Primula vulgaris and Primula veris are plants of my childhood, from time spent exploring the hedgerows, and wandering through the dappled light of woods and copses and roaming farmland, meadows, marshes and moors. Primroses (Primula vulgaris), with their pale yellow faces peering hopefully up towards the sun have a history of use in love potions, and medicinally for joint issues. Cowslips (Primula veris) with their drooping yellow flowers are known as “bunch-of-keys” in some parts on account of the old tale that St Peter dropped a spare set of the keys to Heaven down to earth, from which Cowslip sprung, with those droopy heads resembling sets of keys. Predating this story, Cowslips were named after the fertility Goddess Freya – whose key-like flowers were said to open the lock to Freya’s fertile Kingdom!
Traditionally, it was Cowslips that were more commonly used in Herbal medicine, but whilst their numbers are still in a period of recovery, Primroses become a viable, and perfectly lovely source of Herbal medicine. The two Primulas have similar constituents and therefore overlapping actions, and whilst Cowslips may be a more potent remedy, the subtle medicine of Primrose, I find, often really suits the conditions for which you’d employ it.
I use the flowers of Primroses, although all parts (including the root) can be used. These beautiful pale yellow flowers are a useful source of bioflavonoids (and make a wonderful addition to blends of colourful flowers and berries that you might use to support a body prone to cardiovascular disease, or to support a body facing a great deal of stress). But their true affinity is with the nervous system, where they can be considered a nervine, and for those who suffer with a great deal of stress, I consider them trophorestorative. In a manner somewhat similar to Lemon balm and St John’s wort, Primroses can bring light to those who are living in any degree of darkness. For those who feel worn down by relentless stress, or by difficult episodes in their life, who have become consumed by one aspect of their life to the detriment of their well-being, or for those whose job takes them to dark places (policemen and women, paramedics, doctors and nurses, social workers, those working in aid at home or abroad, charity workers etc) – when their job exposes them repeatedly to the darker avenues of life, to pain and suffering or bad behaviour, Primroses can help to gently lift them up above that darkness and stop their minds from permanently inhabiting that shadowy space. These people may not present with low mood or depression, but there is a burden carried by those who work in these fields, and it’s easy to see it. The demure, quiet, unassuming Primrose can shine a light on these dark spaces, a lovely soft light radiating from those beautiful open flower heads.
Insomnia stemming from a busy brain, especially worry, may respond well to Primrose, and children who struggle to switch off at night may find Primrose tea a wonderfully calming ally. They can pick their own sleepy medicine and dry them on a sunny day out on sheets in a warm spot. The flowers dry like a dream!
Although the action is stronger in Cowslips (particularly due to it’s roots containing saponins), Primrose also has a lung affinity, with use in cases of spasmodic coughs (like Cowslip it has an antispasmodic action) and, as you might imagine, for nervous coughs too. This makes Primrose a lovely, calming, supportive remedy for children with a spasmodic cough (or whooping cough), encouraging a healing sleep too.
That antispasmodic action mentioned above also makes Primrose a herb we can employ for spasms, griping and cramps across the body. For me it a one of the specific herbs for spasms / gripes / cramps associated with stress and anxiety – so the likes of IBS pain and diarrhoea, nervous diarrhoea or constipation, nervous coughing, dysmenorrhoea, tension headaches and other muscular spasms arising from tension. Primrose often pairs up nicely in the heart of a blend with German chamomile in these scenarios, sharing actions as they do.
A tincture of Primrose flowers is a beautiful thing, light and delicate. It suits a shorter extraction time – watch for the flowers starting to fade and certainly don’t leave it macerating for longer than a fortnight. A wonderful honey can also be made, again, straining once the flowers start to fade, with the honey being particularly useful for childhood insomnia and coughs.
Don’t let the Spring pass you by without spending some time with Primrose, perhaps harvesting if you find an area abundant with plants. And certainly partake in a cup of fresh Primrose flower tea, and note the calming, cheering effect of your honey coloured infusion.
You can use Cowslips grown in your garden (or sourced from and abundant wild patch) in the same way as described above.