This member of the Primrose family gets its name from the cowpats where it was commonly found. Known also as Paigles, Key of Heaven, Bunch of Keys and Herb Peter. The name Cowslip actually means ‘cow-slop’ (cowpat), because it grew in meadows. The cowslip is the county flower for Essex, Northamptonshire, Surrey and Worcestershire. It is a hardy perennial, growing to a height of around 12 ins (30 cm) and produces clusters of primrose-like, but more tubular, flowers on top of stalks emerging from a rosette of flat leaves, during April and May, sometimes earlier. It also does well in moist soil in partial shade.
Sadly this plant is not as common in the wild as it once was. The plant conservation charity, Plantlife, says:
“Its cultural history suggests that it was once as common as the Buttercup however, it suffered a decline between 1930 and 1980, mainly due to the loss of the grasslands where it grows. It’s dramatic decline in the 1950s was due to the relentless advance of modern farming, particularly the ploughing of old grassland and the extension of the use of chemical herbicides. Fortunately, it is now showing signs of recovery and has begun to return to unsprayed verges and village greens as well as colonising the banks of new roads. It has probably been assisted by the scattering of wild flower seed mixtures. Vast masses have reappeared in Hertfordshire where grazing pressures have eased.”
Uses of Cowslips
Cowslips have been used since ancient times to make wine, jam, tea and ointments, and medicinally, to treat spasms, cramps, rheumatic pain and paralysis – it used to be known as Palseywort for this reason. It has also been used as a sedative. The whole herb and roots have been ingredients in treatments for coughs and bronchitis and the leaves have been used for healing wounds.
Caution – always check with a doctor or verified herbalist before using Cowslips medicinally. The above is not a prescription for use!
Wildlife Value of Cowslips
Cowslip is the food plant of the Duke of Burgundy Fritillary and Brimstone butterflies and the Plain Clary and Northern Rustic moths. Beetles also like Cowslips.
How to Grow Cowslips
Cowslips are best sown in autumn, to get the cold of winter. They will flower in spring. Sprinkle the seeds onto trays of compost and press gently into the soil. Cover with glass to stop mice eating the seeds and place somewhere light to germinate outside. Once the seeds have germinated into small plants, carefully remove them from the tray and plant individually into pots and grow on before planting out when ready.
Alternatively, sprinkle the seeds directly where you want them to grow and press them into the soil.
If you already have Cowslips, leave the seedheads on to scatter the seeds in your garden.
Buy Wildflower Seeds!
Visit Wildflower Favours to buy UK-grown, wildflower mixes. All of our wildflower seeds are UK species only and are available in recycled seed packets. The seeds are in paper sachets inside the packets, not plastic and foil sachets. Seed packets can be branded for business purposes too.