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Cowslip (Primula veris)

P. officinalis.
Common Name Latin Name Plant Family
Primula veris

None known

  • Medicinal Use

    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[238]. 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[238]. This remedy should not be prescribed for pregnant women, patients who are sensitive to aspirin, or those taking anti-coagulant drugs such as warfarin[238].

    The flowers and the leaves are anodyne, diaphoretic, diuretic and expectorant[7, 9, 21, 165]. They are harvested in the spring and can be used fresh or dried[238].

    The yellow corolla of the flower is antispasmodic and sedative[4]. They are recommended for treating over-activity and sleeplessness, especially in children[254]. They are potentially valuable in the treatment of asthma and other allergic conditions[254]. At one time an oil was produced by maceration of the flowers, this has an antiecchymotic effect (treats bruising)[7].

    The root contains 5 – 10% triterpenoid saponins which are strongly expectorant, stimulating a more liquid mucous and so easing the clearance of phlegm [254]. It has been dried and made into a powder then used as a sternutatory[7]. The root is also mildly diuretic, antirheumatic and slows the clotting of blood[9, 254]. It is used in the treatment of chronic coughs (especially those associated with chronic bronchitis and catarrhal congestion), flu and other febrile conditions[9]. The root can be harvested in the spring or autumn and is dried for later use[9].

    The leaves have similar medicinal properties to the roots but are weaker in action[254].

    A homeopathic remedy is made from the plant[9]. It is used in the treatment of kidney complaints and catarrh[9].

  • Edible Use

    Young leaves – raw or cooked in soups etc[4, 7, 115, 148, 183]. 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[177, 183].

    Flowers – raw, cooked or used in conserves, as a garnish etc[4, 183]. They make an ornamental addition to the salad bowl[238, K]. 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[238].

  • Cautionary Notes

    Some people are allergic to the stamens of this plant, though such cases are easily treated[7].

Cultivation & Habitat

Seed – best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame[133]. Sow stored seed in early spring in a cold frame[1]. Germination is inhibited by temperatures above 20¡c[200]. 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[200].
Prefers a medium to heavy moisture retentive humus rich loam in a cool position with light to medium shade[200]. Grows well in heavy clay soils and on chalk[187]. Prefers full sun and a well-drained alkaline soil if it is to survive well[187, 238]. Plants are hardy to about -20¡c[187]. A very ornamental plant[1], it grows well in the spring meadow[24]. 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[245].
Europe, including Britain but absent from the extreme north, to temperate Asia.

Become ungovernable, break the chains of the matrix; grow and forage your own food and medicine.

*None of the information on this website qualifies as professional medical advice. Take only what resonates with your heart and use your own personal responsibility for what’s best for you. For more information [brackets] [000], see bibliography.