History

Evening primrose is a botanical plant that has the following National Oceanographic Data Center Taxonomic Code (Kingdom: Plantae; Phylum: Tracheobionta; Class: Magnoliopsida; Order: Myrtales; Family: Onagraceae; Genus: Oenothera L.; Species: Oenothera biennis L.). A fragrant wildflower and biennial herb native to North America, the evening primrose reaches a height of 4 to 5 ft with flowers 2 to 3 cm long, and blossoms in the evening

From Forensic Science and Medicine: Herbal Products: Toxicology and Clinical Pharmacology, Second Edition Edited by: T. S. Tracy and R. L. Kingston © Humana Press Inc., Totowa, NJ

during June through September. A flower blooms only for one evening, thus the name "evening primrose" (1). The evening primrose can be found in North America east of the Rocky Mountains, and was naturalized into Europe and Asia from North America in the early 17th century (2,3). Its leaves are alternate, rough, hairy, lanceolate, 3 to 6 in. long, and lemon-scented. The fruit is a 1-in., oblong capsule that is approx 4 cm long, containing many tiny reddish seeds; seeds are 1.5 mm long, dark gray to black in color, and have irregular sharp edges (2). The entire plant can be eaten (e.g., roots, leaves, flowers, buds, seedpods); leaves are cooked and eaten like spinach and the roots are boiled and taste sweet. Evening primrose was a staple food for many Native American tribes and a famine food for Chinese farmers (3). European settlers and Native Americans used the whole plant to ameliorate ailments such as bruising, stomachaches, and shortness of breath (4).

Evening primrose oil (OEP) is derived from the plant's small, dark seeds (5). China is now the major grower of evening primrose seed in the world, supplying an estimated 90% of the world's crop (3). A total of approx 400 t of seeds are processed each year in the United States and Canada. One major supplier of OEP derives the oil from specially selected and hybridized forms of Oenothera species (6).

Today, the oil is used medicinally to treat a myriad of conditions related to essential fatty acid (EFA) deficiencies, low dietary intake of linoleic acid, and a variety of reproductive, cardiovascular, inflammatory, and neurological disorders. It is added to foods as a source of essential fatty acids and used in topical products such as soaps and cosmetics (5-7).

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