Latin Names – Oenothera biennis
Evening primrose gets its name from the yellow flowers that bloom on the plant in the evening. It is native to North America but grows in Europe and parts of the Southern Hemisphere as well. Evening primrose oil contains gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an essential fatty acid. Evening primrose oil is extracted from the seeds of the evening primrose, and the oil is usually put into capsules for use.
Since the 1930s evening primrose oil has been used as an herbal remedy for symptoms of eczema (a condition in which the skin becomes inflamed, itchy, or scaly because of allergies or other irritation) More recently this oil has been used as an herbal remedy for symptoms involving inflammation, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Evening primrose oil is used in the hope of improving conditions affecting women’s health, such as breast pain associated with the menstrual cycle, menopausal symptoms, and premenstrual syndrome.
Research indicates that evening primrose oil may have modest benefits for eczema, and it may be useful for rheumatoid arthritis and breast pain. However, study results are mixed, and most studies have been small and not well designed. Evening primrose oil does not appear to affect menopausal symptoms.
Although some clinical trials have shown a benefit of evening primrose oil for premenstrual syndrome, the best-designed trials found no effect.
There is not enough evidence to support the use of evening primrose oil for other health conditions.
Side Effects and Cautions Summary
- Side effects of evening primrose oil include gastrointestinal upset and headache.
- Tell your health care providers about any complementary and alternative practices you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health to help ensure coordinated and safe care. Complementary or alternative therapy should not be used in place of conventional medical care or to delay seeking that care.
- Shahidi F, Miraliakbari H. Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis). In: Coates P, Blackman M, Cragg G, et al., eds. Encyclopedia of Dietary Supplements. New York, NY: Marcel Dekker; 2005:197–210.
- Evening primrose oil. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database Web site. Accessed on July 6, 2007.
- Evening primrose oil (Oenothera biennis L.). Natural Standard Web site. Accessed on July 3, 2007.
For More Information
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) Clearinghouse
The NCCAM Clearinghouse provides information on CAM and NCCAM, including publications and searches of Federal databases of scientific and medical literature. The Clearinghouse does not provide medical advice, treatment recommendations, or referrals to practitioners.
NIH Office of Dietary Supplements
Web site: ods.od.nih.gov
NIH National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus
Evening Primrose Oil Listing: www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/patient-primrose.html
Source: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Evening Primrose Oil fact sheet, Created December 2006, Updated March 2008