Thursday, April 26, 2012

Foraging in your Garden: Primroses (Primula)

Their smiles / Wan as primroses gathered at midnight / By chilly-fingered Spring. – John Keats

Photo: anneke1998, Flickr ccl
Pretty soon (if not already in your part of the world) the Primroses will be making their springtime appearance outside. These bright little bits of cheer have already made their indoor appearance, because they can be purchased widely at grocery stores most months of the year.

Primula vulgaris is a species of primula native to western and southern Europe , northwest Africa, and southwest Asia. Its common name is primrose, and is sometimes called English Primrose to distinguish it from the many different species in the family Primulaceae.

These are very common primroses in grocery store flower shops.
Photo: Tara yeats, Flickr ccl
Why the name? 
"Primrose" is from the medieval Latin prima rosa, meaning "first rose". In its native habitat it can cover vast areas of open woods and shaded hedgerows. The wild primrose was a necessary addition to any Victorian cottage garden. 

About the plant
Primula  is a herbaceous perennial plant, meaning it dies back to ground level every year. It is low growing (about 4-12” tall) with all the leaves being at ground level. Flower spikes emerge from this point. The flowers are around 1-2” wide. Primula v. is hardy to USDA Zone 3-9.

Primula flowers in early spring, making it one of the earliest spring flowers in your garden. If you have any outside you should have seen the leaves above the ground at least a month ago. I did in mine. They’re nearly trouble free if placed in a good spot.

Photo: pirate_renee, Flickr ccl
Where to purchase
Many garden centres stock not only vulgaris but also several other cultivars. As I said above, you can also purchase primroses in local grocery chain flower shops almost any time of the year. 

They brighten the dreary winter months for certain. If you keep a grocery store-purchased plant alive it can be set outside in spring without any problems. That way you can enjoy the flowers year after year. They don’t cost much – a few dollars per plant.

Many hybrids are also available in a wide range of colours from white, red, light and hot pink, purple, blue, yellow, orange, two-tone, variegated, etc. Many of these also have larger flowers and a longer blooming season than primula vulgaris. 

In the Kitchen
Primula actually have many interesting culinary uses.

Both the flowers and leaves are edible, the flavour being described as slightly “tangy.” The flowers can be candied for edible decorations by coating with egg white wash and confectioners sugar. They can also be used as the flavour carrier in primrose syrup, a simple 3-ingredient recipe (flowers, sugar and water).

The leaves can be added to other greens to enhance a salad. I have also seen a recipe that uses the flowers to infuse a cream for tartlets. (recipe HERE). In the directions each tartlet has a flower for decoration. I would suggest putting it on AFTER the top has been browned, not before. Maybe even one you have candied...

Eating primroses is also supposed to help you see fairies. I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Photo: Satrina0, Flickr ccl

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