Monday, 21 July 2014

Sand Dunes - Common Centaury

Common Centaury 

Common Centaury

Centaurium is a species of flowering plant in the gentian family known by the common names “common centaury” and “European centaury”.The petite flower is pinkish-lavender and about a centimeter across, flat-faced with yellow anthers. The fruit is a cylindrical capsule.

Common Centaury is a low-growing biennial which is found on sand dunes, heaths, woodland rides, quarries and other dry, grassy areas. It is in bloom between June and September and, like other members of the gentian family, its pink flowers close during the afternoon.

What other names is Centaury known by?

Bitter Herb, Centaura Menor, Centaurea Menor, Centaurium erythraea, Centaurium minus, Centaurium umbellatum, Common Centaury, Drug Centaurium, Erythraea centaurium, Érythrée, Lesser Centauru, Minor Centaury, Petite-Centaurée, Petite Centaurée Commune, Petite Centaurée en Ombelle, Petite Centaurée Rouge.

In some parts of Europe, centaury is affectionately referred to as Stand Up and Go Away because anyone partaking of its bitter taste in a tonic or tea is likely to do exactly that.

The plant’s botanical name also gives rise to several alternate common names. For example, medieval Europeans, who took centum to mean 100 and aurum to mean gold, called the plant Hundred Guilder Herb.

By the 15th century, however, German country folk inflated the name to Thousand Guilder Herb. The significance of this literary interpretation and the perceived value of centaury as a medicinal herb worth a thousand pieces of gold is preserved in the following translated verse penned by the 20th century Austrian novelist and poet Karl Heinrich Waggerl in Heiteres Herbarium: Blumen und Verse (A Volume of Verse, Humorous Herbarium):

Tired of my debts, I will plant some
Thousand Guilded Herb in my garden.
Thereafter I will guard my golden treasure,
Attend to arts and belles-letters,
And when I die, leave my heirs
This Croesus [wealth] of plants.


The name Centaurium derives from the Greek kentaúreion, the mythological creature with the head and torso of a man on the body of a horse. The centaurs were held to be masters of healing. Pliny wrote that the centaur Chiron used this plant to heal an arrow wound in his foot. The Romans called the bitter-tasting plant “Herba felis terrae”, which means “earth bile plant”.

Pliny also noted that “There is another centaureum which is given the added name lepton {"the tender one"}, it has tiny leaves. The people of old used to call it libadeon because it grows around wells and springs'. And a little further on Pliny says: “This centaureum we Romans call fel terra {i.e. "gall of the earth"} because of its intense bitterness; but the Gauls call it "etena".

The species name minus derives from the Latin minor for “smaller” or “lesser”.

The medicinal use of centaury can be traced back to the Hippocratics (5th and 4th centuries B.C.). Dioscorides recommended it as a purgative, emmenagogue, and eye- and wound-healing agent.

Lucan, in his “Pharsalia” (915-921) mentions it as one of the plants burnt for the purpose of expelling serpents:

“There centaury supplies the wholesome flame,
That from Therssalian Chiron takes its name;”

The Anglo-Saxons used it for snakebite and other poisons, and for curing fevers, hence its common name Feverwort.

Culpeper described it as 'very wholesome, but not very toothsome'. The German herbalist Father Sebastian Kneipp, recommended Centaury for melancholy and for calming the nerves. It was an ingredient of Portland Powder, a treatment for gout.

Medical Properties

Parts Used---Herb and leaves

Centaurium is well known to herbalists as a ‘stomach bitter’ – one of the classes of herbs with bitter taste and used to aid digestion. For these herbs, it is important to taste the bitterness – and because of this, it is better to use herbs such as Centaurium as a tincture taken 5 minutes before meals. It can also be taken as a herbal tea.

Centaury's bitter action stimulates digestive secretions; the secretion of gastric juice increases as soon as the herb acts on the mucous membranes of the mouth. It also stimulates the sympathetic system and circulation, and has a tonic effect on the blood vessels.

It is gently laxative and, taken after meals, is an excellent remedy for heartburn. It can also enforce the action of anthelmintic herbs. Like many of the bitter tonics, it is effective in reducing fever and has been used as a quinine substitute in the past.

Research also confirms the plant's potential for treating rheumatism and gout, as the alkaloid gentianine has demonstrated strongly anti-inflammatory properties.

Unless advised by health professional, centaury should not be taken during pregnancy and lactation. At higher doses tan recommended it causes gastrointestinal irritations (with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea). Otherwise, there are no reports of contraindications or side effects when used properly.


This plant was used as a ‘nerve calmer‘ – by drinking an infusion of the leaves and flowers [St Mary's, Isles of Scilly, September 1992].

As a boy on holiday at Towyn, Merioneth, c.1915?, I watched an old lady gathering a large bunch of this on the sand dunes, and was informed that this was to make ‘tonic‘ [Charlbury, Oxfordshire, February 1991].

Magical Traditions

An old Pagan ritual that seeks to gain the blessing of the Goddess upon the healing herbs of the field still takes place in Germany today, although among the Catholic population in these regions the festival is known as the Day of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin.

The herbs, which traditionally includes centaury, are gathered and presented in bundles of seven or nine (being magical numbers) and are afterwards placed over the entryway to the home to safeguard its occupants from disease and mishap. Should serious illness or misfortune still befall any of the family members during the year, the bundle is burned in the hearth or outdoor bonfire to banish its source.

En Jèrriais:
d'l'hèrbe d'Saint Martîn, d'la centaurée


1 comment:

  1. En Jèrriais:
    d'l'hèrbe d'Saint Martîn, d'la centaurée