What does this plant say to me? – Spring spring spring!
Primrose is a flowering plant in the family Primulaceae. Also known as Primula Vulgaris, Common Primrose and English Primrose, Butter Rose, Jack in Box and Jack-in-the-Green.
The Primrose is one of the first flowers to appear after what feels like a long dark winter.
The name comes from the Latin Prima Rosa meaning first rose, although it is not related to the rose. They start appearing in the middle of February (sometimes as early as January) and last until the end of May.
These Spring beauties that appear at the transitional moment between Winter and Spring also like to grow in transitional places such as edges of grassland and woodland, grassy banks, shady glades and nooks.
I’m alway happy when Primrose shows her face, as this really means Spring is here or just around the corner. I love that at this time of year my boys and me suddenly have our mouths full of Primroses and the subtle taste of honey is upon our tongues. There is an excitement in us all when the little shoots and flowers of Spring start to appear.
If you look deeply into the centre of a Primrose flower you will find that there are two types of flower but only one type is on each plant. In one you will see a very delightful little pin head that looks like a tiny yellow / green ball on the end of a stem, this is the end of the stigma and is called the pin-eyed flower which is female. In the other type which is called the the thrum-eyed flower it has five anthers which look like yellow stems in a ring around the tube but no central pin, this is male. (as with most nature stories, there’s more to it than this but from a bee’s perspective and for this article this is deep enough)
Fertilisation can only take place between pin and thrum plants. Pin to pin and thrum to thrum pollination does not work. I found it very lovely when I noticed the two differences, the female one I especially love to look at.
Primroses have been associated with fairies and fairy gateways. It was said to eat a Primrose would give you the ability to see the nature spirits, maybe this explains why I am the way I am! 😉
Primroses as food-
These lovely open faced flowers were one of the first things I think I ate when learning to forage. Most of them taste subtly sweet, delightful, with a whiff of Spring air that gently strokes the mouth as you eat it, whereas some others taste of barely anything and are just a texture of soft butterfly wings on the tongue (Not that I have ever eaten butterflies!)
I was very happy when I learnt that you can also eat the heavily wrinkled tongue like leaves which although a little furry and chewy are nice in the usual favourites:- smoothies, salads, pestos, hummus, soups and pates. They have a subtle taste which I discovered more about a couple of days ago when I found myself in the woods sitting in a grassy, tangled bank slowly and mindfully eating the leaves, taking tiny nibbles and leaving it on the tip of my tongue and wafting the taste round my mouth by making funny facial expressions akin to French wine tasters. I think if anyone had seen me they would have called an ambulance…..BUT…….. I discovered that the leaves which I have usually eaten in gusto and not taken time to explore their flavour fully, actually taste very very gently of peach skin and apricots, a beautiful discovery that really made me giggle and gave me a nice surprise.
Primroses were once very important in the rural farming areas especially during the butter making season that began in May. In order to encourage cows to produce a lot of milk, primroses were rubbed on their udders at Beltaine. This makes me wonder whether they would be any good topically for breast feeding mothers??
Things I have made with Primroses are: Primrose and lemon curd, Vegan and sugar free Primrose Ice cream (see picture below), Primrose honey, primrose wine, Primrose cheese, thrown into salads, and used the leaves for pesto.
To make this delicious and wonderfully easy vegan and sugar free Ice ‘cream’ just freeze some bananas for an hour or two, and then whizz them up with a handful of Primroses and serve. You can add honey, dates, cherry blossom, rose petals, cacao, coconut, almonds or anything that takes your fancy.
Primrose as medicine-
I rarely hear of Primrose being used as a medicine these days but I have read about them being used as medicine a lot many years ago.
Now Primula vulgaris root is often used to help muscular cramps, headaches and as a sedative, although it is most often the root which is used in herbal medicine, the flowers contain very similar compounds and make a lovely tea. It is also used as an anti-cough tea specifically as an anti-spasmodic and expectorant.
I also think the medicine they hold is their Spring like quality, the happiness they bring me as they shine their pale yellow faces up into the sun is medicine enough.
So enjoy Spring if you can, enjoy the fleeting moments of Cherry blossom on the wind, primroses on banks and woodland edges, the smell of wild garlic on the earth and cleavers sticking to your trousers.
For me foraging is such a way of linking into the earth and reconnecting to its seasonal abundance and really being able to appreciate each season for what it is and what it brings both physically and emotionally.
I often feel that in this culture nothing is allowed to be absent. Consumerism has given us “on demand” and now we expect it from nature, and because of this many people want everything everyday of the year even if it isn’t in season or from the country they are in, totally ignoring nature’s cycles. The stodgy underbelly of this is a failing to enjoy the ecstasy of the moment. Nothing is special anymore and the ability to let go is weakened. Many people need to remember that nature’s cycles have to include the winters as well as the springs, the nights as well as the days, the darks as well as the lights and deaths as well as births. Foraging and gathering is about learning what is abundant at what time, how long you have until it is gone and really appreciating those fleeting moments of sweet flowers, gentle young leaves, potent roots, strange mushrooms and juicy berries. I love each season for what it brings and although there is a sadness as each thing dies and disappears I know I will be seeing them again the following year. It means that each moment is more special, more exciting and more vulnerable. This way of being has also taught me to be able to let go of things and people more easily when the time comes, to really enjoy what I have in the moment. For foraging and eating it makes each plant, each mouthful and each experience incredibly special.
Primrose contains saponins which is beneficial in small doses but in large amounts is toxic. Eating Common Primrose is far healthier than many commercially produced processed foods and drink, the benefits far away the negatives unless over consumed.
Not recommended for pregnant women, or those taking anti-coagulant drugs. The leaves could be mistaken for foxgloves leaves which are highly poisonous so make sure you really know, without any doubts about what it is you are picking. Primula Obconica also known as poison primrose is a garden cultivar and can cause skin irritations.
Picking wild flowers, as with all wild food foraging should be limited to taking only those plants with which you are familiar and which you know are widespread and plentiful in the area. A good rule of thumb is that if a plant looks unusual, or if there is very little of it, resist the temptation to pick it.