The problem with leaving a place you have loved is that you never truly leave.
Lining the corridors of my heart are dozens of doors concealing different landscapes. My mind, should I allow it - and I often do - roams freely down these passageways. The doors never in order, never in the same place.
Open one and you might find Eucalyptus lined streets framed against the background of the Santa Ynez mountains. Behind another is the Victorian red brick of my childhood home, an ancient mulberry tree and a vast pyramid of hay bales in a forgotten corner of a Buckinghamshire field. Another yet will show you dawn stretching out over the rooftops and palms of Colombo, and the one next to that opens onto the dense morning mists of the undulating North Dorset landscapes.
One particularly favoured door opens onto an unremarkable chalky mound opposite an A1 underpass.
But in Spring (early or late depending on the weather) this piece of roadside scrub turns buttery yellow with cowslips. Cowslips are one of those petite flowers that you associate with Victorian childhoods and fairies. There is an innate delicacy about them, yet their friendly yellow heads bobbing about in giggling clusters invite interaction and playfulness.
I hadn’t had any experience with cowslips that I could remember until Spring four years ago. Everyday I would take this turning to my new home, the bank of yellow tiny flags signalling my turn onto the country lane and waving me on to our wee cottage. It wasn't until the next year that I parked up my car to go and inspect them at closer quarters. I didn’t dare pick any. I hadn’t seen them anywhere else so I felt it would be rude to deplete their numbers for my own pleasure. Although I did dig one up for educational purposes.
They are traditionally known as the Keyflower, on account of the multiple flowerheads and their bunch-of-keys-like appeaance. The romance people have attributed to these plants stretches back to Norse mythology. The flowers were dedicated to Freyja, the Goddess of Love. Cowslips were said to be the keys to her palace, full of her most valuable treasures, magic and powers. With the advent of Christianity they became known as Our Lady’s Keys, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The Christian and key themes continued with their other common names being Peterskeys / Peterswort / Peterkin - a dedication to the gatekeeper of Heaven.
The parts used medicinally are the flowers and roots. Internally they have an affinity the nervous system. Anne McIntyre describes them as soothing nerves, aiding immobility and grounding. Another common name, Palsywort, indicates their folk usage in helping in cases of paralysis. Externally they’re associated with beauty, with Culpepper stating that they “taketh away spots… wrinkles, sun burnings and freckles”.
As a flower essence it’s said that they help in developing a “more grounded (view) of intimate relationships". I should have afforded them more attention. I'm terrible with keys. I'm always loosing them, a genetic trait I seem to have inherited from my father.
Thankfully not all doors need keys.
*** A lover of chalky or limestone grasslands and downs throughout the British Isles, cowslips are once again becoming a familiar sight after agricultural practises in the 70's and 80's saw numbers significantly dwindle.