Botanical Name : Primula veris
Species: P. veris
(The common name cowslip may derive from the old English for cow dung, probably because the plant was often found growing amongst the manure in cow pastures. An alternative derivation simply refers to slippery or boggy ground; again, a typical habitat for this plant.
The species name v?ris means “of spring”. However, this is not the first primula to flower, being preceded by the primrose P. vulgaris.
Other folk names include: cuy lippe, herb peter, paigle, peggle, key flower, key of heaven, fairy cups, petty mulleins, crewel, buckles, palsywort, plumrocks, tittypines.)
Habitat : Primula veris is native throughout most of temperate Europe and Asia, and although absent from more northerly areas including much of northwest Scotland, it reappears in northernmost Sutherland and Orkney. It grows on Grassy places, fields and woods with calcareous soils.
Primula veris is a variable evergreen or semi-evergreen perennial flowering plant growing to 25 cm (10 in) tall and broad, with a rosette of leaves 5–15 cm long and 2–6 cm broad. The deep yellow flowers are produced in spring, in clusters of 10-30 blooms together on a single stem. Each flower is 9–15 mm broad. Red-flowered plants occur rarely.
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Quite early in the spring, the Primula veris begins to produce its leaves. At first, each is just two tight coils, rolled backwards and lying side by side; these slowly unroll and a leaf similar to that of a Primrose, but shorter and rounder, appears. All the leaves lie nearly flat on the ground in a rosette, from the centre of which rises a long stalk, crowned by the flowers, which spring all from one point, in separate little stalks, and thus form an ‘umbel.’ The number of the flowers in an umbel varies very much in different specimens.
This species frequently hybridizes with other Primulas such as Primula vulgaris to form False Oxslip (Primula x polyantha) which is often confused with true Oxslip (Primula elatior) which is a much rarer plant. Botanists have found no less than twenty-five of these hybrid-forms in the Austrian Alps.
Prefers a medium to heavy moisture retentive humus rich loam in a cool position with light to medium shade. Grows well in heavy clay soils and on chalk. Prefers full sun and a well-drained alkaline soil if it is to survive well. Plants are hardy to about -20°c. A very ornamental plant, it grows well in the spring meadow. The flowers diffuse a sweet fragrance quite unlike all other flower scents. It has been likened by some to the breath of a cow (cuslippe is the Saxon word for this and thus the origin of the common name), by others to the sweet milky breath of a tiny child.
Seed – best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame. Sow stored seed in early spring in a cold frame. Germination is inhibited by temperatures above 20°c. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and plant them out in the summer. Division in autumn. This is best done every other year.
Edible Parts: Flowers; Leaves.
Edible Uses: Tea.
Young leaves – raw or cooked in soups etc. They are not that tasty, but are available in late winter which adds somewhat to their value[K]. The fresh or dried leaves are used as a tea substitute. Flowers – raw, cooked or used in conserves, as a garnish etc. They make an ornamental addition to the salad bowl. This species has become much less common in the past 100 years due to habitat destruction, over-collecting from the wild and farming practices. When it was more abundant, the flowers were harvested in quantity in the spring and used to make a tasty wine with sedative and nervine properties. A related species Primula elatior is listed by the Council of Europe as a natural food flavouring.
Part Used Medicinally: The yellow corolla is alone needed, no stalk or green part whatever is required, only the yellow part, plucked out of the green calyx.
Chemical constituents: The roots and the flowers have somewhat of the odour of Anise, due to their containing some volatile oil identical with Mannite. Their acrid principle is Saponin.
The medicinal roots of Primula veris contain different glycosides of 5-methoxysalicylic methyl ester, such as primeverin and primulaverin. In the dried, crude root drug, their phenolic aglycones are responsible for the typical odor reminiscent of methyl salicylate or anethole, depending on the exact species. The dried roots contain significant amounts of triterpene saponins, such as primula acid I/II, while in the flower drug these constituents are located in the sepals, and the dominating constituents are flavonoids. Rare side effects of the saponins can be nausea or diarrhea while some of the phenolic constituents are possibly responsible for allergic reactions.
The subspecies macrocalyx, growing in Siberia, contains the phenolic compound riccardin C.
Cowslips are an underused but valuable medicinal herb. They have a very long history of medicinal use and have been particularly employed in treating conditions involving spasms, cramps, paralysis and rheumatic pains. The plant contains saponins, which have an expectorant effect, and salicylates which are the main ingredient of aspirin and have anodyne, anti-inflammatory and febrifuge effects. This remedy should not be prescribed for pregnant women, patients who are sensitive to aspirin, or those taking anti-coagulant drugs such as warfarin. The flowers and the leaves are anodyne, diaphoretic, diuretic and expectorant. They are harvested in the spring and can be used fresh or dried. The yellow corolla of the flower is antispasmodic and sedative. They are recommended for treating over-activity and sleeplessness, especially in children. They are potentially valuable in the treatment of asthma and other allergic conditions. At one time an oil was produced by maceration of the flowers, this has an antiecchymotic effect (treats bruising). The root contains 5 – 10% triterpenoid saponins which are strongly expectorant, stimulating a more liquid mucous and so easing the clearance of phlegm . It has been dried and made into a powder then used as a sternutatory. The root is also mildly diuretic, antirheumatic and slows the clotting of blood. It is used in the treatment of chronic coughs (especially those associated with chronic bronchitis and catarrhal congestion), flu and other febrile conditions. The root can be harvested in the spring or autumn and is dried for later use. The leaves have similar medicinal properties to the roots but are weaker in action. A homeopathic remedy is made from the plant. It is used in the treatment of kidney complaints and catarrh. The German Commission E Monographs, a therapeutic guide to herbal medicine, approve Primula veris for cough/bronchitis.
In folk medicine, it was used as a sedative, anti-rheumatic and for gout. In modern phytotherapy, it is mostly employed in form of tinctures or dry extracts for its evidence-based expectorant effects. It was later discovered through pharmacognostic examinations that the active principles (saponins) are mostly occurring in the rhizomes and flowers.
In the Middle-Ages it was also known as St. Peter’s herb or Petrella and was very sought after by Florentine apothecaries. Hildegard von Bingen recommended the medicinal parts only for topical use but the leaves were also consumed as food. Other common names at the time were Herba paralysis, Verbascum, Primrose or Mullein leaves. It was frequently misidentified or confused with similar species from the genus Primula.
Known Hazards : Some people are allergic to the stamens of this plant, though such cases are easily treated. Saponins may cause hypotension. Excessive/prolonged use may interfere with high blood pressure treatments. Possible Gastrointestinal irritation .
The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider