This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
Because affording an excellent sweet wine with decided curative virtues, the Cowslip merits a passing culinary notice. Pliny wrote about this homely flower, "In aqua potum omnibus morbis mederi tradunt," thus making it seem a veritable panacea. Former medical writers called it the "Palsywort," because of its supposed efficacy in relieving paralysis. Pope has praised the plant for its soporific powers: -
"For want of rest Lettuce and cowslip wine: probatum est".
Cowslip salad made from the golden petals, with white sugar, and other adjuncts, is an excellent, and refreshing dish. Also a syrup of rich yellow colour may be made from the petals. One pound of the freshly-gathered blossoms should be infused in a pint and a half of boiling water, and then simmered down with loaf sugar to a proper consistence. This syrup, taken with a little water, is admirable for giddiness from nervous debility, or from previous nervous excitement. It is of old date as given formerly against palsy. Dr. Quincy ordered the same in his English Dispensatory, 1728. There is among the curios at Lilford Hall, Northants, a primitive apothecary s jar - -of about that time - made of Dutch Delft, in grey glaze, with handle and spout. It bears in front a conspicuous blue painted legend, "Syr. Paralyseo" (Syrup for the Paralysed.) A quaintly drawn blue angel supports the label at each end. Cowslip petals were conserved in sugar, and dried in the sun by our grandmothers to mix with tea. The flowers were then known as Paigles, Kingcups, Crewels, and Petty Mulleins; but dearest of all is the old Saxon name "Cusloppe," still almost unaltered. They emit an odour of Anise, which is due to their containing some volatile oil identical with Mannite; their more acrid principle is saponin.
For making Cowslip wine, "take one gallon of water, and three pounds of loaf sugar, and boil together for half an hour; in the meantime have ready the rind and juice of two lemons, also the rind and juice of one Seville orange; pour it boiling over these, having first strained the juice; when lukewarm add one gallon of Cowslip pips picked from the stocks and seeds; then add two tablespoonfuls of brewers' good yeast, and let it ferment for three or four days; afterwards to every gallon of wine add half a pint of French Brandy; put all into a cask, and let it remain for two months; then bottle off for use".
As a quieting solace at bedtime when a person is nervously tired, a good wineglassful of this Cowslip wine, mixed with one, or two, wineglassfuls of quite hot water, and with some nutmeg grated in, makes an excellent sedative; taking also, if desired, a genuine Abernethy biscuit. In Northamptonshire the Paigle is known as Bedlam Cowslip. Herbals of the Elizabethan date tell that an ointment made from Cowslip flowers "taketh away the spots and wrinkles of the skin, and doth add beauty exceedingly, as divers ladies and gentlewomen, and she citizens, whether wives, or widows, know well enough." Lord Chesterfield, writing to his son, then at Venice (October, 1749), told him that "mens sana in corf ore sano "is the first and greatest blessing; and I would add "et pulchro" to complete it: "May you have that and every other".