Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden
Cowslips, Primula veris, have a number of other names, including mayflower, herb Peter, (wild) primula and fairywort. Cowslips are closely related to primroses. The word “cowslip” comes from Old English cu-slyppe, meaning cow dung, which probably reflects the places in which it was found. Despite the original meaning of its name, the cowslip is often called the herald of Spring, because it is one of the earliest Spring flowers to appear.
Cowslip as a remedy has quite a long list of exclusions. It is not suitable during pregnancy. It is not suitable for anyone taking Warfarin or other anticoagulants (drugs which thin the blood). It is not suitable for anybody who is sensitive to Aspirin (salycylates). So long as you or the intended patient does not fall into any of these groups, it’s safe to read on.
Cowslips are becoming quite rare in the wild, so if you intend to use them for herbal medicine, you should grow them in your own garden. Although it’s a perennial, the roots have specific effects which are different to the leaves and flowers, so you may need to grow quite a few! It’s quite easy to propagate, either by sowing in late Summer or by dividing existing stock in late Spring or early Autumn. It prefers dry soil that is neutral or slightly alkaline.
The roots (harvested in Spring, can be dried for later use) can be used to treat COPD and catarrh, also to slow blood clotting and as a treatment for rheumatism. To use the roots, make a decoction by putting 30g (half an ounce) of dried root into a small pan containing 570ml (2½ cups, 1 UK pint) of water, bringing to a boil and simmering for about 20 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced by half. The dose is one cupful per day.
Infusions and decoctions can be sweetened with honey if preferred.
An oil made from chopped flowers can be used externally to treat bruising.
As you can see, cowslip is an extremely useful herb, but to avoid contamination by chemicals, like all herbal remedies, it’s important that it is grown organically. To find out more about growing organic cowslips, visit the Gardenzone.