Primula veris subsp. macrocalyx
Primula veris (cowslip, common cowslip; syn. Primula officinalis Hill) is a flowering plant in the genus Primula of the family Primulaceae. The species 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 and in Scandinavia. 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.
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.
Other folk names include cuy lippe, herb peter, paigle, peggle, key flower, key of heaven, fairy cups, petty mulleins, crewel, buckles, palsywort, plumrocks, tittypines.
Primula veris is a variable evergreen or semi-evergreen perennial 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.
Habitat and conservation
The cowslip is frequently found on more open ground than the primrose, including open fields, meadows, coastal dunes and clifftops. The plant suffered a decline due to changing agricultural practices throughout the 1970s and 1980s in Britain. It may therefore be rare locally, though where found it may be abundant. Additionally the seeds are now often included in wildflower seed mixes used to landscape motorway banks and similar civil engineering earthworks where the plants may be seen in dense stands. This practice has led to a revival in its fortunes.
It may be confused with the closely related Primula elatior (oxlip) which has a similar general appearance and habitat, although the oxlip has larger, pale yellow flowers more like a primrose, and a corolla tube without folds.
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.
Cowslip leaves have been traditionally used in Spanish cooking as a salad green. Uses in English cookery include using the flowers to flavour country wine and vinegars; sugaring to be a sweet or eaten as part of a composed salad while the juice of the cowslip is used to prepare tansy for frying. The close cousin of the cowslip, the primrose P. vulgaris has often been confused with the cowslip and its uses in cuisine are similar with the addition of its flowers being used as a colouring agent in desserts.
Myth and Folklore
This herb was already mentioned by Pliny the Elder for its early blooming attributes. Species from the genus Primula along with other ritual plants played a significant role in the pharmacy and mythology of the Celtic druids, likely as an ingredient of magical potions to increase the absorption of other herbal constituents. 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. 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.
- Preston, Pearman & Dines (2002) New Atlas of the British Flora. Oxford University Press.
- Anon. "Cowslip". Word-Origins. Word-Origins.com. Retrieved 8 May 2010.
- Shorter Oxford English dictionary, 6th ed. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. 2007. p. 3804. ISBN 0199206872.
- ver. Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short. A Latin Dictionary on Perseus Project.
- RHS A-Z encyclopedia of garden plants. United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. 2008. p. 1136. ISBN 1405332964.
- "RHS Plant Selector - Primula veris". Retrieved 28 May 2013.
- Max Wichtl (ed) (2004). Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals: A Handbook for Practice on a Scientific Basis. Medpharm Publishers. p. 473. ISBN/EAN:978-3-8047-5027-2
- Howard, Michael. Traditional Herbal Remedies (Century, 1987); pp128-9.
- Seasonal Dynamics of Riccardin C Accumulation in Primula macrocalyx Bge. Yu. S. Kosenkova, M.P. Polovinka, N.I. Komarova, D.V. Korchagina, N. Yu. Kurochkina, V.A. Cheremushkina and N.F. Salakhutdinov, Chemistry for Sustainable Development, 2009, 17, pages 507-511 (article)
- Davidson, Alan. Oxford Companion to Food (1999), "Cowslip". p. 221 ISBN 0-19-211579-0
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- Charles Darwin on Primula hybrids, including cowslips and oxlips Accessed 8 May 2007
- Image of yellow and red-flowered cowslips growing on a farm in Gloucestershire, England Accessed 8 May 2007
- "Cowslip". Encyclopedia Americana. 1920.
- "Cowslip". Collier's New Encyclopedia. 1921.