This article focusses on three primrose (Primula) species:
- Cowslip (Primula veris)
- Oxslip (Primula elatior)
- Common Primrose (Primula vulgaris)
Cowslip is called “Echte Schlüsselblume” and “Himmelsschlüsselchen” in German. Oxslip is accordingly called “Hohe Schlüsselblume”. Both are similar in appearance and may be interchangable in ritual and magical operations. Both contain saponins and are used medicinally, e.g. for making an expectorant tea. Their English names may be owed to the fact, that the plants are commonly found on moist pastures, grazed by cattle. The Common Primrose is known as “Stängellose Schlüsselblume” or simply “Primel” in German. Its hybrids are commonly planted in gardens and pots. It has also been used medicinally, similar to Cowslip and Oxslip, but does not contain the same amounts of active agents. Cross hybrids between all three primrose species exist and are the source for a great variety of garden primroses, comming in all shapes in colors.
Legend and lore: In Norse mythology Cowslip was sacred to the goddess Freya, the “lady”, and was also referred to as “Freya’s Key”. Freya taught the seiðr to mankind and was worshipped as a goddess of love, secuality, fertility and beauty, but also of war and death. Within christianity the flower became dedicated to St. Peter and the Virgin Mary and was referred to as “Our Lady’s Keys” and “Keys of Heaven” or simply “Keyflower”, which all relate to the bright yellow pendant flowers, which resemble keys. These ‘keys’ were thought to allow entrance into Sessrumnir, Freya’s hall in Folkvangr, a large and beautiful place located on a field or meadow, where the goddess receives half of the souls of those who died in battle (the others are received by Odin). The flower is also known as “Himmelschlüsselchen” (little keys to heaven) in German language and is generally applied in protection spells and magic of opening the doors or paths to love, youthfulness, gold and hidden treasures. In the elder Futhark it represents kenaz. There is also a peculiar amount of folklore associating the flowers with cows and cattle and they are thus applied in rituals, that aim to protect the animals from being stolen or hexed.
How to distinguish: Cowslip (Primula veris) does not grow as tall. The flowers are a deeper yellow and smaller than those of Oxslip. They are recognised also by the five red dots inside the flower and they are much more fragrant. The foliage is spade-shaped. Oxslip (Primula elatior) grows taller, as the latin name “elatior” suggests. The flowers are larger, and of a lighter yellow color and the chalice is orange on the inside. They are not as fragrant. The foliage is straighter and not as spade-shaped. Common Primrose (Primula vulgaris) is characterised by its short stems and large flowers.
Propagation: The seeds require cold and light to germinate. In nature the flowers are pollinated by bumblebees and butterflies. The seeds spread by wind.
Habitat: Primrose requires calciferous, nitrogen-poor, loose, loamy and humusrich soil. Grows on semi-dry grasslands, marges and in clear deciduous forests.