Memories of Cowslip in the Meadows

Cowslip  –  Bainne bo bleachtain – Primula veris

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While choosing flowers to paint for my native Irish Wildflowers collection, cowslips were an easy choice.

It may have been because my mother Eileen often spoke of her love for these little primrose like flowers which used to grow in the meadows in the farm in Co Meath where she grew up. She would describe the cattle and two donkeys grazing in the field beside the house, and there was usually a mention of a meadow full of cowslips. I’m sure it wasn’t always a pretty sight, but the picture she painted in my mind as a child was a very happy and peaceful one.

Making happy memories for children is a real talent…. and often an underestimated one.

We rarely see these special flowers these days, so it was a real treat to see them growing with abandon in Tymon Park North, Dublin in April this year.

This may not be as surprising as it first seemed as Tymon Park was awarded the prestigious Green Flag Award in 2020 for the second year in a row.

This award is an international benchmark recognising and rewarding high quality green spaces, established in more than 50 countries and is managed by An Taisce, rating criteria such as safety, cleanliness, conservation, sustainability and community involvement.

According to “Irish Wild Plants, Myths, Legends & Folklore” by Niall Mac Ciotir, we learn that cowslips seem to have been regarded in Irish folklore in the same way as primroses, being from the same family, the Primulaceae.

Primroses are considered a symbol of the vitality and strength of Springtime,  as well as symbols of otherworldly beauty and love. They were also traditionally considered a powerful source of protection for the home and farm against evil influences.

In Irish folk medicine, the main use for cowslips has been as a remedy for insomnia, while a tea made from cowslip was also used to strengthen nerves and provide relief from giddiness, hallucinations and ghostly presences.

They were rubbed on the cow’s udders on May Day in Ireland to protect her milk. I wonder are these traditions still practised in parts of the country today?

A little bit about this flower

I am a native perennial plant, more widespread in central Ireland than in the north or south. Many older people have fond memories of me in the fields of their youth, but you will still stumble across me in meadows, where I grow up to 25cms. My flowerhead has 5 deep yellow petals with an orange centre, and I tend to hang my cluster of flowerheads downwards on hairy straight stems, which arise from basal clusters of leaves.

I’m from the primrose family and my scientific name is primula veris.

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