Medicinal plants

Cowslip (Primula veris) - effects and uses

Cowslip (Primula veris) - effects and uses

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We know the cowslip as an early bloomer in the garden and as an ornament, but hardly as a medicinal plant. It was once considered the key to heaven, and was used in folk medicine as a remedy for pain, cough, inflamed airways and psychological upsets such as fear or nervousness. Like valerian, she also helped you fall asleep. Many of these effects have been scientifically proven.


  • Scientific name: Primula veris
  • Common name: Medicinal cowslip, heaven key, forest primrose, five-wound flower, church key, may flower, pet key
  • Parts of plants used: the dried whole flowers with calyx, roots
  • Application areas: :
    • Respiratory catarrh
    • inflammatory stomach disorders
    • Anxiety (folk medicine)
    • Insomnia and mental arousal
    • Headache and rash (fresh plant)


Cowslip contains triterpene saponins, primulasaponin and primulacrosaponin. The dominant sapogenin is protoprimulagenin. L-rhamnose and D-galactose are monosaccharide components. These soaps dissolve viscous mucus for colds, bronchitis or sinus infections.

In addition, there is the phenol glycoside Primulaverin, which forms something similar to salicylic acid when drying and relieves pain. Another phenol glycoside is primverin. Cowslip also offers essential oil, mineral trace elements in the roots and potash salts in the flowers. The flowers contain flavonoids such as apigenin and luteolin, as well as fighter oil and querceting glycosides, as well as carotenoids.

Effects - against colds and bronchitis

Primulaverin has a sedative effect as a (light) pain reliever, and so the Flower of the Year 2016 can be used against headaches, for example. Flowers and roots quench cough, they promote expectoration and loosen mucus in the event of inflammation of the respiratory tract, bronchi and sinuses. Cowslip drives urine, relieves cramps and has a decongestant effect.

The roots also relieve inflammation of the stomach such as stomach ulcers, but here you should consult a doctor or health care professional. According to the current state of research, the triterpene saponins work by stimulating the bronchial muscles via the vagus nerve in the gastric mucosa. This reflex makes the bronchial secretion less viscous, causes a cough and the mucus is easier to cough up.

Mixtures in phytomedicine

Commercial cowslip teas often contain other plants that complement and / or enhance the effect, for example thyme, gentian or elderberry. For example, thyme contains more essential oil.

Allergies and side effects

Cowslip tea is considered well tolerated. However, if you suffer from an allergy to primrose plants, you should avoid this. Combined preparations containing alcohol should not be taken if you are an alcoholic.

There are rare side effects known to cause stomach problems such as nausea or stomach pain. Children under the age of 12, pregnant women and nursing mothers should not take cowslips, as there are still no valid studies to determine whether the substances they contain are not problematic for these groups.

Use in complementary medicine

Cowslip has been used time and again as a supplement for gastric mucosal infections and stomach ulcers. The side effects of this phytomedicine include stomach complaints such as nausea and stomach pain.

Officially in Germany, roots and flowers are recognized by Commission E for respiratory catarrhs, according to ESCOP for productive cough and chronic bronchitis, according to HMPC as a herbal medicine. If you have supplementary use of cowslip in gastric diseases, speak to the doctor treating you or the responsible doctor.

Cowslip in the pharmacy

You get as a finished product in the pharmacy and / or drugstore
Primrose root in the form of

  • Tea,
  • Dry extract (capsules, tablets, soluble teas),
  • liquid extract (drops and juices),
  • Tincture (drops and solutions)
  • and thick extract (juice, syrup),

Flowers as

  • Tea,
  • Tea blend, for example with thyme or gentian
  • and powder or dragees.


In naturopathy, the tradition of folk medicine in Central Europe, a tea made from the dried and fresh flowers of the cowslip is used to help you fall asleep better and to dampen psychological arousal. The tea is said to relieve nervous moods as well as unfounded fears and help to relax when stressed.

Pads with tea from the roots and washes with the extract are said to help in natural medicine against joint pain (joint rheumatism), bruises, bruises and sprains.

Traditional medicine - palpitations and stuttering

In traditional medicine in Central Europe, an extract from the cowslip was used as a remedy for stuttering. In addition, the primrose family was used against rheumatic pain, dizziness, the so-called hysteria and against palpitations.

Key flower tea as a home remedy

Prepare tea from the cowslip roots from a teaspoon of dried roots and 250 milliliters of cold water. They boil everything, let it steep for ten minutes and then strain it. To make tea from the flowers, pour hot but not boiling water over two teaspoons, let it steep for a few minutes and then strain it. If you have a cold, drink two to three cups a day to liquefy the mucus.

In the kitchen

Young leaves can be eaten raw and salads added or cooked in soups. The flowers are used to decorate salads. In the past, cowslips were collected in spring and made from the flowers syrup, liqueur and a kind of wine. Today the plants are protected.

Hildegard von Bingen - The key to heaven

In the Middle Ages, Abbess Hildegard von Bingen, who was well-versed in medicine, wrote: “The key to Heaven, in particular, derives its strength from the power of the sun. That is why he holds down melancholy in people. A person suffering from her should bear this herb on her bare body above her heart. ”(From the writings of Saint Hildegard von Bingen, Leipzig 1922)

Mythology - The Key of the Elves

In the mythology of the Greeks and Romans, the cowslip played no role as a northern plant. It looked quite different in the myths of the Celts and Teutons. Here she is one of the favorites of the mermaids, elves and undines who protect her. Terms such as heavenly keys or church keys show that in the Christian faith, the healing properties and form of the plant (key) enabled associations to see the healing plant as the key to heaven.

In folk tales of Europe, it is usually associated with treasures. The "key shape" inspired the fantasy that the "heavenly keys" would grow in vessels with gold at the bottom. Anyone who took this treasure would have to put the flower back in afterwards, otherwise he would be followed by a black dog for the rest of his life.

Collect cowslip yourself?

Real cowslip is protected in Germany for a good reason, because the plant has become rare. Either you buy finished tea like preparations in the pharmacy, or you cultivate the flowers yourself and thus take care of ornaments and home medicine in your garden.
You collect the roots in autumn and the flowers in spring. Dry the roots in the sun, but leaves and flowers in an airy place in the shade. Store roots and leaves in paper bags, the flowers better in glass or porcelain jars.


Cowslip grows in sunny locations in Europe. It avoids hot regions in the Mediterranean and the far north. It grows scattered, only very rarely in the west of the Elbe in the lowlands. The reason for the partially island-like occurrence is the flower's preference for lime. It only grows on soils that contain a lot of lime and little nitrogen. She likes loose clay soil with a lot of humus.

The cowslip is typical for dry meadows, open mixed deciduous forests, forest edges on oak forests, hornbeam forests and sedge-beech forests. It loves limestone mountains, but is missing in the high mountains. In Germany, the "key to heaven" has become rare, especially due to the abundant nitrogen supply from exhaust gases and mineral fertilizers. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Apel, Lysanne; Kammerer, Dietmar; Stintzing, Florian C. et al .: Comparative Metabolite Profiling of Triterpenoid Saponins and Flavonoids in Flower Color Mutations of Primula veris L .; in: International journal of molecular sciences, Volume 18, Issue 1, 2017, mdpi
  • Baczek, Katarzyna; Przybył, Jarosław; Mirgos, Małgorzata et al .: Phenolics in Primula veris L. and P. elatior (L.) Hill Raw Materials; in: International Journal of Analytical Chemistry, Volume 2017, Pages 1-7, 2017, hindawi
  • Hiller, Karl; Melzig, Matthias F .: Lexicon of medicinal plants and drugs in two volumes. Second volume L to Z. Heidelberg-Berlin 1999
  • Hammer, P. Allen: 19 - Other Flowering Pot Plants. I. primula; in: Introduction to Floriculture (Second Edition) 1992, Pages 477-509, Available online 7 September 2012, sciencedirect

Video: Primula veris (July 2022).


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