Our Natural Heritage: Winter Wildflowers to find in Amersham

During 2024, Marieke Bosman, from Wild Amersham, will write about some of the wildflowers growing in and around Amersham along with their historical heritage. We hope this will encourage you to go out and enjoy them and perhaps look for ways to help protect this natural heritage for future generations.

In her first article written for the Society’s January 2024 Newsletter Marieke has picked one plant you’ll find in flower in each of the months of January, February and March. More plants to look out for will be found in following May and September Newsletters.


Wildflowers are a “form of permanent geography – markers not just of landscapes, but of their autobiographies” Richard Mabey, Flora Britannica.

Amersham is built on chalk: a rare habitat perfectly suited for wildflowers which grow profusely in traditionally managed chalk meadows and woodland. Wildflowers are part of our ‘local autobiography’, and would have played an important role in historical life in Amersham. They would have been enjoyed for their beauty, but also actively used as food, in folk medicine, for housekeeping, and in folklore and fairy tales. Unfortunately the encroachment of roads, herbicides use, housebuilding, recreation and climate change on local habitats has pushed our wildflowers, literally, to the edges, with many now only found on unmown road verges, along footpaths or in rough patches wedged between housing, roads and arable fields.

JANUARY : Stinking Hellebore (Helleborus foetidus)

Stinking Hellebore is a native cousin of the more colourful hellebores grown in gardens. Also known as Dungwort, Setterwort or Bear’s Foot, Stinking Hellebore likes to live in woodland and scrub, on shallow chalky soil. The whole plant is poisonous, which is why its reported use as folk medicine for worming children was described as ‘a violent remedy’ and not one we’d advise you to try at home! The plant’s dark shiny leaves and lime-green purple-edged flowers have several nectaries which contain yeast. The yeast warms the nectar, spreading the flower’s scent which makes this plant attractive and useful to pollinators out flying in winter. Stinking Hellebore flowers from January to April.

FEBRUARY : Sweet Violet (Viola odorata)

There are a number of wild violets in the UK, two of which love the chalky soil found in the Chilterns. One of these, Sweet Violet, has deep violet or white petals and its spur (the upward pointing tube-like protrusion at the back of the flower) is always lilac. This lilac spur, and Sweet Violet’s early flowering, sets it apart from other native violets. A key characteristic is its delightful sweet perfume. In medieval British households Sweet Violet was used as a strewing herb (ie: an early version of room freshener) and also to treat insomnia, headaches and depression.You can find this pretty local plant in hedges, scrub and woodland, where it flowers from February to April.

MARCH : Cowslip (Primula veris)

Cowslips traditionally appeared from March onwards in chalk meadows. The demise of those meadows has resulted in the dramatic decline of a flower that was historically so common that it was picked in abundance for Easter church ceremonies, strewn liberally on bridal paths and used to flavour English ‘cowslip wine’. Cowslip’s long stalk topped by pretty nodding yellow flowers has resulted in many other common names, including ‘keys of heaven’, ‘fairy cups’ and ‘paigles’. In traditional popular medicine Cowslip was used as a sleeping aid and to treat coughs. It is good to see that projects to restore churchyards and meadows and leave road verges unmown are supporting its reappearance.

Let’s hope this march of the ‘keys of heaven’ continues.

Marieke Bosman
Wild Amersham @ Sustainable Amersham

January 2024 Newsletter