What a strange name for a plant I thought, until I heard her story;
Before heaven and hell were in vogue, the afterlife was a place of joy. Now, true it was, that the land of the dead lay beneath the ground, and yes, it was a place separated from here where we might go and be lost to our earthly loved ones for eternity.
But also it was taken as a common fact that this was a place where we once again could feel the warm embrace of those who had preceded us to this other realm, and if we had faced the challenges of this life with courage and impeccability we would be rewarded with an ongoing eternal feast and celebration of joy.
Now on our arrival into the realm of the no longer-alive there would be a welcome from the beautiful hostess of the underworld, the Norse people from the North call her Freyer, while other European names of this beautiful Goddess are Helle, Persephone, and Olwen. She is both the young love goddess, the fertile mother of new life and also the death goddess, the final collector of Souls. It is she who holds the keys to the paradise beyond, and promises to return to life that which has died, like the spring renewing year after year the withered and dead world.
The yellow flowers that spread across the land as she returns to give all things renewed fertile energy are an emblem of her yellow tresses, awakening the new spring cycle of life, they are the keys opening up the cycle of the year once again.
Look at the bell shaped flowers, how they hang down like a bunch of keys, each bloom like a ventricle of the heart. The older herbalists considered the flower to be under the patronage of the Goddess Venus, the one who rules the Venous Circulation or the blue blood in the veins, associated with the flow of nourishing humours around the body, providing for the calming of any over heated passions or angry feelings, and also ensuring the balanced flow of emotions within and around the body.
So it is not surprising then with all her connections to love and fertility that it was usual for young girls to gather the flowers and having tied them into a flower ball called a Tostie would bounce it from hand to hand singing "Tisty, tosty, tell me true, who shall I be married to?" then she would list all the possible candidates and the ball would fall to the ground on the name of the one she would marry.
So take this chance and go into the fields or the garden, find the flower and smell the fragrance of her beautiful blossom, and you will then also know the perfume of Paradise. No wonder this was a favourite flower for preparing a country wine, and for preserving in sugar as a candy. The refreshing properties were considered to be amongst the best for cooling an overheated head and inducing a restoring sleep, treating headache, joint pain and inflammations. Another common name "Palseywort" reffered to its use in paralysis, the flowers being strengtheners of the nerves. In 1694 the Herbalist Peachey tells us that the infusion of the flowers make "very proper medicines for weakly people"
When you see the flower stems so pliable and supple yet so strong standing up high above the new grass, doesn't it seem to conjure up the graceful movement of a young dancing wood nymph skipping over the land honouring the return of spring to the pastures, singing in the breeze and spreading the joy of life renewed. Is it not surprising that it was always said that the nightingale would only sing where the Cowslip grew?
Herbalist-in-the-hedge has found that it is difficult to buy dried flowers of good quality, they spoil easily and then turn from yellow to green, so grow your own, dry them on a low heat or tie them into flower balls and dry them in spring sunshine hung in your window, use them as a tea to calm and strengthen the brain and the nerves, protect the heart and keep your vital spirit flowing.
Combine Cowslip Flowers with Rose petals and the Flowers of St. Johns Wort, making a tissane, there are few better ways of reviving flagging spirits and healing wounded hearts.
Finally we cannot pass over this flower without mentioning the long reputation of the distilled water for reducing spots, pimples, freckles and wrinkles- The wonder remedy for the beauty conscious of past times.
Remember too that this flower is known to be a special gift from the little people, the fairies, and as proof of this they have left their mark within the flower. Look closely inside and you will see the fairy jewels that lie there:
Those be rubies, fairy favours,
in those freckles lie their savours:
William Shakespeare, A midsummer's nights dream, II,i,11-13