I’m sure I’ve written about cowslips before, my favourite spring flower… or are primroses my favourite… oh maybe they are my joint favourite, as they are botanical cousins anyway! If you are lucky enough to find proper wild cowslips in a warm and sunny place you might be able to smell their wonderful perfume without getting down on all fours! They do smell delicious and it’s a disappointment that cowslip wine tastes nothing like them.
There is so much written about the meaning of the name – as a child we thought it meant a cow slipping over, then we were told it was ‘cow’s lips’; on investigating some writers think it is to do with cow’s manure or ‘slips’, is it from Anglo-Saxon cow’s leek,’ a leek from leac, meaning plant? Or did it arrive later from Middle English, cowslyppe, from Old English cūslyppe which derives from cū and slyppe which means sloppy stuff – a reference to manure because in a well-manured field cowslips would grow? I’m not sure I would recognize an oxlip but it is a sibling of the cowslip.
Cowslips like most wild flowers used to grow in profusion, and meadows would be full of them – imagine the heavenly perfume on a warm spring day?! My mother remembered such fields when she was a girl. because there were so many of them, they could be picked and used – the leaves in salads, the flowers used in recipes and remedies.
The flowers had their own folklore and tradition attached to them and they were an important part of Mayday celebration, being hung in garlands; how lovely on a spring wedding to have the bride’s path strewn with cowslip flowers?
Here is a really interesting article about cowslips:
and another by Germaine Greer, about oxlips, cowslips big brothers: