Cornflower is an annual herb having a straight, sinewy and downy stem that usually grows up to a height of one to two feet and is branching. Solitary, vivid blue flower heads akin to those of thistle grow at the branch ends. The herb produces long leaves that have a grayish-green hue and emerge alternately on the stem. The leaves are shaped like lances and are also downy like the stem.
The cornflower is a preferred garden flower and can be cultivated easily. It is an annually growing plant found in several varieties and its flowers have a wide range of colors. The cornflower, also often referred to as the bright blue ‘bachelor's button', is known as Centaurea cyanus in terms of herbal medication.
Cornflower is indigenous to the Mediterranean region and, hence, it has been naturalized all over Great Britain, where it was widespread in grain fields, and the farmers viewed this plant as a weed and referred to it as ‘hurtsickle' owing to its sturdy stem that unsharpened their sickles. In effect, ‘cornflower blue' is the hue of extraordinarily blue eyes. According to folklore, particularly, people who are fortunate enough to have such attractive eyes are likely to take pleasure in the beneficial effects of the plant to their eyesight. A decoction prepared with the dehydrated cornflower has been used traditionally to cure inflammation of the eyes. In traditional medicine, the leaves or the seeds soaked in wine were taken internally to treat pestilential fevers. In addition, the juice extracted from the leaves of cornflower was applied topically to wounds.
As cornflowers keep hold of their vivid color even when dehydrated, they are frequently utilized in arrangements of dry flowers or even in garlands. The juice extracted from the flowers is blended with alum water to prepare a blue ink. However, the color is not everlasting as a dye for cloth.
The Latin name of cornflower denotes a mythical centaur which the ancient Greeks worshipped as the father of medicine.
Flowers, leaves, seeds.
In French herbal medicine, cornflower is still used as a medicine for the eyes. Although the strained infusion is used as eyewash and the petals are applied externally as a poultice, there is a difference in opinion regarding the herb's effectiveness in treating eye problems. In addition, the petals of cornflower are also used internally in the form of a bitter energizer and stimulant, for enhancing digestion and perhaps also to support the liver, in addition to augment resistance to infection. On the other hand, the seeds of this species have been used as a gentle laxative for kids. A decoction prepared with cornflower leaves is used to cure rheumatic disorders.
Studies undertaken to ascertain the therapeutic value of cornflower suggest that the herb might have some impact as an astringent or any substance that results in contraction of tissues and helps to stop bleeding. This action of the herb is owing to the presence of tannin in the plant. However, pharmacologists have found very little proof to validate the effectiveness of cornflower in treating fevers.
Cornflower petals are the main parts of the plant which have been used in traditional herbal medicine. According to the famous herbalist M. Grieve (1858–1941), it is believed that cornflowers possess energizing, stimulant as well as emmenagogue (any medical substance that promotes menstrual discharge) qualities having an action similar to that of blessed thistle. As mentioned before, an infusion prepared with the cornflower petals is used as eyewash and also as a caustic mouthwash.
The gentle antiseptic and astringent properties of cornflower make the herb especially effective against inflammation in the region of the eyes and conjunctivitis. According to tradition, cornflower works best for people with blue eyes, while Plantago major (great plantain) was traditionally used for people with brown eyes. Apart from these, cornflower is frequently added to shampoos or the infusion is used in the form of a hair wash to facilitate in treatment of eczema of the scalp. A douche prepared of a cornflower decoction may also be used to treat Candida or yeast infections.
Cornflower is also taken internally for treating a number of health conditions, especially renal and urinary complaints and diarrhea. To treat these conditions, cornflower is taken in the form of infusion. People enduring anorexia and rheumatism may also find use of cornflower beneficial.
Cornflower is also applied topically to cure various health conditions; especially it has antiseptic and comforting effects and is used in the form of poultices to treat conjunctivitis, inflammations and irritations of the eye lids. Owing to the soothing effect of cornflower, it is also used to treat the facial muscles and get rid of wrinkles. In addition, cornflower is also applied externally to cure ulcerations as well as eczemas.
In popular medicine, an infusion prepared with the petals of cornflower is used to cure the dark rings under the eyes. The active substances enclosed by cornflower actually prevent the formation of the dark rings under the eyes and, simultaneously, soften the skin in the region of the eyes. When applied locally, cornflower also helps to detoxify the body.
The dehydrated flowers of cornflower possess antipruritic (any substance that prevents or lessens itching), antitussive (any substance that suppresses coughing), and faintly diuretic, ophthalmic, astringent, very gentle laxative and tonic properties. An infusion of cornflower may be used to treat dropsy, constipation and also in the form of a mouthwash to heal ulcers and bleeding gums.
When the cornflower petals are mixed with alum water, it yields a blue ink and a dye. Although the dye provides an exquisite color to linen, it is not lasting. In addition, dehydrated petals of cornflower are also used in potpourris with a view to impart color. Extracts obtained from the cornflower plants are also added to hair shampoos and hair rinses.
The cornflower is regarded to be a beneficial weed and the flowers of this plant are edible. The flowers may be used to color salads.
Habitat and cultivation
The cornflower is indigenous to Europe and presently it is extensively cultivated in North America. In effect, this plant has managed to escape from the garden and now even grows in the wild.
In many places, cornflower is cultivated as an ornamental garden plant, especially places where many cultivars have been selected with different colors, counting purple and pink. In Canada, cornflower is also cultivated for the cut flower industry for florists' use. The double blue variety, for instance ‘Blue Boy' or ‘Blue Diadem' are the most ordinary widespread variety for use by florists. Although other varieties, such as lavender, white, pink and black (in reality a deep maroon hue) are also used by florists, they are not so common.
Occasionally, cornflower is also used for culinary decoration. Historically, cornflowers have been made use of and valued for blue pigment. Often, cornflowers also find use as an element in some tea blends and herbal teas and are also famed in the Lady Grey blend of Twinings. In Provence, France, people produce cornflower floral water from the wild or naturally growing cornflower. Cornflower floral water is acquired by means of a process known as steam distillation that may also be used as a natural gentle astringent and antiseptic to avoid eye infections, in addition to an alcohol-free innate toner. A close relative of Centaurea cyanus called Centaurea montana is a perennial plant that is also grown in the form of a garden plant. Cornflowers are easy to cultivate and their seeds germinate soon after sowing.
To grow well, cornflower plants require being cultivated in a location receiving full sunlight and the plants need to be watered somewhat heavily every day. Cornflower has a preference for soil pH ranging between neutral (6.6 and 7.5) and slightly alkaline (7.6 and 7.8). The plants bear flowers during the period between June and August.
The cornflower thrives well in common garden soil, but has a preference for well-drained rich soil and sunny locations. However, it has the aptitude to endure arid and low fertility, alkaline soils. When the cornflower plants are well established, they can even tolerate drought. This species is an extremely ornamental plant and comprises several named varieties. Since cornflowers have the aptitude to hold on to their color even after drying, they are often used in dry flower arrangements. It is a favourite plant for the bees, moths and butterflies. When grown in small numbers, the cornflower is regarded to be an excellent cohort for many cereal crops. However, according to another report, the voracious roots of cornflower rob the cultivated plants of nutrients and the tough stems of cornflower blunt the sharpness of the harvester's sickle. Plants belonging to this genus are seldom, if ever bothered by browsing deer.
Cornflower is generally propagated by its seeds, which are sown in the greenhouse in March. When the seedlings have grown sufficiently large to be handled, they should be pricked individually and planted in separate pots. The young cornflower plants may be planted in their permanent position outdoors in May. Alternately, cornflower seeds may also be sown in situ in April, while in regions where the winters are not too harsh, cornflower will yield larger and earlier flowers if sown in situ in September.