The Common Primrose (Primula veris) is the most widely known

of our English wild flowers, and appears in the Spring as its earliest


[448] It gets its name from the Latin primus, first, being named in

old books and M.S. Pryme rolles, and in the Grete Herball,

Primet, as shortened from Primprint.

In North Devon it is styled the Butter Rose, and in the Eastern

counties it i
named (in common with the Cowslip) Paigle, Peagle,

Pegyll, and Palsy plant.

Medicinally also it possesses similar curative attributes, though in a

lesser degree, to those of the Cowslip. Both the root and the flowers

contain a volatile oil, and primulin which is identical with

mannite: whilst the acrid principle is saponin. Alfred Austin, Poet

Laureate, teaches to make healing salve with early Primroses.

Pliny speaks of the Primrose as almost a panacea: In aqua potam

omnibus morbis mederi tradunt. An infusion of the flowers has

been always thought excellent against nervous disorders of the

hysterical sort. It should be made with from five to ten parts of the

petals to one hundred of water. Primrose tea says Gerard, drunk

in the month of May, is famous for curing the phrensie.

The whole plant is sedative and antispasmodic, being of service by

its preparations to relieve sleeplessness, nervous headache, and

muscular rheumatism. The juice if sniffed up into the nostrils will

provoke violent sneezing, and will induce a free flow of water from

the lining membranes of the nostrils for the mitigation of passive

headaches: though this should not be tried by a person of full habit

with a determination of blood to the head. A teaspoonful of

powdered dry Primrose root will act as an emetic. The whole herb is

somewhat expectorant.

When the petals are collected and dried they become of a greenish

colour: whilst fresh they have a honey-like odour, and a sweetish


[449] Within the last few years a political significance and

popularity have attached themselves to the Primrose beyond every

other British wild flower. It arouses the patriotism of the large

Conservative party, and enlists the favour of many others who

thoughtlessly follow an attractive fashion, and who love the first

fruits of early Spring. Botanically the Primrose has two varieties of

floral structure: one pin-eyed, with a tall pistil, and short

stamens; the other thrum-eyed, showing a rosette of tall stamens,

whilst the short pistil must be looked for, like the great Panjandrum

himself, with a little round button at the top, half way down the

tube. Darwin was the first to explain that this diversity of structure

ensures cross fertilisation by bees and allied insects. Through

advanced cultivation at the hands of the horticulturist the Primula

acquires in some instances a noxious character. For instance, the

Primula biconica, which is often grown in dwelling rooms as a

window plant, and commonly sold as such, will provoke an

crysipelatous vesicular eruption of a very troublesome and inflamed

character on the hands and face of some persons who come in

contact with the plant by manipulating it to take cuttings, or in other

ways. A knowledge of this fact should suggest the probable

usefulness of the said Primula, when made into a tincture, and given

in small diluted doses thereof, to act curatively for such an eruption

if attacking the sufferer from idiopathic causes.

The Latins named the Ligustrum (our Privet) Primrose. Coles says

concerning it (17th century): This herbe is called Primrose; it is

good to 'Potage.' They also applied the epithet, Prime rose to a


The Evening Primrose (OEnothera biennis, or odorata) is found

in this country on sand banks in the West of England and Cornwall;

but it is then most probably a [450] garden scape, and an alien, its

native habitat being in Canada and the United States of America.

We cultivate it freely in our parterres as a brilliant, yellow, showy

flower. It belongs to the natural order, Onagraceoe, so called

because the food of wild asses; and was the vini venator of

Theophrastus, 350 B.C. The name signifies having the odour of

wine, oinos and theera. Pliny said: It is an herbe good as wine

to make the heart merrie. It groweth with leaves resembling those of

the almond tree, and beareth flowers like unto roses. Of such virtue

is this herbe that if it be given to drink to the wildest beast that

is, it will tame the same and make it gentle. The best variety of this

plant is the OEnothera macrocarpa.

The bark of the Evening Primrose is mucilaginous, and a decoction

made therefrom is of service for bathing the skin eruptions of

infants and young children. To answer such purpose a decoction

should be made from the small twigs, and from the bark of the

larger branches, retaining the leaves. This has been found further of

use for diarrhoea associated with an irritable stomach, and asthma.

The infusion, or the liquid extract, acts as a mild but efficient

sedative in nervous indigestion, from twenty to thirty drops of the

latter being given for a dose. The ascertained chemical principle of

the plant, OEnotherin, is a compound body. Its flowers open in

the evening, and last only until the next noon; therefore this plant is

called the Evening Primrose, or Evening Star.

Another of the Primrose tribe, the Cyclamen, or Sow-bread (Panis

porcinus), is often grown in our gardens, and for ornamenting our

rooms as a pot plant. Its name means (Greek) a circle, and refers

to the reflected corolla, or to the spiral fruit-stalks; and again,

[451] from the tuber being the food of wild swine. Gerard said it was

reported in his day to grow wild on the Welsh mountains, and on the

Lincolnshire hills: but he failed to find it. Nevertheless it is now

almost naturalised in some parts of the South, and East of England.

As the petals die, the stalks roll up and carry the capsular berries

down to the surface of the ground. A medicinal tincture is made

(H.) from the fresh root when flowering. The ivy-leaved variety is

found in England, with nodding fresh-coloured blossoms, and a

brown intensely acrid root. Besides starch, gum, and pectin, it yields

chemically, cyclamin, or arthanatin, with an action like

saponin, whilst the juice is poisonous to fish. When applied

externally as a liniment over the bowels, it causes them to be

purged. Gerard quaintly and suggestively declares It is not good

for women with childe to touch, or take this herbe, or to come neere

unto it, or to stride over the same where it groweth: for the natural

attractive vertue therein contained is such that, without controversie,

they that attempt it in manner above said, shall be delivered before

their time; which danger and inconvenience to avoid, I have

fastened sticks in the ground about the place in my garden where it

groweth, and some other sticks also crosswaies over them, lest any

woman should by lamentable experiment find my words to be true

by stepping over the same. Again, the root hanged about women in

their extreme travail with childe, causeth them to be delivered

incontinent: and the leaves put into the place hath the like effect.

Inferentially a tincture of the plant should be good for falling and

displacement of the womb. Furthermore, Sowbread, being beaten,

and made into little flat cakes, is reputed to be a good amorous

medicine, to make one in love.

[452] In France, another Primula, the wild Pimpernel, occurs as a

noxious herb, and is therefore named Mouron.