Primrose: The Flower of February

COMMON NAME:  primrose
GENUS:  Primula
P. denticulata-lavender, purple, or white flowers; grows to 12 inches. P. japonica ‘Millar Crimson’-flowers whorled around 24-inch stem; blooms May-June. P. polyanthus-best known; colors are red, pink, blue, gold, and white, all with small yellow eyes.
FAMILY:  Primulaceae
BLOOMS:  spring
TYPE:  perennial
DESCRIPTION:  Primroses form an attractive rosette of crinkly, light green leaves. The flowers are generally brightly colored and occur in tight bundles on individual stems above the leaves.
CULTIVATION:  Needing partial shade, primroses thrive in well-drained, rich soil. They are indigenous to cool, moist meadows and woodland environments  Duplicating these conditions as closely as possible will create the best growing conditions for primroses. The soil should not be allowed to dry completely. To retain vigorously blooming plants, divide clumps every four to five years. Seeds should be sown in midsummer for bloom the following spring.

primrose day

Primrose is beloved by people everywhere but is particularly cherished by the English. Buckner Hollingsworth, in his book Flower Chronicles, proclaims that “England displays a rose on the royal coat of arms, but she carries a primrose in her heart.”
Primrose is a symbol of early youth, and to walk down the primrose path meant a life of pleasure and self-indulgence. According to English folk legends, the primrose was a symbol for wantonness. The word primrose also thought to mean “most excellent.”
The name primrose is from the Latin word primus, meaning “first,” and was given to this plant because it is among the first flowers to bloom in spring.
Common names for the plant abound. In Germany it is known as Himmelschusslechen, meaning “little keys to heaven.” Other names similar to this include our Lady’s key, marriage key, the key flower, Virgins’ key, and Saint Peter’s keys. It was thought that primrose had the magical power to open treasure chests, or even better, to open rocks to reveal hidden treasure. The references to keys stem from the resemblance of the cluster of flowers to a bunch of keys. According to a German legend, Saint Peter heard a rumor that some wayward souls were trying to slip into the back door of heaven rather than enter through the Pearly Gates. He got so upset he dropped the keys to heaven, and where they landed on earth, they grew into primroses.
Other names for primrose refer to a mystical connection with fairies and elves and include such appellations as fairy flower, fairy cup, or fairy basins. Fairies were thought to take shelter under primrose leaves during a rainstorm.
Cowslip is a favorite English name for the primrose. Although there is some question as to how the plant came to be known by this name, most people agree that cowslip probably came from cow slop. Since the plants grew abundantly in fields, the superstition arose that they must have sprung from cow dung.

primrose articulus
Primroses have been used since medieval times to cure a wide variety of ailments. Called herba paralysis, it was considered good for those suffering from gout. According to a fourteenth-century herbal, to “put the juice of ‘primerose’ into a man’s mouth would restore lost speech.” Mountain climbers in Switzerland carried the primrose root for its supposed power to combat vertigo. The plant has also been used to cure convulsions, hysteria, neck and muscular pains, and coughs. Water distilled from an infusion of leaves and flowers was said to be good for “pain in the head from a cold, the biting of mad dogs, and woman that beareth a child.” Eating primrose leaves in a salad was thought to be good for arthritis. A book on household remedies published in 1898 suggested that an ointment made from primrose leaves would be good on burns and ulcers.

In addition to its use as a medicine, primrose has also enjoyed quite a reputation as a beauty aid. Culpeper, a seventeenth-century English physician, wrote that “our city dames know well enough the ointment or distilled water of it {primrose} adds to the beauty, or at least restores it when it is lost.” Ointment from the common English cowslip, P. veris, was used to remove spots and wrinkles from the face. Primrose was used as rouge. It was thought that the leaf if rubbed on the cheek of a fair-skinned woman, would cause a red glow.

Primrose can also be used in the kitchen. The leaves and flowers are eaten raw in salads, or they can be mixed with other herbs and used to stuff poultry. The leaves and flowers add flavor and color to many foods, particularly egg or custard dishes. Tea can be made from the dried or fresh petals. Steep the petals in boiling water for several minutes, strain, and enjoy. Juice from the flowers can also be made into tasty country wine, jams, jellies, and preserves. Pickles and conserves were also made from the blossoms.
In the 1880s, April 19 in England was declared Primrose Day. This was in honor of Benjamin Disraeli {English prime minister from 1874 to 1880}, for the primrose was his favorite flower and this was his birthday.

Primrose is considered the flower of February.

4 thoughts on “Primrose: The Flower of February

  1. I should have known that you would eventually get to the primrose. I happen to be allergic to them, almost like poison oak, although I can eat them. I did not think of them as tea or in jelly. I should ask some of my friends who make jelly about them. It would be worth growing them again just to try them in jelly or preserves. I do not put too much work into my jellies, but it might be nice to add intact primrose flowers to light clear jelly, such as crabapple jelly.

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