With their simple but undeniable beauty, cowslips are a fitting symbol for our Elizabeth. The cowslip is a common flower, sweet-smelling and low-growing but vibrantly colored and impressive in its profusion. They have been admired and used for centuries for their culinary, medicinal, and even magical qualities.
The flowers and leaves are mildly narcotic, which is why they have been used for making both a delicate wine and a calming sedative tea. I expect Darcy would attest to Elizabeth having an intoxicating effect on him!
Aside from medicinal purposes, the beauty of the cowslip has inspired some belief that the flower can imbue this quality on others. Nicholas Culpepper, a renowned 17th century English botanist, claimed that women could make themselves more beautiful by using a distillation or ointment made from the perennial. Indeed, it would not be an unusual ingredient to find in modern skincare due to the cowslip’s cleansing properties.
Cowslips were often associated with the faeries in England. Some say the faeries used the cowslips to become invisible, or that the presence of cowslips indicated the presence of faeries. In Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare invoked the cowslip as a favorite of the Fairy Queen, Titania:
And I serve the fairy queenTo dew her orbs upon the green.The cowslips tall her pensioners be.In their gold coats spots you see.Those be rubies, fairy favors.In those freckles live their savors.I must go seek some dewdrops hereAnd hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear
Conversely, cowslips also were used to protect one’s home and cows from faeries. Even as belief in faeries died away, rural folk would keep cowslips by their door to prevent unwanted visitors. (Read more.)