Is The Primrose (Cowslip) Poisonous For Humans Or Animals?

Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 08:44 pm

Some of the bowl flower contains ingredients that are not completely harmless, which is why it should be used only in small quantities. However, it is far more dangerous to confuse it with poisonous relatives.


The native species here is, among others, the meadow primrose (Primula veris). It is protected in some areas and may only be picked in very small quantities, if at all. Many, therefore, have plants from the specialized trade in their garden, where its use is, of course, allowed. Because of its ingredients, it is a traditional medicinal plant, but in high doses, can also become dangerous.

Is The Primrose (Cowslip) Poisonous For Humans Or Animals?

The ingredients of Primula veris:

  • Saponins
  • Flavonoids
  • Essential oil
  • Triterpene saponins
  • Sugars

Note: The content of ingredients varies depending on the part of the plant. Especially the root contains a large amount of triterpene saponins.


The triterpene saponins are used in folk medicine to irritate the stomach lining, which in turn is thought to stimulate the bronchial mucosa to produce mucus. Meadow primrose is promoted as a cold remedy for bronchial infections, but it is not entirely without side effects.

In particular, irritation of the gastric mucosa can cause the following side effects in humans:

  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Overstimulation of the mucous membranes
  • Dermatitis

In rare cases, vomiting and marked allergic reactions of the skin may even occur. The skin reactions appear even when affected persons have used extracts from the plants only internally.

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Danger for humans

For healthy adults, the bowl flower is edible without hesitation in smaller quantities. The herb is used for this purpose, and the root of the cowslip is also a traditional medicinal plant in folk medicine. However, for children or infants, you should avoid using the cowslip. For example, coughing up the mucus can become problematic without additional help, and the stomachs can react strongly irritated.
Uses of cowslip:

  • Flowers: edible decoration, dye, tea.
  • Leaves: cut into small pieces for salads
  • Roots: tea for bronchial complaints

Primula veris is only suitable to a limited extent as a dyeing plant, because larger quantities of flowers must be present in order to obtain a noteworthy coloration. Usually, however, only small amounts are available, which are sufficient to dye a few Easter eggs, for example. However, you can use the flowers as an ornamental drug in teas, with the pleasant side effect that they even have an effect, albeit much weaker, than the roots.

Note: Severe poisoning by primroses in adults or children has not been reported so far, which is why meadow primrose is considered edible. Symptoms such as stomach discomfort usually subside on their own once cowslip is no longer consumed.

Cowslip can be problematic for people who have stomach problems. This group of people should completely refrain from using the plant in any form.

No pet food

Dogs or cats rarely come into contact with significant amounts of cowslip. Even if they nibble on the plant or eat whole leaves, they do not put themselves in danger by doing so. The situation is somewhat different if large quantities of it are fed to small animals such as rabbits or guinea pigs.

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The meadow primrose next to other primroses such as the widespread Primula elatior not infrequently end up in a fresh bouquet of food for the small animals and often even intentionally, since the plants show themselves temporally in the spring.

Since the majority of harmless ingredients are located in the root, a few leaves are not dangerous for the animals, but larger amounts can cause severe poisoning.

hohe Schlüsselblume - Primula elatior

The symptoms are comparable to those in humans, but are often recognized too late. However, for pets or small animals to show symptoms, they must have consumed large amounts.

Danger due to crossbreeding

Primroses are among popular plants, of which exotic species such as Primula obconica are cultivated as houseplants. Exotics, for example, can cause allergy, which manifests itself in the form of itching on contact. Primroses are popular plants for a reason, because they are easy to cultivate. It is also easy to create new cultivars through crossbreeding. Crossing happens not only in breeding, but also in the meantime between cultivated and wild forms.

Due to the increasing cultivars, the risk increases that wild forms, cross with cultivars that have a higher content of problematic ingredients. This often results in plants that are not clearly identifiable, as they do not show clear characteristics of either the wild or the cultivated form. You should therefore refrain from using primroses that cannot be clearly identified.


  • James Jones

    Meet James Jones, a passionate gardening writer whose words bloom with the wisdom of an experienced horticulturist. With a deep-rooted love for all things green, James has dedicated his life to sharing the art and science of gardening with the world. James's words have found their way into countless publications, and his gardening insights have inspired a new generation of green thumbs. His commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship shines through in every article he crafts. Jones James
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