Evening primrose is a wildflower that began in Central America and Mexico about 70,000 years ago and traveled north to grow all over the United States, particularly along riverbanks and in sandy soil. It is a flowering plant whose yellow flowers only open in the evening, giving it its name.
European settlers brought the root back to England and Germany, where it was consumed as food, and to Italy, from where it spread across Europe.
It is first found in botany reference in 1587, and during the 16thcentury it was dubbed the Kings-cure-all for its usefulness in many diseases. Its Latin name, Oenothera, means a plant whose juice may cause sleep, capturing its sedative qualities.
Native Americans rubbed evening primrose on their moccasins to mask their smell and help them get closer to animals. It was believed to bring luck in hunting, possibly for this reason.
The entire evening primrose plant can be used as food. The nut-flavored root was eaten by Native Americans and the English and Germans called it rampion and favored it as more nutritive than beef. The young leaves can be eaten raw in salads. The leaves become very bitter, but can be cooked in several changes of water to make them more palatable.
The edible seeds have been used to replace poppy seeds. It is from the seeds that the valuable evening primrose oil is taken. The seed oil is the only part of the plant still routinely consumed, and the essential fatty acids are the only nutrients in the plant that have been studied.
Fats And Essential Fatty Acids
Evening primroses fats are essential fatty acids. Essential nutrients are those that the body cant make they have to come from the diet. Linoleic acid, the dominant fatty acid in evening primrose oil, is also abundant in leafy green vegetables, seeds and nuts.
While omega-3 fatty acids are better known for their health benefits, the diet and health of skin and hair require a balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. The American diet tends to contain a large amount of omega-6s, which can convert to the inflammatory arachidonic acid, especially when the source of them is meat.
Plant sources of omega-6 fatty acids convert to gamma-linoleic acid, which is anti-inflammatory, before becoming arachidonic acid.
While evening primrose oil has primarily linoleic acid, it also contains up to 10 percent gamma-linoleic acid (GLA). GLA in the body converts to dihomo-GLA (DGLA), which is anti-inflammatory, before becoming arachadonic acid.
The conversion requires adequate magnesium, zinc, and vitamins C, B3 and B6. GLA is abundant in human breast milk, where it seems to help manage the level of IgE, an immunoglobulin associated with allergies. Besides breast milk, GLA is sparse in the food supply, coming only from black currant and borage seeds and from spirulina.
Evening primrose oil also contains oleic acid, palmitic and stearic acid. These fats contribute the emollient nature of evening primrose oil, which makes it useful in cosmetics, but these fats are abundant in many plants.
Similarly, EPO is a source of plant sterols, which are helpful for lowering cholesterol, but are widely available in other plant foods. Evening primrose is primarily valued for its high GLA content.
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