Walk down any Dartmoor lane in May and you will see clusters of primroses adorning the hedgerows and fields. There is one certain field just outside Newton Abbot that for a couple of weeks turns literally yellow from the masses of primroses and it can be seen from miles away. In 2002 a campaign was launched for each county of Britain to ‘elect’ a flower to represent it, in the case of Devon this was the primrose. The name derived from the Latin, prima rosa or ‘first rose’ because it normally is one of the first flowers to bloom at the close of winter. In the flower calendar the primrose normally represents the month of February which is slightly strange as they are not often seen that early on Dartmoor. It is also believed that the primrose is a ‘key flower’ which stems back to an ancient superstition that says if such a flower is pressed against a rock behind which treasure is hidden it will cause the rock to open and reveal its riches.
At one time it was thought very unlucky to bring a small bunch primroses into the house, especially that of anybody who kept poultry and fowl. The dire result would be that each flower would represent the number of birds reared that season. There was never any problem with bringing large bunches into the home, in fact it was thought to be lucky to bring in a posy of 13 primroses. The flower was also associated with the piskies and eating a primrose would give you the power to see the little folk. If a bunch of primroses was hung over the door of a house they were said to be an invitation for the piskies to enter the home. Conversely, if primroses were scattered on the doorstep they would act as a deterrent to the piskies. The primrose always played a big part in the May Day decorations and is one of the flowers associated with the earlier Beltane festival.
Medicinally the primrose was used in several ways, if the flowers and smaller leaves were boiled in lard the salve would then be used to cure chapped skin. Laryngitis could be cured by mixing the juice from primroses with sage and then drinking the concoction. The leaves when eaten raw were said to relief the painful symptoms of arthritis. An infusion of the flowers if drunk during the month of May was said to cure nervous hysteria and generally drinking the infusion was also good for gout.