P is for Primrose

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

To protect her little sister, Primrose, Katniss Everdeen enters “The Hunger Games,” the title of Suzanne Collins’ acclaimed young adult series. Later in the series, diminutive Prim becomes a caring medic and saves lives.

Primrose produces delicate blooms in April and May in most planting zones. Other names for the plant include cowslip, herb Peter, and key flower. It is the flower of St. Peter, and the ancient Norse peoples celebrated the goddess Freya by decorating with the primrose blooms.

Medically, it is an astringent and is used as a sedative. Gout, nervous headaches, and paralysis are said to be helped by the plant, and it is used for insomnia, restlessness, and minor skin wounds. The whole plant is used for its expectorant qualities. However, canines sicken if they consume primrose.

Primrose ointment treated facial spots and wrinkles, and the Renaissance poet John Donne in his “Primrose” wrote, “…live primrose, then, and thrive with thy true number five; and woman, whom this flower doth represent, with this mysterious number be content…” William Shakespeare adds primrose to the ingredients of the eye ointment Oberon had prepared in “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Ophelia in “Hamlet” describes “…show me the steep and thorny way to heaven, whilst, like a puff’d and reckless libertine, Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads…” likening the road of youthful indiscretion and indulgence. William Wordsworth, John Keats, T.S. Eliot, and Amy Clapitt included the delicate flower in their poetry. Anne Bronte in “Memory” wrote, “…that I might simply fancy there one little flower – a primrose fair, just opening into sight; as in the days of infancy, an opening primrose seemed to me a source of strange delight…”

The protagonist in Oliver Goldsmith’s 1766 novel “The Vicar of Wakefield” featured Dr. Charles Primrose and explored domesticity and wealth, and the crime novel “The Man from Primrose Lane” by James Renner investigates a murdered, mitten-wearing Ohioan. Jerry Spinelli developed a friendship between David and Primrose in his novel “Eggs,” and Linda Lael Miller wrote about frontier tenacity in her series “The Women of Primrose Creek.” A number of novels feature Cowslip in their titles, too, and Cowslip is one of the “Warren of Shining Wire” rabbits in Richard Adams’ “Watership Down.”

According to garden folklore, primrose attracts fairies and protects the gardener from adversity. In the language of flowers, primrose means “I can’t live without you” and “early youth.” Primrose serves as one of the birth flowers for February.