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FEBRUARY 2011: PRIMROSE (Primula Vulgaris)

Primrose Description and Habitat:: A hardy perennial, the Primrose is abundant in woods, hedgerows, pastures and on railway embankments throughout Britain and is in full flower during March to May. In sheltered spots in mild winters it is often found in blossom during the opening days of the year.

The primrose is the sacred flower of Freya, the Norse goddess of love. The word “Primrose" is from Old French "primerose" or Medieval Latin "prima rosa", meaning first Rose or Flower. The five petals of the flower represent birth, initiation, consummation, repose and death, whilst a rare primrose with 6 petals is said to brings luck in love and marriage.

Common names: - Oxslip, Butter Rose, Jack in Box, Jack-in-the-Green, King-Charles-in-the-Oak, Lady's Frills, Milk Maid, Plimrose, Primorole, St. Peter's Wort, Summeren, Spink, May Spink, Summerlocks.

The Primrose has two kinds of flowers, externally apparently identical, but inwardly of different construction. Only one kind is found on each plant, never both, one kind being known as 'pin-eyed' and the other as 'thrum eyed.' In both, the pale yellow corolla of five petals, joined into a tube below and spreading into a disk above, are identical. But in the centre of the pin-eyed flowers there is only the green knob of the stigma, looking like a pin's head. Whereas in the centre of the thrum-eyed flowers there are five anthers in a ring round the tube but no central knob. Farther down the tube, there are in the pin-eyed flowers five anthers hanging on to the wall of the corolla tube, while in the thrum-eyed, at this same spot, is the stigma knob. At the bottom of the tube in both alike is the seed-case and round it the honey.

It was Darwin who first pointed out the reason for this arrangement. Only a long-tongued insect can reach the honey at the base of the tube and when he starts collecting the honey on a pin-eyed flower, pollen is rubbed on the middle part of his proboscis from the anthers midway down the tube. As he goes from flower to flower on the same plant, there is the same result. But when he visits another plant with thrum-eyed flowers, then the pollen on his proboscis is just in the right place to rub on the stigma which only reaches half-way up the tube. His head meanwhile gets pollen from the long stamens at the throat of the tube, which in turn is transferred to the tall stigmas of the next pin-eyed flower he may visit. Thus both kinds of flowers are cross-fertilized in an ingenious manner. It is also remarkable that the pollen of the two flowers differs. The grains of that in the thrum-eyed flower being markedly larger, to allow it to fall on the long stigmas of the pin-eyed flowers and to put out long tubes to reach to the ovary-sac far below. Whereas the smaller pollen destined for the shorter stigmas has only to send out a comparatively short tube to reach the seeds waiting to be fertilized.

This diversity of structure ensures cross-fertilisation only by such long-tongued insects as bees and moths. Moths in particular are attracted by the bright petal colours at night and such moths included the Pearl Bordered Yellow Underwing, Lesser yellow Underwing, Double Square Spot, Ingrained Clary, Silver Ground Carpet, Green Arches, Gothic, Riband Waved, Plain Clary, Twin Spot Carpet and Triple-spotted Clary moths. Duke of Burgundy fritillary butterfly caterpillars feed on the leaves and ants are attracted by the sticky seeds and aid their dispersal.

Parts Used Medicinally: The whole herb is used fresh and in bloom and the root-stock dried.

Constituents: Both the root and flowers of the Primrose contain a fragrant oil and Primulin, which is identical with Mannite, whilst the somewhat acrid active principle is Saponin.

Therapeutics and Pharmacology: The Primrose possesses somewhat similar medicinal properties to those of the Cowslip. In the early days of medicine, the Primrose was considered an important remedy in muscular rheumatism, paralysis and gout and Pliny speaks of it as almost a panacea for these complaints. The Romans used the plant to treat malaria and an infusion of the flowers was formerly considered excellent against nervous hysterical disorders. “Primrose Tea,” says Gerard, “drunk in the month of May is famous for curing the ‘phrensie.'” Of the leaves of Primrose,' Culpepper tells us, “is made as fine a salve to heal wound as any I know.”

In modern herbal medicine, it is used to aid weight loss, reduce high blood pressure, and helps to treat skin disorders, female disorders such as cramps, heavy bleeding and hot flashes as well as multiple sclerosis, arthritis and alcoholism. An infusion of primrose flowers is used as remedy for migraine headaches, insomnia (primrose is non-addicting), nervous conditions, PMS, and general weakness. A tea made from the flowering plant is used for articular rheumatism. The rootstock makes a good expectorant with a decoction being useful for catarrh, mucous congestion, coughs, fever, bronchitis, and lung problems. In Europe, primrose is considered a blood purifier, and useful for gout, palsy, and lumbago. An ointment made of the leaves and flowers can be used for skin problems, heals wounds, burns, scalds, softens wrinkles, lightens freckles, discolorations of the skin, and blemishes. Primrose can also be used for vertigo, hysteria, epilepsy, convulsions, palsy, backache, cystitis, and urine retention.

Caution: Some people are allergic to primrose and should avoid medications made from the plant. Avoid the root if sensitive to aspirin (contains salicylates) and do not take high doses during pregnancy because the plant is a stimulant. Patients taking blood-thinning drugs should not take Primrose.

The leaves are said to be eagerly eaten by the common silkworm and in ancient cookery the flowers were the chief ingredient in a pottage called 'Primrose Pottage.' Another old dish had rice, almonds, honey, saffron and ground Primrose flowers. (From A Plain Plantain.) Fresh leaves are used in salads in the springtime in Russia and the flowers can be made into teas, jam and wine. The roots immersed in a cask of beer or ale render the brew stronger.

Folklore: Legend says that Primroses sprang from the body of Paralisos (the Primrose's ancient name) after he died of a broken heart. Victorians used to plant Primroses on the graves of children.

There is a lot of Primrose folklore attached to the ability of Primroses to let people see fairies. If you touched a fairy rock with the right number of Primroses in a posy you will be shown the way to fairyland. The wrong number would lead to certain doom. A German legend tells of a little girl who found a doorway covered in flowers and touched it with a Primrose - it opened up into an enchanted castle. Germans also believed that Primroses could reveal the way to hidden treasure and called the plant Key Flower – (schusselblume). Children used to eat the flowers in the belief that this would enable them to see fairies. Posies would be left on doorsteps so that fairies would bless the house and the people in it. Scatter Primroses outside doors to keep fairies away as they won't cross this barrier. Don't let Primroses die as they are popular with fairies. Carry a Primrose flower and peer over the petals in order to see fairies. Leave a Primrose on the doorstep on May Day eve to prevent witches entering.

In Ireland on May Day, Primrose balls were hung on cows' tails to deter witches. In Hampshire, woodmen boiled Primroses in lard to make an ointment to treat injuries. Bunches of Primroses would be left in cowsheds so that fairies would not steal the milk.

Primroses were believed to affect luck in poultry rearing, presumably because primroses and chicks are both bright yellow ('like affects like'). Children were warned never to bring fewer than thirteen primroses into the house, for this was the optimum number for a clutch of chicks, and fewer primroses meant fewer eggs would hatch. If you keep chickens and see a single primrose, dance round it three times in order to avert ill omens. It was sometimes further believed that giving someone a single primrose, or bringing one indoors, would cause death.



Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 February 2011 13:42  



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