Evening Primrose

Oenothera biennis

Herbs gallery - Evening Primrose

Common names

  • Evening Primrose
  • Evening Star
  • King's-cure-all
  • Night Willow Herb
  • Primrose
  • Scabish

The plant called the evening primrose is a flowering weed which grows wild in North America; it is a native plant of the continent and grows everywhere being seen as a noxious and hardy weed in areas in which it grows.

The recognized species of the evening primrose - scientific name: Oenothera biennis L. is regarded as being a complex of several closely related plant species by some botanical authorities.

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The plant belongs to the family Onagraceae and is a biennial weed, the evening primrose is known for the large numbers of very fertile seeds it produces, the large number of seeds produced by the plant and their hardiness is one reason the plant managed to spread far and wide and led to the establishment of wild populations of the plant in Europe in the seventeenth century from seeds accidentally introduced into ships' ballast.

The traditional use of the evening primrose in many kinds of herbal remedies is centuries old and the native Indians as well as the early European settlers of the American continent, used herbal preparations of the herb in the treatment of many different conditions and disorders.

The herb was used as a remedy for disorders such as chronic asthmatic coughs; it was used in the treatment of many kinds of gastrointestinal disorders and even in the topical treatment of bruises on the body.

The evening primrose was well known for the fatty herbal oil extracted from the small and reddish brown seeds - this fatty oil would rekindle an interest in the use of the herb in therapeutic herbal treatments.

The fatty oil is extracted from the harvested seeds of the evening primrose plant, and the yield of these seeds is approximately fourteen percent fixed oil in total after extraction. This extracted oil in turn contains about nine percent of a useful chemical compound called the cis-gamma-linoleic acid - or GLA in short.

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The prostaglandins in the human body are actually synthesized from precursors such as GLA; in fact a prostaglandin called E1 is dependant on the presence of GLA in the body. This chemical compound thus plays a very important intermediary role along the biosynthetic pathway, first in forming a compound called cis-linoleic acid and then in the formation of the full prostaglandin compound.

During the production of the prostaglandin, the main limiting step is actually the conversion of the essential dietary fatty acid linoleic acid into GLA.

A large number of beneficial effects is said to accrue from the consumption of the fatty evening primrose oil according to the advocates of the evening primrose oil, these claims include the ability of the herbal remedy to induce weight loss in individuals without the need of a change in dietary habits, some say it has the ability of effecting a lowered blood cholesterol level, it is also believed to be able to lower the elevated blood pressure in patients.

It is also seen as an effective cure for rheumatoid arthritis by some individuals, it is also believed to bring relief from premenstrual pain, and it is supposed to slow the progression of disease such as multiple sclerosis in affected patients, and the herbal remedy is also believed to be capable of alleviating hangovers in patients.

Before they can be substantiated, the veracity of these beneficial claims has to be extensively tested in a clinical setting and require concrete proof.

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Confirmation of the beneficial effects of this herb would require proofs such as a result which shows that the GLA deficiency is the actual individual factor which imposes a limitation on the production of prostaglandins in the body of the person, another factor, which will have to be scientifically verified is that all these specified disorders or conditions are favorably influenced as a direct result of the additional production of prostaglandin E1 in the body of the patient. As of this date, scientific validation of both factors is simply not present in the results from testing.

The possibility of the treatment of disorders such as premenstrual syndrome (PMS) in women, conditions such as mastalgia - or soreness in the breasts, disorders such as multiple sclerosis, problems such as atopic eczema, and the different kinds of diabetes related problems, all complications of cardiovascular disease, problems such as rheumatoid arthritis, disorders such as Sjogren's syndrome, endometriosis, and several other disorders using the oil of the evening primrose as a herbal remedy is supported by some clinical evidence based on results from tests.

The evening primrose oil is gaining some medical recognition at least in countries such as Britain due to these studies, some of these have been peer reviewed and summarized to some extent.

This is not to say, that there have been no objections or questions about the real validity of these reports and a lot of questions have been raised about the actual effectiveness of the evening primrose oil as an herbal remedy.

For example, an Australian study suggested that a placebo effect was the main factor for the effectiveness of the improvement observed from doses of the evening primrose oil during the treatment of women with moderate PMS.

Questions have also been raised about the methodology used in reporting the effectiveness of the evening primrose oil during treatment of individuals suffering from atopic eczema, the suggestion is that, the wrong methodology may have led to the reporting of false results and benefits from the herbal oil.

The ability of the evening primrose herb to relieve the itch during moderate to severe eczema has been shown to be possible in at least two clinical trials, in these cases the herbal remedy was able to bring about a reduction in the amount of topical and oral steroids needed for treatment, the herbal remedy also reduced the need for the use of drugs such as histamines and antibiotics in the treatment of the eczema in affected patients.

These results have been negated by two later and much more involved trials which came up without any proof of significant benefits from the use of the remedy.

The safety of long term use with respect to the consumption of the evening primrose oil is also not supported by any data from clinical research on humans so far.

One factor which might lend some credence to the whole issue is that the compound called the cis-linoleic acid is a normal constituent taken in the diet on a day to day basis, the normal volume of cis-linoleic acid consumed daily corresponds roughly to the amount of the compound GLA that is derived from consumption of the evening primrose oil corresponds.

This fact is further supported by the absence of toxic effects or the minimal side effects in people, even though the evening primrose oil has been widely available in the form of an herbal dietary supplement for well over fifteen years now.

The volume of GLA derived from a normal dosage of the evening primrose oil is lesser than the amount of the GLA and cis-linoleic acid contained in and derived from human milk.

The safety of the herbal product seems to be well established when all of these factors and clinical evidences are all taken together - it can be largely presumed that the herbal remedy is safe for the long term consumption of patients.

Positive identification also confirms a potential medication interaction induced by the herbal remedy in the body. The use of the evening primrose oil in any form should be avoided by patients suffering from schizophrenic disorders who are on medications such as phenothiazine epileptogenic, the herbal oil can increase the chances of temporal lobe epilepsy in such patients.

Parts used

Leaves, stem bark, flowers, seed oil, root.


A sedative and an astringent effects are present in various parts of the evening primrose herb, such as the flowers, the leaves, and the bark on the stem. Disorders such as the whooping cough have been treated using all three parts of the herb and these are normally prescribed by many traditional herbalists in treating this disorder.

Conditions such as digestive problems and asthma can also be treated using the herbal remedies made from the evening primrose plant. The evening primrose herb is also used in the preparation of an herbal poultice which is used extensively in the treatment and easing of the discomfort related to rheumatic disorders affecting patients.

External skin problems such as eczema, and some other skin conditions with symptomatic itching, and problems such as breast tenderness can be treated using topical application of the herbal evening primrose oil.

Elevations in the blood pressure of the patient can be treated by making the person consume the herbal evening primrose oil, at the same time, this oil is also used in the prevention of clumping in the platelets within the blood during internal hemorrhage and injuries.

Premenstrual disorders are also normally treated using this herbal oil these days, and the oil is also used in the treatment of tension and bloating in the abdominal region that occurs in women before menstruation.

Consuming the oil of the evening primrose may also be of some benefit in individuals affected by severe disorders such as the multiple sclerosis, the oil can also be of benefit in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, in treating intermittent claudication, which is a cramp like pain that affects the leg of the patients, circulatory disorders can also be treated using the oil of the evening primrose.

Other medical uses

Habitat and cultivation

As previously mentioned, the evening primrose is a plant which was native to parts of the North American continent, however, in the present, most temperate regions around the world have established populations of the evening primrose due to transplantation over the years.

The herb typically inhabits dunes and sandy soils in many open areas and waste grounds around the world - it is a very hardy herb and can grow well under adverse climactic conditions. Commercial cultivation of the evening primrose for its seed oil is also carried out in a substantial manner in many temperate regions of the world.


Many of the essential fatty acids are found in large quantities in the seed oil of the evening primrose herb, the proportions of the two most notable essential fatty acids include about seventy percent cis-linoleic acid and about nine percent of the fatty acid cis-gamma-linolenic acid.

The presence of the gamma-linolenic acid - the GLA in short, which is a major precursor for the formation of the prostaglandin E1 in the human body, is the major reason for the beneficial actions attributed to the seed oil of the evening primrose plant. The vitamin E is often added to the seed oil in order to prevent oxidation of the important metabolic compound during storage and processing of the oil.

Usual dosage

Dosage requirements differ, but for treatment purposes, there are 500 mg evening primrose oil capsules available at many health food stores.

The maximum adult dose is normally about four g of the oil daily, while the majority of the clinical trials typically use doses of one or two capsules, taken twice or thrice every day, during the treatment regimen. Results can be expected to take three months to appear during the treatment of some conditions using the herbal evening primrose oil.

Side effects and cautions

As has been mentioned before, all schizophrenic patients already on phenothiazine medications such as Compazine -marketed as prochlorperazine, Mellaril - marketed as thioridazine, Sparine - trade name promazine, Stelazine - marketed as trifluoperazine, Thorazine - marketed as chlorpromazine and Trilafon - trade name perphenazine are advised not to use the oil of the evening primrose for any purpose, this also includes avoiding GLA supplements - side effects are known to occur when the oil is used concurrently with these drugs.

The main side effect for the patient using this combination being the higher risk of epileptic seizure affecting him or her when using the drugs and the herbal oil are consumed at the same time.

The oil of the evening primrose must also be avoided by people taking some other types of medications, including Wellbutrin and other anti-depressants; these may interact with the oil and lead to the lowering in the seizure threshold for the person concerned.



INFUSION - The flowers of the evening primrose can be made into an herbal infusion for the treatment of headaches, to quell chills during fevers, to treat head colds and accumulated mucus - dosage of the herbal infusion is usually done by taking the infusion in small sips.

TINCTURE - The flowers of the evening primrose are also used in the preparation of a floral herbal tincture, which is taken at dosages of 5 - 10 drops each, and used in the treatment of insomnia, in treating anxiety and sleeplessness, and in treating over excitement and nervousness.

COMPRESS - A topical compress can be prepared by using the heated infusion, a pad can be soaked in hot herbal infusion and this can be applied directly on to the facial or trigeminal nerves in treatment of neuralgia and other topical disorders.

OINTMENT - The flowers of the evening primrose can be used in the preparation of a topical herbal ointment which can be used in the treatment of sunburn and different skin disorders affecting patients.

ESSENTIAL OIL - The flowers of the evening primrose can also be pressed for the extraction of the essential herbal oil and this can be used in the treatment of sleeplessness and insomnia, doses can be 5 - 10 drops of the oil added to the bath water, this water can be used at night to bathe oneself as a therapeutic long term topical treatment for sleeplessness.

MASSAGE OIL - The flowers of the evening primrose can also be prepared into massage oil for topical treatments, this oil can be made by diluting about 5 - 10 drops of the pressed essential herbal oil in 25 ml of either almond or sunflower oil - mix the two oils well. The massage oil can be applied directly on affected areas of the body for the treatment of nerve pains, the oil can also be rubbed into the temples for ease from migraine and headaches.


DECOCTION - The evening primrose root can be used in the preparation of an herbal decoction which is used in the treatment of accumulated phlegm during stubborn coughs and congestion problems in the chest area, this herbal decoction is especially useful in the treatment of chronic bronchitis in patients. The decoction is also believed to be capable of inducing relief from the symptoms of arthritis and long term rheumatism - and it is used by such patients as a pain relief agent.

TINCTURE - The roots of the evening primrose can also be prepared into a unique root herbal tincture, this particular remedy is used for the treatment of similar ailments as treated using the herbal decoction - doses are also similar.

COMPRESS - The root decoction of the evening primrose are soaked up in a pad, this pad is used as a compress for direct application along painful arthritic joints, and this is a very effective treatment for such disorders in patients.

Regenerating oil

  • 3/4 cup (20 g) evening primrose flowers
  • 1 cup (250 ml) organic olive oil
  • 40 drops lavender essential oil

Dry the flower petals for 1 week and gently shred. Add the olive oil and the essential oil. Macerate for 1 month, away from light; shake occasionally. Strain. This oil promotes scarring and hydrates. It should be used in small quantities on the face (and occasionally on the body) to treat sores, wrinkles and dry skin.


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