|Centaury Quick Facts|
|Scientific Name:||Centaurium erythraea|
|Origin||Europe, south to North Africa and east through Eastern Europe to the Middle East and Pakistan|
|Shapes||Large, many seeded cylindrical capsule 7–9 mm long, enclosed in calyx.|
|Health benefits||Good for digestive health and reduces fever|
Centaury belongs to the Erythraea genus and the genus name of this herb has been drawn from the Greek word ‘erythros’ denoting red – the color of centaury flowers. Earlier, the genus Erythraea was known as Chironia, derived from the name Centaur Chiron, an eminent personality in Greek mythology who was well-known for his talent in herbal medicines and is believed to have healed his wound sustained accidentally from a septic (poisoned) arrow dipped in the blood of hydra with herbs. In fact, the English name of the herb also originated from Centaur Chiron. Centaury was frequently used in treatment of snake bites and fever in the past, hence the nickname “feverwort”.
Centaury is an erect biennial herb growing about half a meter in height. The plant is found growing in open woods, meadows and dry grasslands, muds and wet sands, shady paths, grassy places, stony pastures, dry meadows, moors, thickets and garrigues, from the plain up to 1500 meters of altitude. It grows in any type of soil, often on chalky soils and particularly in seasonally damp, sandy depressions. Roots are yellowish, fibrous and woody. Stiff, square stem is quite distinctive and ranges from approximately 7 to 30 cm (3 to 12 inches) in height.
Leaves are obovate to oblong-elliptic or lanceolate, glabrous; basal leaves mostly 2.5–4 cm long, 10–20 mm wide; stem leaves mostly 1–3 cm long and 5–15 mm wide, decreasing in size up stem; sessile.
Flower & Fruit
Plant consists of numerous pinkish-purplish flowers arranged in clusters that grow parallel with the stem and intertwine with leaves. Flowers consist of five petals and they are star-shaped. Common centaury produces flowers with both types of reproductive organs. The fruits are 2-10 mm cylindrical capsules opening when ripe for two valves freeing very tiny brownish seeds with finely netted surface. The whole plant has a decidedly bitter taste. People discovered healing properties of common centaury few thousand years ago. This plant is still very popular and frequently used for the preparation of various herbal remedies.
Genus Erythraea is derived from the Greek erythros, relating to the red color of the flowers. The genus was formerly called Chironia, from Centaur, Chiron. Hippocrates describes centaurium, under the Greek Kentareion and according to legend, Chiron (founder of medicine) used centaury to heal a wound inflicted by a poisoned arrow.
Macer mentions centaury in the 10th century. Culpepper describes how the plant is safe but bitter, mentioning the plant’s ability to kill worms and treat dropsy, snakebite, and other wounds. It was used by Saxon herbalists in a similar manner, along with treating fever, hence the name “feverwort.” Traditionally, centaury has been used for anorexia and dyspepsia.
Health benefits of Centaury
Centaury, also known as centaurri herba, Chirst’s ladder, bitter herb or feverwort, is a small plant with fibrous and woody root, and with oval leaves. Its flowers are either pink or red, and its fruit is a capsule. Thanks to the multiple health benefits of Centaury Herb, all its parts are used in medicine, from roots to the tip of the leaves, the flowers and the fruit. There are about 40 known species, all of them having lots of healing properties, as you are going to see from this article, below.
1. Digestive health
Centaury has many functions and it is considered to be a great tonic and aromatic stomachic that can use help with gastrointestinal disturbances and strengthen stomach function when it is taken before meal. It helps to stimulate gastric secretions. Centaury has a strong bitter principle that helps with heartburn, gas pains in the intestines and stomach, bloating, constipation and colic.
2. Reduces Fever
The herb is considered to be a diaphoretic, meaning that it helps stimulate perspiration. This is useful to help cool the body, lowers fevers and expels toxins from the body via the skin. The capability makes centaury useful in the treatment of intermittent fevers and feverish illnesses and explains why the plant was once used to treat malaria.
3. Other Uses
Centaury is thought to help strengthen the kidneys, making it beneficial for bladder control in elderly people, or others who experience problems with bed witting and urinary control. It has been used to expel worms from the intestines. It can also be used externally as an antiseptic to destroy body vermin and lice as a treatment for dandruff. It has also been used as an application to help heal wounds and sores.
Other Traditional uses and benefits of Centaury
- Herb, mainly prepared as tea, is thought to possess medical properties beneficial for patients with gastric and liver diseases.
- Centaury has been used to treat snakebite, fever, anorexia, jaundice, and GI complaints such as bloating, dyspepsia, and flatulence.
- It has been used as a sedative and topically for freckles and spots.
- It is reputed as an aromatic bitter and tonic and acts on the liver and kidneys to “purify the blood.”
- This bitter herb improves production of gastric secretions, which stimulates appetite and improves digestion.
- It has been used to treat fever.
- It is given with Barberry Bark for jaundice.
- It has also been employed as a vermifuge, and a decoction of the plant is said to destroy body vermin.
- Green herb, bruised, is supposed to be good as an application to wounds and sores.
- Externally, the fresh green herb is said to be a good application to wounds and sores.
- It is often used in combination with other herbs such as chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) and marshmallow (Althaea officinalis)
- A homeopathic remedy is made from the plant.
- It is used in the treatment of liver and gall bladder ailments.
- Drinking one wine glass full of herbal tea prepared with centaury thrice or four times every day before meals is helpful for people suffering from loss of appetite.
- This infusion is effective in alleviating pain caused by muscular rheumatism.
- Centaury tea may help in fighting anemia.
- Centaury tea may help in the treatment of diabetes.
- It is very functional in obstructed menstruation, in connection with some mild purgative.
- An ounce of Centaury, with two drachms each of Avens, and Angelica, infused in one quart of boiling water, and then add two ounces of Cardamoms these make an excellent stomachic.
- To treat extreme thirst, drink the centaury infused in hot water. This will quench thirst, and clear the breast and stomach.
- Decoction of the plant can be used as a rinse to get rid of head lice.
- Infusion can be made and taken half an hour before meals to prevent heartburn.
Ayurvedic health benefits of Centaury
- Wounds: Apply fresh juice of Centaury on wounds, ulcers. It promotes healing.
- Blurred vision: Externally apply the Centaury juice to the eyes. It clears the vision.
- Age Spots: Add 1 tbsp of Centaury in half cup of boiling water and steep for 10-15 minutes. Let it cool. Take one swallow at a time regularly. It gives clear skin and removes age spots.
- Indigestion: Prepare a tincture of Centaury and take one tbsp daily before meals.
- Head Lice: Add 2 tbsp of Centaury to one cup of boiling water. Steep for half an hour. Cool and apply to the scalp for 1-2 hours and rinse.
- Skin: Take 2 tbsp of Centaury. Put it into 1 cup of boiling water. Steep for 20-25 minutes. Cool and drink one cup a day, a mouthful at a time.
- The plant is used as a flavoring in bitter herbal liqueurs and is an ingredient of vermouth.
- European centaury is used as a medical herb in many parts of Europe.
- Flowers open in the morning and close during the afternoon.
- People believed that common centaury offers protection against evil spirits during the middle Ages.
- Flowers of common centaury can be used as a source of yellowish-green pigment.
- Legend says that a garland composed by these flowered plants, carried on the head by the night of Saint Walpurga, between April 30th and May 1st, protects against the witches evil influence.
- In various European countries and in Morocco, this species is subject of cultivation for the officinal uses as well as for the liquor industry.
- May cause mild abdominal discomfort and cramps.
- Contraindicated in patients with peptic ulcers.
- Use of centaury during pregnancy and lactation should be avoided.
- Excess use may cause nausea and vomiting.