COWSLIP (Primula veris), also known as Fairy Cups, is an ancient (dating to at least the 1700s) low-growing perennial native to most of Europe and Asia. It is the official flower of four English counties. "Primula" means 'little first' and the beautiful nodding 1"-2" fragrant (anise-scented) cupped flowers are produced in early Spring (April - May) in clusters of 10-30 on a single 6"-12" stem. In medieval times, cowslip was used to protect farmers' dairy cows from milk sucking fairies who would ride in on bats or something like that. Fairies are very big in England. The nectar was used to make mead and in the 19th Century the flower was used as a garland for maypoles. Often grown in drifts or as part of wildflower meadows, it is also a favorite food of wild rabbits for good reason - it is edible and quite delicious. The flowers have a distinctive, fresh fragrance and were used to make a fermented "Cowslip Wine" made from the "peeps" or yellow petal rings (see below). The leaves are a wonderful salad green while the flowers can be sugared and used as cake decorations. A favorite subject of artists and illustrators. Perennial. 50 seeds.
MEDICINAL PROPERTIES: Shakespeare's "Midsummer Night's Dream" refers to the ancient belief that cowslip was magical for the complexion. An excellent sedative, diuretic, expectorant and antispasmodic used to treat whooping cough, tremors, headaches and other conditions. You can brew the flowers as tea. Caution is urged, however, as some folks are allergic to it and pregnant women should not ingest cowslip in any form -- it can stimulate the uterus.
GROWING TIPS: Not at all fussy. The very tiny seeds should be laid down on LIGHT sterilized potting mix. They are light dependent germinators so sow them on top, press into the soil gently, mist to moisten and cover with plastic and chilled in the refrigerator for 3-4 weeks. Then transfer to a 70 degree location for germination which takes from 3-6 weeks. When they sprout, remove the plastic. Transplant to individual pots when they are 2" tall. Harden off gradually and plant out when danger of frost is past. They will bloom the following and successive springs. They will naturalize so once you get a good clump growing you will have more each year.
TO MAKE COWSLIP WINE: Gather a gallon of peeps and combine with 4 lbs of lump sugar, the rind of 3 lemons, and a gallon of cold spring water. Add a cup of fresh yeast and stir once a day every day for a week. Then put in barrel with the juice of the 3 lemons and leave to work. When it is quiet, cork it down for 8-9 months before checking again. It should be clear and of a pale yellow color. It is then good to bottle.