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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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cowslip Primula veris, a perennial plant of Europe and the temperate zone of Asia, which bears yellow flowers and is closely related to the primrose.

‘Cowslip is not the most elegant of names. It is a polite form of Cowslop … “cow dung”, “cow pat”, obviously from a conception that the cowslip sprang up in the meadow wherever a cow had lifted its tail …. Cowslop or no, the deliciously coloured and deliciously scented flowers make the best and most delicate of country wines’ (Grigson, 1955).

Cowslips are usually gathered from the wild. However, at least one English author was recommending them for cultivation in the herb garden in the early part of the 17th century. Evelyn (1699) recommended the juice of cowslip leaves as suitable for ‘qualifying’ tansy leaves which were to be fried and then eaten with bitter orange juice and sugar. Evelyn also listed cowslip among eight flowers which were to be infused in vinegar and eaten in composed salads or alone. There is still a traditional use of the leaves as a salad green in Spain.