Yellow flowers on an erect stem
Primula veris


Family: Primulaceae
Other common names: Першацвет веснавы (Belarusian), prvosenka jarní (Czech), hulkravet kodriver (Danish), gulden sleutelbloem (Dutch), kevätesikko (Finnish), coucou (French), primevère officinale (French), echte Schlüsselblume (German), Πρίμουλα η εαρινή (Greek), tavaszi kankalin (Hungarian), primula odorosa (Italian), marianøkleblom (Norwegian), pierwiosnek lekarski (Polish), Первоцвет весенний (Russian), Первоцвет настоящий (Russian), Примула весенняя (Russian), prímula olorosa (Spanish), gullviva (Swedish)
IUCN Red List status: Least Concern

Clusters of nodding cowslip flowers are a sight to behold in British springtime.

When wandering through grassland, they flood your senses with swathes of yellow flowers and a scent reminiscent of apricots.

British populations of these beautiful wildflowers have declined due to changing agricultural practices which have threatened their grassland habitats.

Our Millennium Seed Bank is helping to protect the cowslip and the rare butterflies that depend on it.

Cowslip has a basal rosette of leaves and deep yellow flowers on an erect stem.

Read the scientific profile on cowslip

Food and drink

In traditional Spanish cooking, cowslip leaves are used as a salad green.

Its flowers have also been used in England to flavour wine and vinegars.


Traditionally cowslip leaves and flowers were used for skin problems.

It was also a remedy for depression and has sedative properties.

Historically, it was recommended for people suffering from paralysis.

Map of the world showing where cowslip is native, introduced and extinct
Native: Albania, Austria, Baltic States, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Central European Russia, Crimea, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, East European Russia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Montenegro, Netherlands, North European Russia, Northwest European Russia, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South European Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine
Introduced: British Columbia, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Brunswick, New York, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Québec, Vermont
Extinct: Algeria

Herb-rich grassland with well-drained, nutrient-poor soils containing chalk or limestone.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s in Britain, cowslip numbers suffered a decline because of changing agricultural practices.

Declines in wildflower populations have knock-on effects throughout entire ecosystems as the insects they support dwindle and so do the animals further up the food chain.

Our Millennium Seed Bank’s UK Native Seed Hub assisted a project in the Sussex Downs aimed at protecting the rare Duke of Burgundy butterfly, which relies on the cowslip as a larval food plant.

The project helped to create more habitat for this butterfly to breed. We trained volunteers in seed collection and propagation of cowslip plants to increase populations on suitable chalk grassland slopes.

We also have 16 collections of seeds from cowslip populations across the UK stored in our Millennium Seed Bank.

Altogether, this vital work helps to support plant conservation, maintain healthy ecosystems and restore damaged habitats.

Brown, small seeds
Cowslip (Primula veris) seeds, Sarah Pocock © RBG Kew

Other plants

More from Kew


Browse our range of wildflower products. Buying something from the Kew Online Shop supports our vital science work.

The geographical areas mentioned on this page follow the World Geographical Scheme for Recording Plant Distributions (WGSRPD) developed by Biodiversity Information Standards (TDWG).