Evening Primrose Oil


About Botanical Oils

The use of botanical oils can be traced back thousands of years, with roots in cultures as diverse as the ancient Sumerians, Chinese and Roman Empire.[1]

Botanical oils are prepared from whole plant, preserving its scent, main active ingredients, and the essence of the plant. Botanical oils made from various plants have been used throughout history to honor gods,[2] prepare bodies for funerals,[3] preserve beauty, assist with hygiene and treat a wide variety of medical conditions. Instructions for the preparation and use of plants as medicine is catalogued in the works of Dioscorides, De materia medica[4], back in the first century.

Modern technology has allowed the active parts of plants to be identified and studied for their role in health and their usefulness against various medical conditions. The value of botanical oils has stood the test of time.  

The Properties Of Evening Primrose

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.[5]

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 16th century 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.”[6] 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.[7]  


The entire evening primrose plant can be used as food. The nut-flavored root was eaten by Native Americans[8] and the English[9] and Germans called it rampion[10] and favored it as more nutritive than beef.[11] 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.

Evening primrose’s fats are essential fatty acids. Essential nutrients are those that the body can’t 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.[12]

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.[13]

While evening primrose oil has primarily linoleic acid, it also contains up to 10% gamma-linoleic acid (GLA).[14] 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.[15] GLA is abundant in human breast milk, where it seems to help manage the level of IgE, an immunoglobulin associated with allergies.[16] Besides breast milk, GLA is sparse in the food supply, coming only from black currant and borage seeds and from spirulina.[17]

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.[18]  

Evening Primrose Oil Preparation

Cold Pressed

Expeller pressing refers to the process of slowly breaking down evening primrose seeds under mechanical pressure, such as two rotating metal plates, to release the fats. Cold pressed means that the oil was expeller pressed at a low temperature.

The low temperature prevents the oil from spoiling[19] and helps it retain the beneficial properties of the plant, including plant sterols.[20] The volatility of the valuable compounds being extracted make it a very delicate process that must be carried out in a narrow temperature range.[21]

Solvent Extraction

The amount of oil collected from the evening primrose seed is fairly low, but it is very valuable. The amount of oil collected is greatly increased by using a solvent such as hexane during the extraction process. The hexane is then removed under pressure at low temperatures.

In an effort to remove the risk of exposure to solvent altogether, different companies have explored alternative methods. One is supercritical fluid extraction using carbon dioxide. This involves performing the oil extraction under carefully monitored temperature and pressure conditions, and using carbon dioxide to draw out the maximum amount of oil.[22]


Evening Primrose Oil-bottle

Medicinal Uses For Evening Primrose Oil

Uses In Ayurvedic And Chinese Medicine

Evening primrose oil is considered cooling and nourishing in Ayurvedic medicine, the traditional medicine system of India, making it useful for inflammatory conditions. It is used in eczema, allergies, autoimmune disease, and immune deficiencies.[23]

Both Ayurvedic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine recognize the value of evening primrose oil for managing the female reproductive cycles, and in Chinese medicine, it is used to move the blood and improve circulation.[24]  

Women’s Health

Evening primrose oil is most sought after as an aid for women’s health, including breast cysts and pain (also called mastalgia).[25] It is also helpful with PMS[26], high blood pressure in pregnancy, facilitating labor[27] and managing hot flashes in menopause[28]. There is a need for larger trials[29] to confirm its benefit in treatment, but the anti-inflammatory action of evening primrose support its traditional uses for these conditions.[30]




Since the 1930s, researchers have believed that a deficiency of essential fatty acids (EFA) or an abnormality of EFA metabolism is at the root of eczema. People with eczema have lots of linoleic acid, but they may have trouble converting it to anti-inflammatory GLA. If that is true, it should be helpful to supplement with GLA-rich evening primrose oil.[31]

Studies have not consistently shown benefit, but it may be a matter of finding the right dose to use.[32] It may be helpful at managing side effects from isotretinoin, an acne medication.[33] More studies are needed to determine the efficacy.

Cardiovascular Health

Evening primrose oil has been found to help with pain and loss of nerve function associated with diabetic neuropathy. Results required taking a high dose of oil for six months, and worked better in people with well-regulated blood sugar.[34]

Evening primrose may also be helpful for managing blood sugar in women with gestational diabetes. More studies are needed.[35] Because it assists circulation, there is interest in its ability to improve the symptoms of Raynaud’s disease, but again, more studies are needed.  


Essential fatty acids have been studied for their ability to alleviate the pain of arthritis. The fats in evening primrose oil directly increase the amount of DGLA in the blood. DGLA is a strongly anti-inflammatory fat that should work to reduce pain and protect joints.

Some studies are promising, but more evidence is needed before evening primrose can be recommended as a first line treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.[36]  


Evening primrose oil is used in cosmetic products such as soaps and lotions. It absorbs well into skin and softens it by infusing its beneficial oils. Topically, it is often used in conjunction with a carrier oil that improves the stability of evening primrose.[37]  

Traditional Uses

Native Americans used the leaves of evening primrose to make poultices for healing bruises and hemorrhoids. It was considered a remedy for rheumatism, paralysis, and gout. The whole plant prepared as a tea or tincture was used as a sedative for insomnia, restlessness and calming the lungs in congestions such as bronchitis.[38]

Its use for restlessness probably led to the modern suggestion that it is helpful for ADHD, but there is not yet enough research demonstrating that effect. It has also been used to help the body repair from the effects of too much alcohol.[39]  


Questions About Evening Primrose Oil

What should I look for in an evening primrose oil? Most evening primrose oil is sold in capsules. GLA is fairly unstable and goes rancid quickly, so look for products that have had an antioxidant, such as vitamin E added. Use manufacturers that you can trust. There are many examples of evening primrose oil being replaced in capsules by less expensive soy or safflower oil.[40]  

Can I have an allergy to evening primrose oil? Allergies to evening primrose are rarely reported, but are possible. If you know you have an allergy to evening primrose flowers or to GLA, do not use evening primrose topically or internally. Ask your doctor about testing for an allergy to evening primrose or other plants in the onagraceae family.  

Is it safe to use evening primrose oil on kids? Evening primrose oil has been studied and found to be safe in children. It is not a common allergen, but if your child has an allergy to evening primrose or other plants in the onagraceae family, do not use evening primrose oil topically or internally as a nutritional supplement.

Can I cook with evening primrose oil? You would not use evening primrose oil for cooking. It is extremely unstable under any heat, but the plant is edible and nutritious. Young leaves can be added to salad, and the roots can be eaten. A carrier oil such as olive oil could be infused with evening primrose flowers to capture some of the properties of the plant. The oil could then be used just as you would use an olive oil.[41]  

How long is the shelf life of evening primrose oil? Very short! Kept under proper storage conditions, evening primrose oil will only last about six months. Vitamin E is added to evening primrose oil to protect it from the oxidative stress that forms as oil begins to go rancid, extending its shelf life. Evening primrose oils need to be refrigerated, and when using it in preparations, it should be added after any step that involves heat.  

Won’t evening primrose oil clog my pores? Evening primrose oil is a good emollient, which means it is good at breaking down skin and softening it. Even so, the pores of the face can be more sensitive to clogging by thick oils. If you tend to have oily skin, evening primrose oil may be better used on other parts of the body.  

Caution And Considerations

There has been some evidence that evening primrose will increase seizure activity. Do not use evening primrose, evening primrose oil, or evening primrose essential oil if you have epilepsy or are prone to seizures of any kind.

Evening primrose may increase bleeding, so do not use if you have a bleeding or clotting disorder, are on anti-clotting medications or are undergoing surgery. Evening primrose oil can cause some stomach upset, nausea, diarrhea, loose stools or headaches.  




[2] Bill T. Arnold, H. G. M. Williamson. Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books. InterVarsity Press, Sep 26, 2011. P 33




[6] Umberto Quattrocchi. “CRC World Dictionary of Plant Nmaes: Common Names, Scientific Names, Eponyms, Synonyms, and Etymology, Volume 3.” CRC Press, 1999. P. 1860.










[16] Kitz R, et al. “Impact of early dietary gamma-linolenic acid supplementation on atopic eczema in infancy.” Pediatr Allergy Immunol. 2006 Mar;17(2):112-7.





[21] Favati, F, et al. “Supercritical Carbon Dioxide Extraction of Evening Primrose Oil.” Journal of the American Oil Chemists Society. June 1991. 68(6):422.427.

[22] Favati, F, et al. “Supercritical Carbon Dioxide Extraction of Evening Primrose Oil.” Journal of the American Oil Chemists Society. June 1991. 68(6):422.427.



[25] Kataria, Kamal et al. “A Systematic Review of Current Understanding and Management of Mastalgia.” The Indian Journal of Surgery 76.3 (2014): 217–222. PMC. Web. 8 May 2016.

[26] Dante G1, Facchinetti F. “Herbal treatments for alleviating premenstrual symptoms: a systematic review.” J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol. 2011 Mar;32(1):42-51. doi: 10.3109/0167482X.2010.538102. Epub 2010 Dec 21.

[27] Dante G. “Herbal therapies in pregnancy: what works?” Curr Opin Obstet Gynecol. 2014 Apr;26(2):83-91. doi: 10.1097/GCO.0000000000000052.

[28] Farzaneh F. “The effect of oral evening primrose oil on menopausal hot flashes: a randomized clinical trial.” Arch Gynecol Obstet. 2013 Nov;288(5):1075-9. doi: 10.1007/s00404-013-2852-6. Epub 2013 Apr 27.

[29] Baylee B, Usatine R. “Evening Primrose Oil.” Am Fam Physician. 2009 Dec 15;80(12):1405-1408.

[30] Montserrat-de la Paz S. “Long-chain fatty alcohols from evening primrose oil inhibit the inflammatory response in murine peritoneal macrophages.” J Ethnopharmacol. 2014;151(1):131-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2013.10.012. Epub 2013 Nov 15.

[31] Horrobin DF. “Essential fatty acid metabolism and its modification in atopic eczema.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Jan;71(1 Suppl):367S-72S.

[32] Chung, Bo Young et al. “Dose-Dependent Effects of Evening Primrose Oil in Children and Adolescents with Atopic Dermatitis.” Annals of Dermatology 25.3 (2013): 285–291. PMC. Web. 8 May 2016.

[33] Park, Kui Young et al. “The Effect of Evening Primrose Oil for the Prevention of Xerotic Cheilitis in Acne Patients Being Treated with Isotretinoin: A Pilot Study.” Annals of Dermatology 26.6 (2014): 706–712. PMC. Web. 8 May 2016.

[34] Halal KM, Dennehey CE. “Botanicals and Dietary Supplements in Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy.” J Am Board Fam Med January 1, 2003 vol. 16 no. 1 47-57.

[35] Jamilian M, et al. “Erratum to: Vitamin D and Evening Primrose Oil Administration Improve Glycemia and Lipid Profiles in Women with Gestational Diabetes.” Lipids. 2016 Mar;51(3):357. doi: 10.1007/s11745-016-4138-9.

[36] Belch JJ, Hill A. “Evening primrose oil and borage oil in rheumatologic conditions.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Jan;71(1 Suppl):352S-6S.






Written By Dr. Keri Layton, Naturopathic Medicine

Dr. Layton was born and raised in Rhode Island. She received an undergraduate degree in Neuroscience and Behavior from Mount Holyoke College in 1999. After college, she worked in Boston as a research assistant on the Human Genome Project, then as a high school biology teacher. Many of the kids she worked with were struggling with learning disabilities and ADHD.  It was this experience that solidified her desire to become a Naturopathic Doctor. Dr. Layton’s passion is to see Naturopathic Doctors fully integrated into the health care system. She is committed to seeing Naturopathic Doctors gain the right to practice the full scope of their training in all states. She has served on the House of Delegates of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. She served on the Board of the RIANP as Secretary and President through 2014, bringing Rhode Island closer to licensing NDs than it had ever been before. Now living in Massachusetts, Dr. Layton is a member of the Massachusetts Society of Naturopathic Doctors. Dr. Layton now lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two children, partnering with members of her New England community to improve their health and wellness.

Article Reviewed By Sarah Ingram

Sarah Ingram is a NAHA Certified Aromatherapist and Certified Natural Health Consultant with many years of experience in the aromatherapy and natural health industry. She is also an organic farmer and successfully runs her own business - eSCENTials Aroma in Woodstock, Ill. - where she creates, formulates, designs, makes, markets and sells expertly-crafted, all-natural aromatherapy products. Contact her at 847-975-2030 or email: Etsy shop link: LinkedIn:



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