Name: Cowslips (Primula veris)
Otherwise known as: Paigle
Habitat: A herbaceous perennial member of the Primulaceae family, growing to about 30cm in meadows and open woodland in Europe and West Asia. The leaves, which are wrinkled, hairy and oblong, are arranged in a rosette from which springs up to 30 long-stemmed, deep yellow flowers, all sweetly scented, and in a nodding terminal umbel. Exposure to the stems will cause severe dermatitis.
What does it do: The generic name is from the Latin ‘primus’ and refers to the early flowering of members of this family. Its common name is obscure, but is thought to originate in the Anglo-Saxon ‘cuslyppe’ meaning cow-dung or cowpat; probably a reference to the abundance of the plant in fields grazed by cows.
The Romans believed Cowslip flowers possessed aphrodisiac properties, and were made into love potions, and crystallised.
Gerrard states ‘An unguent made with the juice of Cowslip and the oil of Linseed, cureth all scaldings or burning with fire, water or otherwise’.
It is recommended for temporal arteritis (inflamed arteries), varicose veins, lumbago, sciatica, rheumatism, intermittent claudication (lameness in the legs due to poor blood supply), restlessness in children, sleeplessness, whooping cough, chronic bronchitis and parasthesia (chronic pins and needles). The petals inhibit histamine release and scavenge skin-ageing free radicals. Decoctions and teas are made from the root and flowers.
The flowers are included in jams and pickles and are candied to make cake decorations.
An infusion made from the flowers was a popular treatment for wrinkles, spots and sunburn. The plant is made into a very potent country wine.
Cowslips are often mistaken for Oxslips (Primula elatior), which is a hybrid between Cowslip and Primrose (Primula vulgaris).