6
Uses of Evening Primrose Oil
Evening primrose oil is made from the plant’s seeds and is most commonly utilized as a supplement for oral administration. Some of the well-known uses for this oil include helping:
• Minimize acne breakouts. A primary cause for acne is hormonal imbalance.7 Evening primrose oil can help regulate the production of hormones and prevent acne formation. The high amounts of fatty acids in evening primrose may also help dilute sebum, decreasing the risk of pore clogging.
• Alleviate symptoms of psoriasis. Psoriasis is a skin condition that is often characterized by dry, itchy and inflamed skin. It is often linked to leaky gut, where the toxins that manage to penetrate the gut lining enter the bloodstream. These toxins may then influence the emergence of psoriasis symptoms.8
The high amount of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) in evening primrose oil can help lessen the inflammation in the gut lining and repair leaky gut. By taking evening primrose supplements, you can help treat psoriasis internally.9
• Reduce neuropathy in diabetes patients. In a 2014 study, it was found that supplementation of both vitamin E and evening primrose may be beneficial for easing diabetic neuropathy. After a year of supplementation, 88 percent of the individuals in the study noted a significant reduction in neuropathy pain.10
Health Benefits of Evening Primrose Oil
Aside from the uses mentioned above, there are other health benefits you can get from evening primrose oil:
• Anti-inflammatory. Evening primrose oil's anti-inflammatory properties can assist in alleviating rheumatism and other conditions stemming from inflammation.11
• May reduce the severity of multiple sclerosis (MS). In a 2013 study, it was found that hot-nature diet intervention with a combination of hemp seed and evening primrose oils may increase polyunsaturated fatty acids, which may indicate improvement in the body's plasma stores.12
A 2018 study showed that while evening primrose may not directly improve the quality of life as a whole, its administration may have an effect on cognitive function and vitality. The pain and fatigue associated with MS were also observed to be reduced compared to the placebo group.13
• Maintains heart health. The GLA in EPO has been linked to the improvement of blood circulation.14 In an animal study from the Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids journal, researchers found that the inclusion of GLA in the diet may reduce severe ventricular fibrillation.15
Composition of Evening Primrose Oil
The numerous health benefits of evening primrose oil are attributed to its abundance of the healthy fats. This essential oil is high in omega-6 fatty acids in the form of both linolenic acid and GLA.16 While most Americans get their fair share of omega-6 fatty acids from unhealthy vegetable oils, the GLA found in evening primrose oil is actually a healthier form of omega-6 and offers various health benefits.17
The reason why GLA is healthier than linolenic acid is because of the prostaglandins it contains. Prostaglandins are essential in the overall function of the body and are required for regulating numerous organ functions.18 It is also responsible for the anti-inflammatory properties of this oil, which may help ease arthritis and other inflammatory disorders.19 GLA has been linked to improvements in brain function, reproductive health and metabolism.20
How Does Evening Primrose Oil Work?
The bulk of evening primrose oil’s benefits come from its high concentration of gamma-linolenic acid.21 GLA ameliorates the presence of inflammation in the body by reducing the production of interleukin 1-beta, which is a cytokine responsible for aggravating inflammatory disorders.22 In addition, as an unsaturated fatty acid, GLA influences the smooth functioning of receptors, enzymes and ion channels in the body.23
Is Evening Primrose Oil Safe?
Evening primrose oil is generally safe for human consumption and application for short periods of time. However, the safety of its long-term use is yet to be proven through scientific studies.24
Although it can help alleviate pain and other bodily aches, it’s recommended that you seek the advice of a health professional before administering or consuming this oil. This will help you determine the correct dosage and whether it won’t interfere with the mechanism of other medications you’re taking. If applying it topically, do a skin patch test prior to use.
Side Effects of Evening Primrose Oil
Like most other essential oils, evening primrose oil has certain contraindications you should know about before you start utilizing it. These include the following:
• EPO can lower blood pressure levels and interfere with medications that regulate your blood pressure.25
• This oil is known to interact with blood thinning medications, such as Warfarin and Coumadin, which may heighten your risk for abnormal bleeding and bleeding problems during surgery.26
• Phenothiazines are medications prescribed for schizophrenia. People who are on these types of drugs should refrain from taking evening primrose oil as it may heighten their risk of seizures or convulsions.27
• The use of evening primrose oil should be avoided by pregnant or breastfeeding women due to the insufficient studies about its potential effects on pregnancy or on the child.28 Young children should also refrain from using EPO.