When I think of Ireland, I imagine hedgerows of delicate primroses in spring. I love to see these yellow blossoms in shady banks, damp woods, along the roadside, or peeping between the blocks of old stone walls.
I wasn’t one bit surprised to learn this wild flower of Ireland was considered sacred by our Celtic ancestors who believed it held the keys to heaven.
Primroses color the Irish countryside from March until May. And so today I thought why not share some primrose photos, myths and lore.
Meaning of the Primrose’s Name:
This simple flower is a perennial and its official botanical name is Primula Vulgaris. This name derives from two latin words meaning “first rose”.
The primrose is also known as the English primrose. However, this beautiful spring flower is also native to the Emerald Isle.
In Irish it’s name is sabhaircín (pronounced sour-keen).
Medicinal Uses For Primroses:
This eye-catching flower and its supporting plant are edible and supposedly taste like lettuce. I’ve never actually nibbled on a primrose, but it’s good to know they are safe for consumption, and good for garnishing spring dishes.
Primroses were prized plants for those in Ireland who brewed their own cures and concoctions in days gone by. Primroses were widely used as remedies for muscular aches and pains, rheumatism, paralysis and gout.
The leaves and flowers of the plant were used both fresh and dried. Roots were only used when dried, and a special infusion of the roots was used to treat headaches.
Evening primrose oil which we often hear of today, was not available in Ireland long ago, since it is derived from an American variety of the primrose plant, not the kind found in Ireland.
The Irish primrose was used to relieve painful toothaches. Those suffering would rub the aching tooth and gum with a primrose leaf for two minutes.
Primroses were also touted as a cure for jaundice – a yellow flower for those yellowed by jaundice.
Pig lard and primrose were combined to create a salve or ointment for burns. In Cork a tea made of primroses was used to treat insomnia.
And being a versatile herb, this little plant was used to cure both “man and beast.” Horses with coughs received a nasal treatment of crushed dried primrose roots strained in milk.
Primroses and the Faeries:
The primrose may be a small blossom, but in days gone by it was considered a symbol of safety and protection. Primroses placed on a doorstep were said to encourage the faeries to bless the house and all who lived there.
Another old superstition claimed if you ate the blossoms of a primrose you would see a fairy. My little girl would feast on primroses if she thought a fairy might appear before her very eyes.
Primroses are loved by the faeries. Letting these little flowers die is a terrible offense to our magical friends, so beware if you forget to water any primroses you might plant.
Ancient Celtic wisdom associates seeing a large patch of primroses with a gateway or portal into the faerie realms.
Cowslip and primrose flower juice were combined into an ointment for treating facial spots and wrinkles. Even in days gone by our ancestors were worried about retaining their youthful good looks.
Primroses And May Day:
Primroses grow well in both England and Ireland. Whereas primroses were closely associated with Easter by our English neighbors, the Irish created deep connections between the flower and May Eve when it was widely used to protect against the faeries.
Traditionally primroses, together with yellow gorse shrubs, were used to decorate the door and threshold on May Day (Là Bealtaine).
“Guard the house with a string of primroses
on the first three days of May.
The fairies are said not to be able
to pass over or under this string.”
~ From the National Folklore Collection,
University College Dublin. NFC S.455:237.
From Co Kerry.
In rural Ireland in days gone by the butter making season began in May. To promote good milk production in their cows, our farming forebears rubbed primroses on their cows’ udders at Bealtaine (May Day). Primroses scattered on the doorstep supposedly protected the butter from thieving faeries.
The Celtic Druids And The Primrose:
The Druids often carried primroses during their Celtic rituals as a protection from evil.
Fragrant primrose oils were used to purify and anoint during these ancient rites of the Druids. This little yellow flower grew abundantly in Ireland and was easy for them to collect.
Primroses and Hens:
In years gone by Irish folk often kept their pig and chickens inside their very own house, sharing their living quarters with their animals.
Primroses were never brought indoors if the hens were laying eggs or hatching indoors.
Primroses and Tír na nÓg:
Oisín, the legendary son of Fionn MacCumhaill, made Tír na nÓg famous, when he followed his golden haired Niamh to this land of eternal youth.
Old Irish myths claim primroses bloomed in Tír na nÓg. Anyone who might return from this legendary land would always carry a bunch of primroses.
And so there you have it, a quick round up of Irish primrose superstitions and lore.
I hope if you ever visit Ireland in spring, you’ll spot a few primroses peeping out of the hedgerows. And perhaps you’ll smile, thinking of the faeries and other mythical visitors from Tír na nÓg, the Land of Eternal Youth.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom