The name cowslip is believed to be a mispronunciation of cow slop, so named because the flowers are traditionally found near cow pats in pastures! A widespread plant of grassland, not to be confused with primrose which is more of a woodland plant. Cowslip can grow in many soils but really thrives in limestone and chalk grassland. It is an important nectar source for insects including bees, beetles and butterflies as it flowers early and can carpet an area where conditions are suitable. Look out for the yellow brimstone butterfly, which is on the wing early in the year, this may be feeding on cowslip flowers.
Like many wildflowers, cowslip has been part of the herbalists’ collection for centuries. It has a sedative quality so is used to treat sleep problems whilst the citrusy flavoured flowers can help with coughs. Cowslip flowers were also used to flavour wine and can be found in traditional Spanish recipes.
Also known as St Peter’s Keys or Keys of Heaven, cowslips were believed to have grown where St Peter dropped the Key to Earth. You may have cowslips in your churchyard grassland, if so try and leave the areas where it occurs uncut until the flowers have finished and set seed. Cowslip does not grow high so perhaps you could set your mower blade at 10cm so that the leaves are not shredded by subsequent mows.
All the best
Diocesan Churchyard Environmental Advisor, email@example.comIn
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