This perennial is related to the primrose, and grows in base-rich pastures, especially cow pasture, mostly in East Scotland, with a few patches in the West and Northern coasts and Orkney Isles. The name cowslip is an old English word for a cow pat, among which this plant can be found growing.
Leaves grow in a basal rosette from which hairy stems shoot up to form flower heads. The leaves are crinkly and oval, widest at the base with a rounded tip, and unevenly toothed along the edges.
It is topped with a cluster of funnel shaped flowers, each with a 5 lobed, yellow flower with an orange spot on each lobe. The lobes are not separated enough to be termed petals. Each lobe is notched at the tip. This tube-like structure is swaddled by a pale greenish tube of fused sepals. The flowers grow in clusters of 4 – 7 which hang down from the top of the stems. The arrangement of the flower clusters apparently resembles a bunch of keys, and old folk names include Lady’s Keys and Key Flower.
Cowslip is the only poisonous member of the Primrose family though its root was used in herbal medicine in centuries past. Cowslip wine was also a popular home-made drink.