Plant: Cowslip
Botanical Name: Primula veris (Linn.)

Synonyms, Country Names: Cowslip, Herb Peter, Key Flower, Fairy Cups, Petty Mulleins, Crewel, Password

One common name, "paigles" derived from Anglo-Saxon word for keys. Because the flowers were thought to resemble a bunch of golden keys, they were termed "Keys of Heaven" and dedicated to St. Peter.

Symbolic: Prim-rose because they are some of the FIRST to bloom in the spring; "rose" was generic term.

Quotations: Puck: How now, spirit! whither wander you?
Fairy: Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire;
I do wander everywhere,
Swifter than the moones sphere;
And I serve the fairy queen,
To dew her orbs upon the green.
The COWSLIPS tall her pensioners be;
In their gold coats spots you see.
Those be rubies, fairy favors;
In those freckles live their savord.
I must go seek some dewdrops here,
And hang a pearl in every COWSLIP'S ear.

A Midsummer Night's Dream II, i.

Thisby: ...This cherry nose,
These yellow COWSLIP cheeks,....

A Midsummer Night's Dream V, i.

Cultivation: Grows in partial shade or full sun, open meadows, blooms early spring April-May. In England it likes chalky soils of meadows, hedgerows and fields. Produces leaves in early spring, curled at first, the leaves resemble that of a Primrose but are shorter and rounder. Leaves form rosette and long stalk rises from center with forming an "umbel". Numbers of flowers in an umbel varies.

Divide in spring after flowering.

The Useful Plant: Who uses this plant becomes beautiful! It takes away wrinkles & freckles! With linseed oil it is reputed to cure burns. From ancient times it was useful to avert fits and convulsions...still used in pharmacy as an antispasmodic and sedative. An old name was "Herba paralysis" or palsywort. And! The flowers were expected to cure 'vertigo, false apparitions, falling sickness and pains in the nerves'. The young leaves and flowers were used in salads, and in puddings, tarts and creams and even as pickled Cowslips! Cowslip tea is a country remedy for migraine and insomnia. Decoction made from boiled rootstock was good for rheumatism and gout.

Cowslip Wine! Originally useful as a sedative.

Folklore: It is an elegant flower, a favorite of the fairies ("the Fairies' cup). Children gathered the cowslips in April to make "cowslip-balls" or "tossies" by tying the bunches of flowers at the base and cutting away the stalk. Urbanization has taken a toll on these lovely flowers along with their relatives, the Oxlip (Shakespeare's 'bold oxlip') and the... "Primrose, first born child of Ver, merry springtime's harbinger" (Two Noble Kinsmen Introd. song. ) It has slight honey-scented pale gold chandeliers.

According to Nicholas Culpepper, herbalist, it is a herb of Venus, under the sign of Aries.

I like John Gerard's mention of the cowslip as " neighbors to the Mulleins, for that the Antients have named them Verbasculi, that is to say, small Mulleins." He goes on to tell us that: "Cowslips and Primroses joy in moist and dankish places" 'Joy in' meaning they grow happily ?

Personal: In 1978 the Denver Art Museum presented art selections from the Armand Hammer Collection. "Cowslip" ( Touffe de Primeveres) by Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) was hung by itself on a side wall and I remember being totally enthralled just looking at it. It is not a large painting, but so rich in color and accurate depiction that one senses the history of this charming plant. It was painted in 1526.

I first saw the REAL plant in the garden of our English friends, Mary & Anna Slingo, Oxfordshire, England in spring, 1992.

In 1993 I FOUND the plant for sale at a small fruit stand! Amazing! And it has been in my garden ever since. I cover it with pine boughs over the winter...basically to shade it from the hot winter sun. Of all the plants in my garden, I think I "fuss" over this one the most!

Marlene Cowdery
Date: April 9, 1996