Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) is a member of the Onagraceae plant family. Although it is not as common as some carrier oils, such as apricot kernel (Prunus armeniaca) or jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis), evening primrose oil has uses in aromatherapy as a carrier oil. Here’s a short introduction to evening primrose oil.
Botanical Profile of Evening Primrose
Evening primrose is indigenous to North America, although it was naturalized in the Mediterranean region when it was brought to Europe in 1619. Evening primrose is a versatile plant which is found growing in the desert, by the ocean, in mountain landscapes and by the river. It has yellow flowers which bloom and die within the same evening (hence its name, evening primrose), a pattern which is repeated the following evening. Evening primrose oil is extracted from the pod seeds which form when the flowers die.
Historic Use of Evening Primrose
Native American Indians used the seeds, roots and leaves of evening primrose to make various medicinal infusions, one of which was used to treat wounds. The Europeans did not commonly use evening primrose for medicinal purposes but in his book, Carrier Oils for Aromatherapy and Massage, Len Price cites that the English herbalist, John Parkinson (1567 – 1650), described the use of evening primrose in 1629.1
Chemical Components of Evening Primrose Oil
Evening primrose oil contains up to 25% essential fatty acids, such as gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and linoleic acid (LA), making it highly unsaturated, unstable, and reactive. It is similar to borage oil, although borage oil contains a much higher percentage of GLA than evening primrose oil.
Use of Evening Primrose Oil in Aromatherapy
Externally, evening primrose oil is used in aromatherapy to treat the following conditions:
dry, itchy skin
anti-wrinkle cosmetic lotions.
Scientific Evidence for Use of Evening Primrose
Evening primrose oil is recommended for many problems associated with women, such as menopausal symptoms, P.M.S., breast pain, breast cancer and pregnancy related problems.2 Note that some of these recommendations are for use in capsule form for internal use and may not hold any real validation. However, evening primrose oil is often supported for use in the treatment of eczema.3 Len Price, in his book Carrier Oils for Aromatherapy and Massage, cites two studies which support the use of evening primrose oil, one for eczema (Kerscher and Korting 1992) and one for psoriasis (Ferrando 1986).1
Cautions for Using Evening Primrose Oil
Most cautions associated with using evening primrose oil are for internal use; as evening primrose oil contains a high level of GLA, prolonged use of internal supplements is not recommended. Some side effects of the internal use of evening primrose oil include headache and upset stomach.
Medical opinion should be taken for possible interaction with other prescription and non-prescription drugs, in addition to conditions such as epilepsy and high blood pressure. However, in general, the external use of evening primrose oil for aromatherapy, will not cause a reaction in most people.
Learn More About Carrier Oils with Sedona Aromatherapie
If you would like to learn how to use carrier oils in aromatherapy blends, consider the Sedona Aromatherapie Linguistics of AromaticsTM Program.
Price Len, 1999, Carrier Oils for Aromatherapy and Massage UK: Riverhead
University of Maryland Medical Center website, Evening Primrose Oil (EPO), accessed from: http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/evening-primrose-oil
Mayo Clinic web site, Evening Primrose (Oenotheria spp.), accessed from: http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/evening-primrose/background/hrb-20059889
Author is a 20 year veteran in the health care and aromatherapy industry and a UK-certified aromatherapist. She is both a published author and editor in aromatherapy, a consultant, custom blend formulator and herbal studies student. She is the author of Authentic Aromatherapy and the current chief editor of the NAHA Aromatherapy Journal. She works from her home studio in Sedona, Arizona, where she is in the process of creating her own aromatic stillroom on her one acre homestead and aromatic gardens.