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Cowslip

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JULY: COWSLIP – Primula Veris

Cowslip Cowslip (Primula veris) is a well-known wildflower, native to England, Europe and temperate Asia. The plant favours meadows and pastures but also grows in open woodland, scrub and grassland on lime-rich soils. Today quite rare in its natural habitat, it is now mostly found by roadside verges. It flowers from April to May and is the food plant of the Duke of Burgundy Fritillary butterfly and Plain Clary and Northern Rustic moths. A member of the Primrose family, its name derives from "cowpat"(Old English "cuslyppe") from where Cowslips would spring up when they were common in the wild.

It’s many regional names include Paigle, Peagle, Peggle, Primula, Key Flower, Key of Heaven, Palsywort, Fairy Cups, Petty Mulleins, Crewel, Buckles, Plumrocks, Mayflower, Password, Artetyke, Drelip, Our Lady’s Keys, Arthritica and Herb Peter.


The origin of names which include “Key” is both Pagan and Christian. The flowers of the plant resemble a bunch of keys and as this is the emblem of Saint Peter, in Medieval times the plant was called Herb Peter and Key Flower. It was also called Our Lady’s Keys in dedication to the Virgin Mary. However, this idea has an older origin from Pagan times as in Norse mythology the flower was dedicated to the Goddess Frigga who held the keys to happiness and sexual love and the plant was thought to admit a person to her treasure palace.

Highly valued since ancient times for its medicinal uses, the plant contains an oil known as ‘primula camphor’. The main active constituents are the flavonoids which exhibit anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic activity. They inhibit the release of histamine and act as free radical scavengers.

Used to make wine, jam, tea and ointment, it was thought to be a good sedative and was also used in the treatment of coughs and bronchitis, spasms, cramps, rheumatic pain and paralysis (this is the origin of the name Palsywort). Its leaves were used for healing wounds and treating skin conditions including acne and both the flowers and leaves were used in salads or mixed with other herbs to stuff meat. The flowers were used to treat measles and strengthen the brain and an ointment made from the flowers was used as a relief of sunburn. In the 18th century powdered roots boiled in ale were used to treat giddiness and nervous ailments.

Cowslips used to be popular in Elizabethan knot gardens and were believed to be the favourite flower of Nightingales who were said to only frequent places where Cowslips grew. Frightened fairies were said to hide in the flowers and you should sprinkle your threshold with Cowslip flowers when you want to be left alone. Cowslip flowers should be carried to bring the bearer good luck and if a woman washes her face in milk which has been infused with Cowslips then her beloved will be drawn closer to her. The plant was thought to have the ability to split rocks containing treasure and would help find hidden fairy gold.

Last Updated on Saturday, 10 July 2010 07:40  

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