Tuesday, 15 January 2013

WILD PRIMROSE (primula vulgaris)

The Wild Primrose is a cheerful little wildflower, like a little splash of sunshine in a bleak wintry world, often flowering as early in winter as December.

Hardy perennial. Pretty pale yellow flowers with orange-yellow centres on short stems and a rosette of fat, wrinkled leaves. Its name derives from the Latin for “First Rose”. The plant was used in ancient times to treat paralysis and gout and was believed to be a flower originating in Paradise. The flowers can be made into jam and wine. The five petals represent birth, initiation, consummation, repose and death. A six-petalled Primrose is said to bring luck in love and marriage.

Primrose flowers are of two kinds – pin-eyed, with the style above the stamens; and thrum-eyed, with the style below the stamens. For successful pollination, pollen from a pin-eye plant must reach the style of a thrum-eyed plant, or vice-versa.

Primroses are also favoured by butterflies and moths. Particular food plant of the Pearl Bordered Yellow Underwing, Double Square Pot, Green Arches and Triple-spotted Clary moths. Duke of Burgundy Fritillary butterfly caterpillars feed on the leaves. Ants are attracted by the sticky seeds and aid their dispersal.

Primroses are pollinated at night by moths attracted by the bright petal colours. Hundreds of years ago, these plants were grown for their medicinal and sweetening qualities, for example, it was believed that stem juice rubbed onto the face removed spots! Legend says that Primroses sprang from the body of Paralisos (the Primrose’s ancient name) after he died of a broken heart. It was also alleged that if children ate the flowers they would see the fairy folk! It was lucky to bring 13 Primroses indoors but unlucky to bring in only 1. Indeed, to bring indoors less than a handful would surely endanger one’s ducklings!! Victorians used to plant Primroses on the graves of children, and herbalists used to use the root to make an expectorant. If you keep chickens and see a single primrose, dance round it three times in order to avert ill omens – otherwise a single Primrose will lead to bad egg laying.

There is a lot of Primrose folklore attached to the ability of Primroses to let people see fairies. If you touched a fairy rock with the right number of Primroses in a posy you will be shown the way to fairyland. The wrong number would lead to certain doom. A German legend tells of a little girl who found a doorway covered in flowers and touched it with a Primrose – it opened up into an enchanted castle. Children used to eat the flowers in the belief that this would enable them to see fairies. Posies would be left on doorsteps so that fairies would bless the house and the people in it. As well, scatter Primroses outside doors to keep fairies away as they won’t cross this barrier. Don’t let Primroses die as they are popular with fairies. Carry a Primrose flower and peer over the petals in order to see fairies. Leave a Primrose on the doorstep on May Day eve to prevent witches entering.

In Ireland on May Day, Primrose balls were hung on cows’ tails to deter witches. In Hampshire, woodmen boiled Primroses in lard to make an ointment to treat injuries. Bunches of Primroses would be left in cowsheds so that fairies would not steal the milk. Primroses can be made into a tincture for restlessness and insomnia. For animals, Primroses can treat fits, paralysis, rheumatism and worms.

Primroses can be planted in sun or partial shade in rich, moist soil. They will do well beneath trees, shrubs or hedges. Divide every three years after flowering. Deadhead regularly to prolong flowering.

If you are sowing Primrose seeds, be prepared to be patient! The seeds need to have a period of cold before they will germinate so it is a good idea to sow the seeds in a small plastic bag of moist (not wet) peat-free compost or vermiculite. Place the bag in the fridge for 6 weeks. After that time, sow the seeds on to a tray of compost and press in, no need to cover with more compost. Protect from mice and place outside to get all that the cold weather can throw at it. The seeds will germinate in spring.

(The above provided for information only and is in no way a prescription for use. Please seek the advice of a qualified herbalist before using)

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