Monday, April 1, 2013


Primula vulgaris - Common Primrose

As a child I could wander along the shady lanes nearby where I lived and see this delightful plant growing everywhere. It seemed to flower for months; but for a while would be the first spring flowering plant to be seen. The name Primula is derived from the Latin 'primus' meaning first. Nowadays with our topsy-turvy weather patterns I am not certain that this is so. We had a mass of them in the woodland at the top of our garden too, where they would flower happily in the light shade of the deciduous canopy. Other woodland flowers would follow but the primrose was always the first to flower.  As a young woman I noticed them often on steep banks in country lanes, growing awkwardly out of the slopes as is balancing precariously, yet they always were a mass of flowers, so obviously happy. 

Native to Europe, they are a welcome sight and a reminder of 'home'. Here in Italy they grow en masse once they are happy. The lawns of the huge villas which sit between Cadenabbia and Menaggio on Lake Como are carpeted with primrose plants. It is a delight to see. We have tried to introduce them ourselves (with bought seed) but our slope has too much sunlight and becomes too dry in the summer months, so all have perished. 



However, on a walk nearby they grow happily on a slope, in some places devoid of shade, others around the roots of tall plane trees amongst their deciduous leaf litter. This bank remains moist throughout the summer months, even around the large roots of the trees: water seeps gently from the hill.

What is nice is to know that the Italians have an equally intense love affair with the primrose as the English do.

Many cultures and countries make mention of the primrose and hold it in high esteem: it has links with myth and folklore. It can be used in food, beverages and teas can be made from dried plants, young leaves used in salads, with a flavour of mild lettuce to bitter salad greens depending on its age. The flowers and roots yield a fragrant oil. 

Many years ago, I candied the flowers to put on my daughter's birthday cake (March baby). Only recently I saw this being done again but using the leaves as well. The leaves can also be made into teas and the flowers into primrose wine.  

However, since the wildlife & countryside Act 1981 Section 13 - part 1b (page 1377 of link) it is illegal to take them from the wild. In 2002 it was adopted as the County flower of Devon.

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