The evening primrose could turn out to be one of the most valuable finds in plant and medical history. There are over 1000 different strains of evening primrose, many of which can be seen growing wild. Oenothera niennis is the type preferred by manufacturers for making the valuable oil. This is extracted from the seeds after flowering. Evening primrose oil manufacturers grow many types of plant in order to breed new, disease-resistant strains that yield higher concentration of the all important gamma-linolenic acid.
Every now and then there does seem to be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, in this case, a pot of gold from the seeds of the evening primrose. This 'miracle plant' has long been a part of traditional herbal medicine and now modern medical research is demonstrating that there is a scientific basis for its success.
Unlike other notable healing plant extracts, evening primrose oil (EPO) is used to treat diverse and widely different illnesses. These range from rheumatoid arthritis to benign breast disease, multiple sclerosis to eczema, from strengthening brittle nails to relieving the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.
Evening primrose can be cultivated as an attractive garden plant. It is a biennial plant, having a two-year life cycle. During its second year the stem shoots up from a small rosette of leaves to a height of about 2 metres (2 yards), before flowering from June to September or October. It is only after flowering in its second year that the plant produces its valuable seeds. In addition, it has a very nourishing parsnip-like root which can be eaten as a vegetable.
500 seeds are needed to produce just one EPO capsule. The oil has to be uncontaminated by anything that could block its specific function, so companies are competing to produce the purest oils. There are, however, some combinations – for instance with zinc, fish oils, and various vitamins – that are proving especially beneficial for specific ailments.
The oil is usually sold in 250 mg and 500 mg capsules, and can also be obtained in a 'dropper' bottle for mixing into your own face creams, or for rubbing into babies' skins (a quick and easy way for them to absorb the oil) as required. It is also now available as an ingredient in many skin products.
The only strong caution being expressed about EPO is directed at people with temporal lobe epilepsy, who may find that high dosages of EPO make them worse, rather than better. Also, if you find that EPO is giving you headaches, taking the capsules with food (and not late at night) should prevent this. Finally, some people experience a slight nausea, but this usually disappears after the first few days.
It was not until this century that scientists started to examine EPO closely. In 1919 the discovery of its rare gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) content was reported in Germany, and the effect of GLA on cell generation and cholesterol levels was soon monitored.
Then, in the 1960s, British scientists began to discovered the life-enhancing uses to which EPO could be put. And as medical research strides forward, so does the botanical search for better varieties of evening primrose with higher seed yields containing high concentrations of GLA.
In the seventeenth century the evening primrose arrived in Europe as a 'stowaway' from its native North America. It travelled across the Atlantic as seeds contains in the sacks of soil used as ballast by the cotton cargo ships. These sacks were dumped on nearby wasteland and evening primrose took root.
Botanists, who also brought specimens of the plant to Europe, labeled it Oentothera biennis – part of the willow-herb family. Despite its name it is not related to the primrose family (Primulacaea), rather it came to be called evening primrose because it only open its primrose-yellow flowers between six and seven in the early evening.
The North American Indians valued this plant both as a food and medicine. They used it for coughs, bruises and, as a poultice, for open wounds. Its soothing and healing properties soon revealed themselves to herbalists, and it became known as 'King's cure-all'. During the reign of Charles I, it was prescribed as cooling and astringent, good against 'bloody fluxes', 'loosenesses', gonorrhea, and 'nocturnal pollutiona', 'hot tumours' and inflammations.
HOW EVENING PRIMROSE OIL WORKS
Evening primrose oil (EPO) is usually taken in capsule form as a nutritional supplement to a normal diet. EPO works by:
- Supplying gamma-linolenic acid (GLA).
- Helping make prostaglandin E1 (PGE1).
- Bypassing faulty enzyme processes.
GLA is essential fatty acid which is also known as vitamin F. it is required because the fatty acid is necessary for the processes that makes prostaglandins, the body's metabolic regulating system. Prostaglandins are needed for the normal function of involuntary muscles, including the heart, the lungs, the intestines and blood vessels. Normally, the body creates its own GLA from linolenic acid which is contained in foodstuffs like liver, kidneys and vegetable oils. However, many factors like foods rich in saturated fats or cholesterol, stress, alcohol, ageing or diabetes impede the body from successfully making its own GLA. EPO works by providing a ready-made supply of GLA that bypasses any difficulty the body had in making its own. (The only other ready-made supply of useful quantities of GLA is a mother's breast milk. It is for this reason that EPO is useful in treating a wide range of ailments for they all seem to share a common complaint, a deficiency in essential fatty acids.
WHAT EPO CAN DO FOR YOU?
It is now understood that the conditions for which evening primrose oil (EPO) could be effective are due, at least in part, to a deficiency of essential fatty acids (EFAs), and therefore often to a follow-on deficiency of prostaglandin E1 (PGE1). Research is showing that EPO could be useful for the following:
Benign Breast Disease
Symptoms include painful swelling and 'granular' lumps. Causes still uncertain, but EFA and PGE1 deficiencies both seem to be indicated. EPO relieves many symptoms – over a period of time.
Eczema, Asthma, Allergies
EPO is often recommended for sufferers of these ailments as it contains GLA. Babies can have the oil rubbed into the soft parts of the skin where it will be quickly absorbed. Only a little oil is used as it is strong for infants. (Babies often develop these conditions when switched from GLA-rich mother's milk to cow's milk.)
Still very much an unknown quantity, but is possibly a virus causing damage to the body's immune system and cell structure. EPO may be helpful in relieving symptoms but, as yet, this is not certain.
If the enzyme involved in burning excess calories is inactive, EPO can help reactivate it.
Skin, Hair, Nails
EPO is recommended by leading beauty experts to counteract effects of ageing. Weak nails and hair loss have also responded well.
It reduces blood cholesterol levels, thereby lessening risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.
It is thought to be useful in helping reduce the symptoms of crippling inflammation.
Includes fluid retention, bloatedness, aches, depression, irritability, weepiness – something for two weeks out of every month low EFA levels probably cause an excess of the female hormone, prolactin. EPO can restore balance.
It is probably caused by PGE1 deficiency which affects brain and behavior patterns. EPO can correct this imbalance.
What is pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS)?
Most women can provide a good part of the answer to this long list of ailments that many have to endure for up to half of every month. These include: water retention and bloatedness, weight gain, swollen ankles and other joints, skin problems, headaches, muscle aches, lack of concentration and co-ordination, diminished sex drive, tension, insomnia, food and alcohol cravings, lethargy, irritability, weepiness and severe depression.
What causes pre-menstrual syndrome?
Lack of essential fatty acids is now considered to be a main offender. This results in a deficiency of prostaglandin E1 (PGE1) which causes a hormonal imbalance that brings about those symptoms once diminished as 'women's' problems.
Hospital trials and doctors have found that a course of evening primrose oil (EPO) helps many women. Treatment usually begins a few days before the symptoms start.
Other factors are helpful in the relief of PMS. Zinc and vitamin C help in making PGE1, and vitamin 6 is known to be an essential regulator of the menstrual cycle. Deficiency of vitamin B6 is not uncommon, particularly in women taking the oral contraceptive pill.
Although EPO should do much to help, there are additional ways to relieving PMS.
- Cut down on saturated fats. Remember, these are EFA-conversion 'blockers'.
- Cut down on salt – it is probably increasing your water retention.
- Tea and coffee also block absorption of essential nutrients. Cut back as much as you can.
- Try and reduce your sugar intake. It is probably contributing to your water retention, your weight gain and your depression. Eat little and often. An increase in B vitamins (use a B-vitamin complex plus magnesium and chromium supplements) will help control sugar cravings.
- Relax. Try a course of relaxation exercises – you can join a class, or take yoga lessons, or buy a relaxation tape or video cassette. A warm bath to which you have added a few drops of essential oil of ylang-ylang, plus a drop of lavender oil or clary sage, will leave you feeling much better. Melissa oil is another wonderful relaxant, and geranium is 'uplifting'.
- Go easy on yourself. You have got enough to contend with. Do not put yourself on any ferocious new regimes. One step at a time.
It take 5000 seeds of the evening primrose plant to make just one capsule of evening primrose oil. This is now available in many different forms. Pure EPO is sold in both 250 mg and 500 mg capsules and as a liquid in 'dropper' bottles. An ailment such as eczema can be alleviated by applying EPO, either from the bottle or by breaking open a capsule, directly on the affected area. EPO can also be found in combination with other beneficial 'ingredients', for instance, with zinc, oil of borage, safflower oil, agnus castus, and vitamin B, B6, and C. For sufferers of premenstrual syndrome specially prepared packs, combining a range of components, can be obtained.