This member of the Primrose family gets its name from the cowpats where it was commonly found. Known also as Paigle, this hardy perennial grows to a height of 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.
Sadly this plant is now rare in the wild but was once a common site in meadows. 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.”
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!
The plant is the food plant of the Duke of Burgundy Fritillary butterfly and the Plain Clary and Northern Rustic moths.