Centaury, common [Growing in France}.

Image courtesy of Olivier Prichard CC BY-SA 3.0 license.


This plant belongs to the Gentian family, Gentianaceae, within the order of plants known as the Gentianales.  The genus name of Centaurium and the common name of Centaury derive from being dedicated to the Greek Centaur, Chiron,who, in Greek mythology was skilled in medicinal herbs. The specific name of erythraea  is also from Grrek erythros meaning red, from the colour of the flowers. {which are a red/pink colour}.

It is a species native to Europe and North Africa. 

Centaury in its natural habitat

Image courtesy of Hans Hillewaert { Belgium} CC BY-SA 3.0 license.


This is an annual species with a yellowish-coloured fibrous root , woody in texture. The root produces stems which attain the height of three to twelve inches { 8-30 cm}. They often branch considerably at the summit. The stems are stiff, square, and erect.

The leaves are of a pale green colour ,smooth, shiny, with no teeth making them simple and entire. The lower leaves are broader than the others, oblong or wedge-shaped, narrow at the base and blunt at the tip, they form a spreading tuft at the base of the plant. The stem leaves are are stalkless, lance-shaped and pointed, they are produced in opposite pairs,  with distance between them along the stem.

The stems are topped with a cluster, of rose-coloured, star-like flowers under each flower is a five toothed cup of sepals. the individual flowers are 1 to 1.5 cm wide { just over half an inch}. They five petals form a  tube and they are twice as long as the narrow sepals. The anthers are of a yellow-orange colour. The flowers only open in fine weather. The fruits {seed capsules} are a two parted capsule with waxy seeds.

They flower from June until September and may be encountered in grassy habitats, on chalky or sandy soil such as pastures, on heaths and among shrub. 

Basic components of centaury

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Past medicinal history and uses.

Centaury is a very bitter tasting herb. However, it was popular with herbalist and  used in the past.  One writer states, " Of all the bitter appetizing wild herbs which serve as an excellent simple tonic, the centaury is the most efficacious, sharing the antiseptic virtues of the field gentian and the  buckbean.

The whole herb was employed collected in July, when just breaking into flower and dried. The plant has a slight odour which disappears when dried. it uses where said to have aromatic, bitter, stomachic and tonic. It was said to act on the liver and kidneys, purifying the blood and made an excellent tonic.

The dried herb was given in an infusion or powder, or made into an extract.

Culpeper, { 1600's } tells us -" The herbe is so safe that you cannot fail in using it, only use inwardly for inard diseases, use it outwardly for outward diseases. Tis very wholesome, but not very toothsome."

He goes on to say - " it helps those that have the dropsy, or the green sickness, being used by the Italians for that purpose."

The above information is for historical interest and not meant as a guide to self medication.  Consult a qualified herbalist if you think Centaury can be of help.

Centaury, showing stem leaves.

Image courtesy of Stefan Lefnaer   CC BY-SA 4.0 license.

Centaury in the UK

Centaury in the UK, is widespread and relatively common, becoming scarcer in Scotland. It may be encountered in Grassland, heath and moorland, farmland, coastal regions, woodland, town and gardens. 

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