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Archive for the ‘Cowslip’ Category

This spring the hills around my home have been literally carpeted with delightful and cheery cowslips. Usually I am very restrained in my cowslip harvest, gathering just a few flowers here and there for adding to tea blends, because this beautiful wild flower is not as abundant as once it was and needs protecting. If you had been out walking on this part of the South Downs recently however, you might be forgiven for thinking cowslips were as common as nettles.

Also known as Heaven’s Keys or Fairy Cup, Primula officinalis/ veris, is a wonderful soothing nervine herb with sedative and anti-spasmodic properties. The flowers contain flavonoids which are anti-inlammatory and for the best medicinal action should be collected without any of the green parts. I usually dry the whole head though as I am only really after a nice soothing addition to my teas.

Cowslip makes a lovely tea with chamomile for soothing anxiety and irritation and is ideal drunk before bed for it’s sedative and sleep enhancing properties. I wrote another post about the benefits of cowslip this time last year which you can read here.

The roots contain saponins which make them useful as a stimulating expectorant in coughs and bronchitis though care must be taken as large doses could cause vomiting. I have never worked with the roots before so would be interested to hear from anyone who has. I would caution against collecting cowslip roots from the wild however in order to preserve the plants as much as possible.

The main way I use cowslip  flowers personally is in tea blends. It combines nicely with chamomile, oatstraw and other relaxing herbs. We have been enjoying an infusion of cowslip, rose and lemon verbena before bed which is both delicious and relaxing.

I also really like cowslip infused in oil for cosmetic use. This one was infused on a sunny windowsill for 10 days, plenty of time for delicate flowers like these. I strained it this evening and will be whipping it up into a batch of face cream along with cowslip infusion later in the week.

I mentioned in my post last year that Culpepper wrote of cowslips affiliation for the complexion saying ‘Our city dames know well enough the ointment or distilled water of it adds to beauty or at least restores it when lost.’ Mrs Grieve also shares this wonderful quote by Turner in her Modern Herbal, ‘Some weomen we find, sprinkle ye floures of cowslip wt whyte wine and after still it and wash their faces wt that water to drive wrinkles away and to make them fayre in the eyes of the worlde rather than in the eyes of God, Whom they are not afrayd to offend.’

Cowslip wine is a country favourite which Maria Treben recommends for strengthening the heart and nervous system. This lovely image of making cowslip wine is from Cecily Parsley’s Nursery Rhymes by Beatrix Potter and is available here.

In my recent post on spring flowers I quoted Ariel’s song from Shakespeare’s The Tempest and this time I shall leave you with these lovely lines from A Midsummer Night’ Dream, the words of a young fairy in conversation with that mischievous rogue Puck.

And I serve the Fairy Queen
To dew her orbs upon the green.
The cowslips tall her pensioners be.
In their coats spots you’ll see;
Those be rubies, fairy favours;
In those freckles live their savours.
I must go seek some dewdrops here,
And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.

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Cowslips and Primroses are two of the cheeriest and prettiest of our spring wild flowers. They have a rustic charm reminiscent of days gone by when they were used much more commonly in medicine than they are today.

Cowslip, Primula officinalis, and Primrose, Primula vulgaris, contain similar properties, being of use for soothing the nerves, easing insomnia and improving headaches. An infusion of Cowslip with Wood Betony is said to be of particular use in headache and migraine. They are both anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic, making them useful for muscular pains, rheumatism and gout and an infusion of the flowers of either plant can be used in the bath for soothing these conditions. They have also been recommended for pulmonary problems as both have expectorant properties.

Cowslips

Infusions of Primrose or Cowslip flowers have been used to brighten the complexion and reduce wrinkles. Culpepper recommends a Cowslip ointment saying, ‘Our city dames know well enough the ointment or distilled water of it adds to beauty or at least restores it when lost.’

Both flowers are associated with youth in the Victorian language of flowers, Cowslip also being associated with winning grace and primrose carrying the meaning, ‘I can’t live without you.’ Both have also been associated with faeries in folk tradition and magic.

The flowers and young leaves can be used in salads, though they are potentially allergenic so always do an allergy test first by rubbing a little of the juice from a leaf on the inside of the lips and seeing how you react.

Primrose

Both plants used to be very common but are much rarer now due to changing habitat as well as pesticide and agrochemical use. Therefore it’s important to harvest responsibly, and only in areas where they are abundant, if you wish to use them for food or remedies.

Maria Treben rates Cowslip highly as a remedy for insomnia. Here is her recipe for a sleep inducing tea:

50g Cowslip flowers
25g Lavender
10g St John’s Wort
15g Hops
5g Valerian

Pour 1/4 litre boiling water over a heaped teaspoon of the herbal mix, allow to infuse, add honey if desired and drink in sips before bed. She says, ‘This tea should be preferred to all chemical sleep inducing remedies. Sleeping pills destroy the nervous system whereas this tea removes nervous complaints.’

Cowslip was also commonly made into wine. For a modern day approach to this, loosely fill a bottle with fresh cowslip flowers, pour white wine over them, bottle and leave in the sunlight for fourteen days. Take 3 tablespoons a day for nervous system and heart complaints.

Primrose flowers also make a lovely infused vinegar which can be used in cooking or salad dressings.

Enjoy these sweet spring soothers and remember to harvest them with care and gratitude, never taking too much from one area.

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