So fiercely blew “that wind of God,” as Kingsley exultantly calls it, that the fork left sticking into the ground on the brow of the hill became a harp as the wind whistled through the prongs. A thrush remained the supreme optimist of field and hedgerow. The thatch was lifted off the top of the stack and aeroplaned itself over Hillfield; and yet in spite of it all eight little chicks stepped out of their eggshells calmly and gravely in a corner of the empty pigstye. What cared they for blizzards so long as a huge feather-bed enveloped them on every side! The sow's progeny of nine, however, born early in March, must have felt the cold wind as it shrieked through the split weather-boarding, and the nimbler of the Kerry heifers, standing no longer the outdoor treatment without a substantial windbreak, leapt the high rails of the yard, and settled down at night on the lee side of the stack.
Still, let’s hope for better weather as, in the words of Robert Browning:
OH, to be in England now that April’s there
And whoever wakes in England sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
When I was a child growing up in a Dorset village we used to pick posies of primroses on the morning of Mothering Sunday. The steep south-facing slopes of the fields were covered in primroses, all turning their lovely faces to the increasing warmth of the sun. The scent was wonderful as we collected the flowers to present to our mothers at the Mothering Sunday service at church. Sadly, I fear that our efforts, however well-intentioned and however much appreciated by our mothers, may have contributed to a decline in the number of primroses. I haven’t seen such wonderful banks of flowers in recent years. Still, children have a better understanding of why it is important not to pick wild flowers these days, and we must leave as much early nectar as possible for bees that are woken early by an unseasonably warm and sunny day.
If there is spare space in either room or window at this season, much can be done to increase the brightness of a dwellinghouse by making a raid on the borders in the flower-garden outdoors. Possibly a precocious Primrose or Polyanthus may be showing buds, a Hepatica may be prepared to crown its pretty leafage with bright blossoms, or a tuft of Winter Heliotrope (Petasites fragrans) may be all but in bloom. Any or all of these may be taken up with a trowel, carefully placed in a flower-pot with a little moss over the drainage hole, watered in, and stood in the window of a cool room. A room in which a fire is kept is not suitable, as the atmosphere is generally very dry, and the change of temperature too radical.
While it is fine to dig up primroses in your own garden, it is illegal to dig up primrose plants in the countryside. And why would you when it is such a delight to come across a bank of primroses on a sunny day in spring?
As it happens, the primrose is the county flower of Devon and the county has a Primrose Action Plan designed to increase the number of primroses in the county. To find out more visit: http://www.devon.gov.uk/county-flower-primrose
but two quarts of primrose petals is an awful lot!
Our title Mrs Beeton’s Jam-making and Preserves doesn't have a recipe for primrose wine but she does have one for dandelion wine and I think this would also work with primroses instead of dandelions:
Have ready 4 quarts of dandelion flowers, 4 quarts of boiling water, 3 lb. of loaf sugar, 1 inch of whole ginger, 1 lemon, the thinly-pared rind of 1 orange and 1 tablespoonful of brewers' yeast, or ¼ of an oz. of compressed yeast moistened with water.
Put the petals of the flowers into a bowl, pour over them the boiling water, let the bowl remain covered for 3 days, meanwhile stirring it well and frequently. Strain the liquid into a preserving-pan, add the rinds of the orange and lemon, both of which should be pared off in thin fine strips, the sugar, ginger, and the lemon previously stripped of its white pith and thinly sliced. Boil gently for about ½ an hour, and when cool add the yeast spread on a piece of toast. Allow it to stand for 2 days, then turn it into a cask, keep it well bunged down for 8 or 9 weeks, and bottle the wine for use.
This time of year, the beginning of spring and Easter, also reminds me of the Little Grey Rabbit books by Alison Uttley that I used to love reading as a child http://www.alisonuttley.co.uk The illustrations by Margaret Tempest are absolutely charming and there is one spring image that always stuck in my mind – the picture of Little Grey Rabbit and friends playing with a cowslip ball. Cowslips are, of course, a May flower, so more on cowslip balls in May! However, I also seem to remember that Little Grey Rabbit, being a very capable cook and all-round homemaker, made both primrose wine and gorse wine, which would mean she was often a very merry little bunny indeed!
Primroses are, then, edible. However, please note that this applies to primula vulgaris and not necessarily to other primulas – Walter Wright gives a warning about one variety in Room and Window Gardening:
Owing to a tendency which it has to produce irritation on very sensitive skins, Primula obconica has been called a vegetable wasp. The name is hardly deserved, however, because the trouble is not common, and the leaves need not be touched, so any reader whose window is short of flowers should buy either this or malacoides.
This warning aside, many herbals suggest primrose flowers and roots are useful in remedies for several ailments. Culpeper’s Complete Herbal says:
Government and virtues. It is under the dominion of Venus. The roots are used as a sternutatory for the head; the best way of using them is to bruise them, and express the juice, which being snuffed up the nose, occasions violent sneezing, and brings away a great deal of water, but without being productive of any bad effect, which is too often the case with remedies of this class. Dried and reduced to powder, it will produce the same effect, but not so powerfully. In this state it is said to be good for nervous disorders, but the dose must be small. A drachm and a half of the dried roots, which are taken up in autumn, acts as a strong, but safe emetic.
Elizabeth Blackwell, in her A Curious Herbal, agrees and says of primroses that:
The flowers are commended as good against Disorders arising from phlegmatic Humours. The juice of the Root is used as an Errhine [i.e. to promote sneezing] to purge the Head of tough slimy Phlegm.
In Gerard’s Herbal it says:
A practitioner of London who was famous for curing the phrensie, after he had performed his cure by the due observation of physic, accustomed every yeare in the month of May to dyet his Patients after this manner: Take the leaves and flowers of Primrose, boile them a little in fountaine water, and in some rose and Betony waters, adding thereto sugar, pepper, salt, and butter, which being strained, he gave them to drink thereof first and last.
The roots of Primrose stamped and strained, and the juice sniffed into the nose with a quill or such like, purgeth the brain, and qualifieth the pain of the megrim.
So, there is general agreement among the herbalists. However, snorting primrose root juice is probably not a good idea, particularly if you are in polite company, as violent sneezing of ‘tough slimy Phlegm’ can’t be pleasant to experience or to witness! I do wonder if ‘phrensie’ might otherwise be called ‘spring fever’, in which case primroses come into bloom at the perfect time to deal with it. However, if you are lucky enough to have wild primroses in your garden in sufficient quantities then I would recommend making primrose wine (as above). Apparently it is delicious and you may also receive other health benefits too. Other claims for primrose ‘virtues’ include remedies for headaches, insomnia, high blood pressure, arthritis and alcoholism (though primrose wine won’t help with the last problem).
For our chicken fans, there is conflicting advice about whether or not your chickens will eat your primroses. However, there is an ancient belief that you should never bring fewer than 13 primroses into your house because your hens will only hatch as many chicks as there are flowers.
According to legend, if you place a posy of primroses on your doorstep the fairies will visit your house and bless the inhabitants. There is also a myth that if you eat primroses you will be able to see fairies and touching a fairy rock with a primrose posy opens the way to fairyland. There has always been, it seems, a close connection between primroses, ‘phrensie’, and fairies – the flowers and fairies are both beautiful and reckless so, as Shakespeare’s Ophelia describes in her warning about hypocrisy, beware taking the primrose path - you don't know what you might come across:
But, good my brother,
Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven
Whiles, like a puffed and reckless libertine,
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads
And recks not his own rede.