Monthly Columns

Notes from the Apothecary

Notes from the Apothecary: Primrose



Primroses are a hardy, perennial plant which means they’re tough and come back year after year. They’re also absolutely gorgeous and often around in winter, lending some welcome colour to gardens, windowsills, or containers. Originally a woodland plant, primroses or Primula vulgaris will grow just about anywhere as long as there’s drainage so the roots don’t get waterlogged. Finding primroses in the wild can be a sign that you’re on ancient woodland. However, some “wild” blooms can be escapees from folks’ gardens! Either way, even in November and December, their blooms make a gorgeous, colourful addition to the winter landscape.


The Kitchen Garden



I don’t know of any modern dishes that use primrose leaves or flowers, so if you do, please tell us in the comments or on our social media! Dishes which have gone out of fashion include Primrose Pottage and an unnamed dish which mixed rice, nuts, spices, honey and primrose flowers. Primrose tea may also have been in fashion at one point. Many folks enjoy Evening Primrose tea, but this is not the same plant.

Both the leaves and flowers of primrose (or primulas) are edible, but can be quite bitter. They contain plenty of vitamin C, like many greens. Home brewers can also use the flowers to flavour wine.

As well as bringing a splash of colour to any garden, primroses also attract a range of insects like butterflies and bees. Of course, you might not see as many visitors in cooler, darker months, but come spring, those blooms will be an important food source for many small creatures. Those critters, in turn, will no doubt attract a range of insect feeders like birds and even frogs or toads if you happen to have a water source nearby. Primroses can be a key component in a carefully crafted wildlife garden or area.


The Apothecary

As always, the following is not medical advice. Always speak to a medical professional about taking any drug, supplement, or complementary therapy.

Mrs Grieves states, in her Modern Herbal (1931), that primrose is medicinally similar to its relative, the cowslip. She writes about its use for rheumatism, gout, and even paralysis. She also recommends its use as a sedative for those suffering with insomnia or restlessness. A tincture of leaves or flowers was useful for such a purpose.

In Dorset, England, gypsies would boil primrose leaves then drink the water to aid in the healing of facial skin conditions.


The Witch’s Table



There is some disagreement about the connection between fairies and primroses. Some sources state that primroses encouraged fairies to bless a home when planted nearby. Others say that planting primroses near the door protected the home from the good neighbours. I’m inclined, with my background and path, to lean towards the latter. Generally, protection is better than blessing when dealing with certain tricky customers! Each to their own. But both these perspectives agree that if you don’t want any trouble with the Fae, primroses in the garden might be a good idea. If you’re working with Irish Celtic magic or beings, the Irish word for primrose is sabhaircín.

Primroses are also linked to love, especially eternal or undying love. Yet they are also associated with death, particularly from certain forms of anaemia in Shakespearean times (taken from The Gothic Curiosity Cabinet). Primroses could symbolise any major change, commitment, or transition in your life.

Primroses are a spring flower, although, as we have seen, often appear in winter too. You could link them into your seasonal work, or give them as offerings or altar decorations for deities that are prominent to you at these times of year. I have read online that Primrose is a sacred flower of the Norse deity Freya, but I do not have a source for this. Please comment if you know the lore behind this.


Home and Hearth

You don’t need a garden to enjoy the benefits of primroses. You can buy pre-potted, blooming primroses in the winter months at many stores, often quite cheap, so keep your eyes peeled. Here are some things to do with your pot of delicate, eye-catching primroses:

    • Place near your door for protection
    • Meditate on their image, see what other visions occur for you
    • Place them on your altar or in your sacred space
    • Give them to a loved one as a symbol of eternal love
    • Carry them around the home (carefully) and speak of the things you are grateful for, imagining the flowers collecting that gratitude and sending it out to where it’s needed
    • Note the colours on the blossoms and use them to enhance your own colour magic.


I Never Knew…

There are around 600 species of primroses, and some may grow to over a metre tall!

*Images are either public domain or from Unsplash.


About the Author:

Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.

She is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors & Pagan Portals – Celtic Witchcraft: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Ways.