The use of Cowslip (primula veris), known as ‘herba paralysis’ and ‘palsywort’, for spasm, cramps, paralysis and rheumatic pain was once widespread, and dates back to at least the medieval period. Also called ‘Key Flower’, an association with keys from a link with the pagan goddess Freya was later christianised, giving the names ‘Our Lady’s Keys’, and 'Herb Peter'.
The young leaves were formerly eaten in salad and mixed with other herbs to stuff meat, while its ‘somewhat narcotic juices’ were utilised in Cowslip wine.
A home-made infusion is useful for coughs and bronchitis and the flower tea soothes headaches (only the yellow part of the flower is used, all green parts are carefully discarded). Indeed, Cowslip is a rich source of salicylates (aspirin-like compounds) and has the reputation of being second only to Betony for relieving head pain. Cowslip is also used internally in modern herbalism for asthma, arthritis, restlessness and insomnia and applied externally to treat sunburn.
A sedative, expectorant herb which relaxes spasms and reduces inflammation.
Flowers April – May
NB: No longer collected from the wild as has now become rare.
CAUTION: Skin irritant and allergen; Do not use in pregnancy, if sensitive to aspirin or taking anti-coagulant medicine such as Warfarin
PLEASE NOTE: These notes on the history and use of herbs have been compiled for general interest and are not intended as medical advice, for which you should consult a professional herbalist.
‘Herbs and Healing Plants of Britain and Europe’ Dieter Podlech (1987)
'A Modern Herbal' Mrs M. Grieve FRHS ed. Mrs C. F. Leyel (1973)
'The Herb Society's Complete Medicinal Herbal' Penelope Ody MNIMH (1993)
'RHS Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses' Deni Brown (2002)