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CowslipPrimula veris (officinalis)

This perennial Venus herb is associated with Beltane (which gets its name from a yellow flower, probably the marsh marigold) and Freya (the flowers represent the keys to her treasure). It has long been popular in the British Isles for magickal and medicinal uses and was grown in medieval gardens. There, even dried primrose flowers are considered to be a favorite hiding place of certain fairies who ride bats. In Ireland on Beltane eve farmers would crush cowslip leaves and put the juice on their cows' udders to protect them throughout the year and to ensure that the cows' milk production would not be stolen by supernatural means.  Because the flowers are thought to look like a bunch of keys hanging down, this plant is sometimes connected with unlocking secrets or finding hidden things. Interestingly enough, in Manx, cowslip protected cows from fairies, evil spirits, and those pesky witches who just can't get enough of harassing a farmer's cows. There, cowslips were burned on Mayday specifically to get rid of the fairies that hid there. However, this magick herb was also strewn at the entrance of houses to keep fairies out (perhaps by attracting them to the flowers). Shakespeare referred to the five red spots in the yellow flower as fairy rubies. Honey from cowslips in some parts of Europe is considered the best for making mead. In Wales, long stalks on cowslip mean a wet summer, and short stalks a dry one. Cowslip is connected to the rune Kaunaz, apparently because of its color (and in this sense, it is a Fire of Sun plant).  Probably because it is helpful to the skin, it is thought to preserve youth when it is worn. Top

About the Plant

Cowslip flowerThis early spring flower is a Eurasian native that left the forest glades and took up residence in meadows when people began dairy farming, but it has become almost extinct in areas such as the British Isles because of modern farming practices, including the use of herbicides, and because of overpicking to make wine and to decorate one's house on Mayday.  Wild cowslips should not be picked; plant some instead. It has been cultivated in the US since at least 1827 and in the British Isles since at least 1400. The flowers' scent is considered healing and is similar to anise. The leaves and flowers have been added to salads, and leaves can be cooked as a "sallet" (like spinach) or in soups. Or if you get enough of them, make some cowslip wine, which is a sedative and nervine and helpful in trancework. Top

In Herbalism

Cowslip leafAs one would expect from a Venus herb, this plant is soothing to both body and mind. The flowers (only the yellow part, not the green part) are made into a tea drunk as a remedy for headaches, dizziness, chills, head colds, cramps, nerve pain, falling sickness, palsy, and convulsions, as well as nightmares, frenzies, false apparitions. Combined with hops and passionflower, the flowers make a good sleepytime tea. Tinctured flowers are taken for insomnia and anxiety. The flower essence is comforting and lifts emotions when one is feeling vulnerable. The flowers are sometimes incorporated into night creams because of their helpfulness in rejuvenating skin, which is probably why cowslip is thought to preserve youth if carried about or worn. The flowers are made into an ointment for sunburn, wrinkles, and pimples. Leaves are applied as a poultice to wounds.  The dried root is decocted and drunk as an expectorant for bronchitis and arthritis (it contains salicylic acid) and compresses soaked in the decoction are used for arthritis pain. The decocted root is also anti-spasmodic. Don't use cowslip when you are pregnant, as it can stimulate the uterus. Cowslip is a very friendly herb, but some people do get dermatitis from touching the stamens (the little stalks inside the flower that hold the pollen). Top

Its Many Names

Cowslip rootSome say this plant is called "cowslip" because this plant was once found in abundance in cow pastures, where there is always "cu-sloppe," cow manure; others say it means the flowers smell milky (like a cow's breath) or like a nursing baby. This herb is also known as Arthritica, Aretyke, Bainne Bó Bleachtáin, Buckles, Crewel, Cuy lippe, Drelip, Fairy Cup, Freya's Key, Herb Peter (for the alleged resemblance of the flowers to keys), Key Flower, Key of Heaven, Lady's Key, Lippe, Mayflower, Mulleins, Our Lady's Keys, Paigle, Palsywort, Paralysios, Password, Peggle, Petty Mulleins, Plumrocks, and Primula officinalis. Top

How to Grow Cowslip

Sow outside in a shady spot in fall or in late winter (see Fall Planting Guide). Seeds won't germinate over 68F/20C. Cover the pot with a clear bag or piece of glass. Keep the soil moist but not sopping. Or cold moist stratify in the fridge for 6 weeks and then take out and sow when temps are below 68F/20C to germinate in 10-15 days at 60-65F/15-18°C. Or sow on Winter Solstice (see the Solstice Sowing page). Transplant to moist soil and partial shade (morning sun is good). Mulch to keep in moisture or plant near watery places like ponds, marshes, and stream banks. This plant is perennial in zones 4-8. It spreads by clumps. Divide the plants every other fall after the second year. Cowslip gets 4-12in/10-30cm high. Leaves unfurl one at a time and form a rosette. Flowers appear for 4 weeks in spring. General growing info Top

Cowslip Wine

To 5 quarts of water add 2 lbs of sugar and make a syrup. While still hot, pour syrup over a quart of cowslips (just the yellow flower part). Let stand for 24 hours. Strain and add 2 tbsp of yeast spread on a piece of toast. Leave standing for 10 days, sitrring at least once every day for the first 4 days. Cover the crock with a piece of muslin tied down while the wine is working. When the 10 days are up, strain and bottle. Please note that wines that do not use wine yeast, as this recipe, tend to be cloudy. If you want a clear wine, use a champagne yeast and make like any fruit or herb wine. Top


Primula veris
80 seeds $3.75

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Uses in Witchcraft & Magic:

Beltane Celebrations
Honoring Freya
Fairy Plant/Fairy Repellent
Protection Spells
Venus Herb

© 2004, 2017 Harold A. Roth; No reproduction without permission