Benefits Of Evening Primrose

Therapy from a garden beauty

| March/April 1997

  • J. G. Strauch, Jr.
    J. G. Strauch, Jr.
  • Evening primrose grows wild in much of North America. English visitors to this continent took the seeds back to England with them as early as 1614, and the species has become naturalized in northern Europe to such an extent that recent ­European herbals have erroneously called it a European native.

Visiting a garden at sun-set can provide unexpected plea-sure. As the sun goes down and most flowers close up for the night, evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) opens its four-petaled blooms, revealing colors that range from rich cream through bright yellow. Growing as tall as 8 feet, this biennial herb blooms from June through September, the flowers remaining open on cloudy and rainy days as well as at night.

In addition to its unusual nocturnal performance, evening primrose is known for its use as a remedy for discomforts ranging from bruises to premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Down To Essentials

Evening primrose seed oil contains essential fatty acids, substances that, like vitamins, minerals, and essential amino acids, aren’t manufactured by the body but are necessary for good health. They are normally obtained through the diet. Imbalances or deficiencies in the body’s essential fatty acids have been implicated in many disorders, including asthma, migraines, ­inflammations, metabolic irregularities, diabetes, arthritis, and alcoholism.

The oil’s primary constituent is cis-linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid that is also commonly found in safflower, corn, cottonseed, and soybean oils. Another is alpha-linolenic acid, which is also found in canola and soybean oils, flaxseed, and leafy green vegetables. A third essential fatty acid in evening primrose oil, gamma-linolenic acid, is found in few other plants. Gamma-linolenic acid is normally manufactured when the body transforms linoleic acid into pro­s­ta­glandins, hormonelike chemical messengers synthesized in most tissue cells. Prostaglandins regulate body functions such as smooth muscle contraction, blood pressure control, and responses to inflammation.

In some people, however, the conversion of cis-linoleic acid into prostaglandins is hampered because of aging, alcoholism, cancer, poor nutrition, radiation damage, or other factors. For these people, taking evening primrose oil can supply the gamma-linolenic acid needed to produce prostaglandins.

PMS Relief

More than 120 studies in university hospitals in fifteen countries have been conducted on evening primrose seed oil. As a whole, the research suggests that the oil may be useful in treating conditions associated with imbalances or deficiencies of essential fatty acids. Some women with PMS have lower-than-normal levels of gamma-linolenic acid, suggesting that a glitch in the normal conversion of linoleic acid to gamma-linolenic acid may cause mood swings, fluid retention, breast tenderness, tension head­aches, and other PMS symptoms.

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