Primula veris

Herbs gallery - Cowslip

Common names

  • Cowslip
  • European Cowslip
  • Fairy Cup
  • Keyflower
  • Key Of Heaven
  • Paigle

Cowslip (botanical name Primula veris) is a perennially growing herb that produces oblong or oval shaped and finely bristled leaves that form a rosette at the base of the plant. Cowslip bears pleasingly sweet smelling yellow blooms during May and June. These flowers are marked with orange specks and grow in a dangling cluster on the top of a branchless, leafless stalk.

Even the great playwright William Shakespeare referred to the cowslip as many as seven times. In effect, the cowslip is one flower which is so dearly loved by Englishmen that they regarded it to be a beloved of the fairies. Even the herbal practitioners have always held the European cowslip in the same regard. Nicholas Culpeper, the renowned English herbalist of the 17th century, had asserted that any woman who has ever used a liniment prepared from cowslip or the distilled water of the cowslip's flower would turn out to be even better-looking.

Even in the contemporary times, herbalists prepare a lotion from the herb for cleansing the skin. There was a time when cowslip was used extensively in the form of a tranquilizer and even today herbalists prepare a sleep-inducing tea from the sweet-smelling flowers of cowslip that are known to enclose gentle narcotic juices. Throughout the centuries, herbalists often used the dried up flowers of this herb and occasionally, the rhizomes also in the form of an expectorant with a view to release phlegm in chest colds. Earlier, cowslip was also recommended for treating rheumatism and arthritis. In addition, cowslip was also reputed for its antispasmodic and analgesic (pain killing) properties.

Cowslip is among the first flowers that blooms in spring and is also known as 'keyflower' and the 'key of heaven' owing to the fact that the clusters of cowslip flowers hint to a bunch of keys - the insignia of St. Peter.

Parts used

Flowers, leaves, root.


Despite possessing several valuable therapeutic properties, till date cowslip remains a much underused herb. The root of this herb possesses potent expectorant properties and it also stimulates more liquid mucus, thereby facilitating the removal of phlegm from congested respiratory tract. This herb is recommended for treating persistent coughs, particularly those that are related to chronic bronchitis as well as mucous clogging. In addition, it is believed that the root of cowslip possesses mild diuretic as well as anti-rheumatic properties and is useful in inhibiting blood clotting. Although the leaves of this herb also possess the same therapeutic properties as the root, their action is less potent. On the other hand, the flowers of cowslip are considered to have sedative attributes and are given to people suffering from sleeplessness (insomnia) and over activity, especially in children. In addition, flowers of cowslip are anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic, which makes them potentially effective in treating asthma as well as different allergic conditions.

In herbal medicine, people have traditionally prepared a tea from cowslip which is a mild tranquilizer and has been helpful in treating restiveness, sleeplessness and headaches. Since ages, herbalists have been recommending the cowslip flower water as a lotion for treating skin complaints. During different periods of time, people have also employed cowslip in the form of an antispasmodic, an expectorant, a laxative, a gentle analgesic as well as a diuretic.

Cowslip has been used as a medicine since long and it has especially been used in curing health conditions that relate to cramps, spasms, and paralysis as well as rheumatic pains. This herb encloses saponins that have an expectorant consequence, and salicylates that are the principle element of aspirin and work as an anti-inflammatory, anodyne and febrifuge agent. Here is a word of caution: cowslip or any medicinal preparations with this herb should never be given to women during pregnancy as well as patients who are taking anti-coagulant medications like warfarin or are sensitive to aspirin. The leaves as well as flowers of cowslip possess expectorant, diaphoretic, anodyne and diuretic properties. The herb is usually harvested during spring and can be used fresh or dried up and stored for use when needed.

Cowslip flowers have a yellow corolla that possesses antispasmodic and sedative properties. The corolla of this herb is prescribed to treat insomnia and over activity, particularly among children. Earlier, oil was obtained from cowslip flowers through maceration process and this oil has an anti-ecchymotic action and was used to treat bruises. The root of cowslip encloses anything between 5 per cent to 10 per cent triterpenoid saponins that are potently expectorant and stimulate an additionally liquid mucous and, hence, this herb is useful in loosening and getting rid of phlegm. The roots were dried up and pulverized into a powdered form and subsequently employed in the form of a sternutatory (something that results in sneezing). The roots are also employed in treating persistent coughs, particularly those that are related to catarrhal congestion as well as chronic bronchitis, any febrile condition and flu. This herb is also used to prepare a homeopathic remedy, which is used to treat catarrh as well as kidney problems.

Culinary uses

Apart from its medicinal uses, cowslip is also used for culinary purposes. Traditionally the leaves of the cowslip herb have been employed in Spanish culinary in the form of a salad green. In English cookery, the flowers of cowslip are used to add essence to country wine and vinegars. In addition, the flowers are sugared to make sweets or also consumed as a part of any composed salad. On the other hand, the juice extracted from cowslip is employed to prepare a tansy meant for frying. Very often the primrose (botanical name P. vulgaris), a close cousin of the cowslip, has been mistaken for cowslip. It is interesting to note that the culinary uses of both these herbs are similar with the only exception that the flowers of primrose are often employed as a coloring agent in desserts.

Habitat and cultivation

Cowslip is native to Europe as well as the western regions of Asia. The flowers and leaves of this herb are collected during spring and summer, while the root is unearthed during autumn. Owing to excessive collection, cowslip is becoming a rare plant and, hence, one should not pick this herb from the wild.

Compared to its close relative primrose (Primula vulgaris), cowslip is more often found on clear grounds, counting meadows, open fields as well as costal dunes and atop cliffs. The seeds of this herb are more often than not counted in wild-flower seed mixes that are used to landscape motorway banks as well as comparable civil engineering ground-works wherein these plants may be possibly seen in crowded stands.

Cowslip has a preference for humus rich loam that can retain moisture moderately or heavily. In addition, these plants prefer a cool locale having somewhat to average shade. They grow excellently in heavy clay soils as well as on limestone. This is a highly ornamental plant that grows excellently in the spring pasture. Cowslip plants are able to endure temperatures up to -20°C.

Unlike the aroma of any other flower, the blooms of cowslip disperse a sweet scent. In fact, some people have compared the aroma of cowslip with the breath of a cow, while some other people have likened it to the lovable milky breath of an infant. It may be mentioned here that in Saxon cowslip is known as the 'cuslippe', which gives the herb its common name.

Cowslip is primarily propagated by its seeds, which are ideally sown in a cold frame immediately when they are mature. In case you are using stored seeds, they ought to be sowed in a cold frame in the early part of spring. If the temperatures are above 20°C, it will slow down the germination process. When the seedlings have grown sufficiently enough to be handled, prick them individually and plant them in separate pots. The young cowslip plants may be transplanted to their permanent positions outdoors during the ensuing summer.

Alternately, the plant may be propagated by division during autumn. It is best to undertake the division method every alternate year.


Chemical analysis of cowslip has revealed that this herb encloses flavonoids, triterpenoid saponins, tannins, phenols and also a trace of a volatile oil. The flavonoids are mostly present in the flowers and possess antioxidant, antispasmodic as well as anti-inflammatory properties. On the other hand, the roots of cowslip have a good concentration (about 5 per cent to 10 per cent) of triterpenoid saponins and they are potently expectorant.

Usual dosage

For therapeutic purposes, cowslip is used only in the form of an infusion, a tincture and a decoction. While the petals are used to prepare the infusion, the roots of cowslip are employed for preparing the decoction.

Infusion: Take two teaspoonfuls of cowslip petals and add them to a cup (250 ml) of boiling water. Allow the petals to permeate for about 10 to 15 minutes and then filter the liquid. For best results, this infusion should be taken thrice every day.

Decoction: Add one teaspoonful of the dried cowslip root in a cup (250 ml) of water and boil the mixture. Allow the mixture to simmer for about 5 minutes and subsequently filter the liquid. For best results drink one cup of this decoction thrice every day.

Tincture: The tincture prepared from cowslip should be taken in dosage of 2 ml to 4 ml thrice every day.

Side effects and cautions

People taking medications prepared from cowslip or intending to use them ought to be aware of the possible side effects caused by this herb and, hence, adopt necessary precautions. For instance, the stamens of cowslip cause allergic reactions in a number of people. However, such cases of allergy can be treated without much difficulty. Similarly, saponins present in cowslip may result in hypotension (low blood pressure). Using the herb for a prolonged period or in excessive measures may impede the treatment for high blood pressure (hypertension). In addition, use of this herb may also cause gastrointestinal irritation.

Collection and harvesting

The corolla of the flowers, sans the green calyx ought to be collected during the period between March and May. Soon after collecting the flower corolla, it should be rapidly dried up in shade. The roots or rhizome of cowslip ought to be dug up either prior to the blossoming of herb or during autumn. It may be noted here that excessive collection of the roots of this herb has actually resulted in the plant becoming a rare species. Hence it is advisable that you should only pick the flowers and unearth the roots from places where the herb is found growing in abundance. At the same time, it is also essential to only pick them in reasonable amounts to save the species from becoming extinct.


To treat problems related to stress, cowslip may be given with any herb that unwinds the nerves, for instance, lime blossom or skullcap. On the other hand, you may use cowslip in conjunction with aniseed and coltsfoot to treat coughs.


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