PrimroseBotanical Name: Primula vulgaris (HUDS.)
Family: N.O. Primulaceae Parts Used: Root, herb.
Habitat: The plant is abundant in woods, hedgerows, pastures and on railway embankments throughout Great Britain, and is in full flower during April and May. In sheltered spots in mild winters it is often found in blossom during the opening days of the year.
The Primrose possesses somewhat similar medicinal properties to those of the Cowslip. It has a root-stock, knotty with the successive bases of fallen leaves and bearing cylindrical, branched rootlets on all sides. The leaves are egg-shaped and oblong, about 5 inches long when fully developed, tapering into a winged stalk, about 1 1/4 inch broad in the middle, smooth above, the veins and veinlets prominent beneath and hairy, the margins irregularly toothed. The young leaf appears as a stout mid-rib, with the blade rolled on itself on either side into two crinkled coils laid tightly along it, in similar manner to the Cowslip.
The flowers are each on separate stalks. There are two kinds of flowers, externally apparently identical, but inwardly of different construction. Only one kind is found on each plant, never both, one kind being known as 'pin-eyed' and the other as 'thrumeyed.' In both, the green-tubed calyx and the pale yellow corolla of five petals, joined into a tube below and spreading into a disk above are identical, but in the centre of the pin-eyed flowers there is only the green knob of the stigma, looking like a pin's head, whereas in the centre of the thrum-eyed flowers there are five anthers, in a ring round the tube, but no central knob. Farther down the tube, there are in the pin-eyed flowers five anthers hanging on to the wall of the corolla tube, while in the thrum-eyed, at this same spot, is the stigma knob. At the bottom of the tube in both alike is the seed-case and round it the honey.
It was Darwin who first pointed out the reason for this arrangement. Only a longtongued insect can reach the honey at the base of the tube and when he starts collecting the honey on a pin-eyed flower, pollen is rubbed on the middle part of his proboscis from the anthers midway down the tube. As he goes from flower to flower on the same plant, there is the same result, but when he visits another plant with thrum-eyed flowers, then the pollen on his proboscis is just in the right place to rub on the stigma which only reaches half-way up the tube, his head meanwhile getting pollen from the long stamens at the throat of the tube, which in turn is transferred to the tall stigmas of the next pin-eyed flower he may visit. Thus both kinds of flowers are cross-fertilized in an ingenious manner. It is also remarkable that the pollen of the two flowers differs, the grains of that in the thrum-eyed flower being markedly larger, to allow it to fall on the long stigmas of the pin-eyed flowers and to put out long tubes to reach to the ovary-sac far below, whereas the smaller pollen destined for the shorter stigmas has only to send out a comparatively short tube to reach the seeds waiting to be fertilized. This diversity of structure ensures cross-fertilization only by such long-tongued insects as bees and moths.
Parts Used Medicinally and Preparation for Market: The whole herb, used fresh, and in bloom, and the root-stock (the so-called root) dried.
The roots of two- or three-year-old plants are used, dug in autumn. The roots must be thoroughly cleansed in cold water, with a brush, allowing them to remain in water as short a time as possible. All smaller fibres are trimmed off. Large roots may be split lengthwise to facilitate drying, but as a rule this will not be necessary with Primrose roots.
Constituents: Both the root and flowers of the Primrose contain a fragrant oil and Primulin, which is identical with Mannite, whilst the somewhat acrid active principle is Saponin.
Medicinal Action and Uses: Antispasmodic, vermifuge, emetic, astringent.
In the early days of medicine, the Primrosewas considered an important remedy in muscular rheumatism, paralysis and gout. Pliny speaks of it as almost a panacea for these complaints.
The whole plant is sedative and in modern days a tincture of the fresh plant in bloom, in a strength of 10 OZ. to 1 pint of alcohol, in doses of 1 to 10 drops has been used with success in America in extreme sensitiveness, restlessness and insomnia. The whole plant has somewhat expectorant qualities.
An infusion of the flowers was formerly considered excellent against nervous hysterical disorders. 'Primrose Tea,' says Gerard, 'drunk in the month of May is famous for curing the phrensie.' The infusion may be made of 5 to 10 parts of the petals to 100 of water.
In modern herbal medicine the infusion of the root is generally taken in tablespoonful doses as a good remedy against nervous headaches. A teaspoonful of the powdered dry root serves as an emetic.
'Of the leaves of Primrose,' Culpepper tells us, 'is made as fine a salve to heal wound as any I know.'
The leaves are said to be eagerly eaten by the common silkworm.
In ancient cookery the flowers were the chief ingredient in a pottage called 'Primrose Pottage.' Another old dish had rice, almonds, honey, saffron, and ground Primrose flowers. (From A Plain Plantain.)
The Primrose family is remarkable for the number of hybrids it produces. The garden 'Polyanthus of unnumbered dyes,' as the poet Thomson calls it in 'The Seasons,' is only another form (probably of the Cowslip or Oxlip) produced by cultivation. The Oxlip is distinguished from the Primrose by its flowers being stalked umbels and of a deeper shade of yellow and by its leaves becoming suddenly broader above the middle. It varies from the Cowslip by its tubular, not bell-shaped calyx and flat, not concave corolla.
The following note is from the Chemist and Druggist (March 5, 1921):
'The Oxlip is of more interest to the botanist than to the pharmacist, though at one time it shared with its cousins the cowslip and primrose the name Herba paralysis, and had, like them, a considerable reputation as a remedy in several diseases. Our official books distinguished between Herba paralysis and Primula veris, and attributed different virtues to them.