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What Is an English Primrose?

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  • Written By: Greer Hed
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 30 August 2014
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An English primrose, also known as a common primrose or simply a primrose, is a flowering plant of the species Primula vulgaris. It is indigenous to the southwestern part of Asia, as well as to northern Africa and western and southern Europe. The English primrose is typically planted as an ornamental flower in gardens, where its sweet smell often attracts butterflies, bees, and other animals. Its leaves and flowers are also edible, and may be used to make tea or wine or eaten raw in salads.

The English primrose is an herbaceous plant, meaning that its leaves and stems die off at the end of each year, and is also a perennial, meaning that it will continue to bloom for many successive years. It typically grows low to the ground, usually not reaching a height above 6 inches (15 centimeters), although it may grow as high as 1 foot (30 centimeters). The plant has bright green, oval-shaped leaves with frilled edges that radiate outward from its base. Its flowers are are composed of layers of full, heart-shaped petals, which can vary in color from white to cream to pale yellow, with a bright yellow center. English primrose plants usually flower between the middle of spring and the beginning of summer.

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English primrose plants may be grown from seed; seed pods appearing at the end of the growing season can be easily harvested and used in the next planting season. They may also be cultivated by division of their roots. Seedlings and grown plants are usually available for purchase at plant nurseries, as well, and can be easily transplanted in the garden. Plants may also be grown indoors as potted plants, as long as their growing environment has cool nighttime temperatures that do not exceed about 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 15 degrees Celsius).

These flowering plants prefer to grow in relatively cool climates. In springtime, English primrose plants thrive in full sunlight to partial shade, but in summertime the more intense heat of the sun can damage the plants. The soil used for planting should be rich, moist, and well composted.

When eaten raw, primrose leaves and flowers have a mildly bitter flavor, not unlike dandelion greens or arugula. The leaves of the English primrose may also be dried and steeped in water to make tea, which has a taste similar to the bergamot oil that gives Earl Grey tea its flavor. Petals from the plant may also be steeped in water along with sugar, wheat, and other ingredients. The resulting brew can then be fermented for about four weeks to make primrose wine.

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