Photo © Steven Foster
Cornflower, also known as bachelor’s buttons, is a tall, slender, annual that grows to 3 feet, and is native to Europe and the Near East.1,2,3 It has gray-green foliage and bright blue blossoms that owe their color to the chemical component, anthocyanin.3,4 Occasionally cornflower will have white, pink, or purple flowers.2
History and Cultural Significance
The genus, Centaurea, is named after Chiron, a legendary centaur known for his knowledge of herbs.2,5 In the past, the bright blue color of cornflowers led people to think that it would be a good remedy for eye problems.3
Cornflower blossoms are used as a coloring agent in herbal teas and externally to soothe irritated eyes.3 The flowers are used fresh in salads and dried in potpourris.2,5 Dried flower heads are also used as a coloring agent for hair shampoos and rinses.3,6 As the dye from the flowers is edible, it is used to color sugar and gelatin.7 The flowers are occasionally used in making beer.7
Traditionally, cornflower blossoms have been used externally to soothe irritated eyes and skin, and internally to improve digestion, regulate menstrual disorders, and to increase resistance to infections.3 Preparations of the leaf were once used to treat rheumatism.3
One in vitro (laboratory) study has shown cornflower to have potential anti-inflammatory properties.8 However, no clinical studies have been published on the usefulness of the plant’s constituents.
Cornflower has become increasingly scarce due to the use of herbicides and fertilizers, converting more land to pasture and agriculture, the lack of crop rotation, and the development of competitive crop varieties.9 It is considered endangered in Great Britain and a plan is being implemented to reintroduce cornflower.9 Limited cultivation of cornflower is also being done by Palestinian farmers in the West Bank.10
Since cornflower is easy to grow, requiring only a well-drained, low fertility soil, sun, and insect pollination, and having little or no pests or diseases,11 it is a potentially good choice for small farmers in under-developed areas. Given that ornamental cultivars of C. cyanus do not have the same chemical constituents or properties as the original species, care must be taken to only plant seed of the natural species for commercial production.
1 Bailey LH, Bailey EZ. Hortus Third: A Concise Dictionary of Plants Cultivated in the United States and Canada. New York: Macmillan Publishing; 1976.
2 Bown D. The Herb Society of America New Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses. London: Dorling Kindersley Ltd.; 1995.
3 van Wyk BE, Wink M. Medicinal Plants of the World. 1st edition. Portland, OR: Timber Press; 2004.
4 Jellin JM, Gregory PJ, Batz F, Hitchens K, et al. Pharmacist’s Letter/Prescriber’s Letter: Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. 5th edition. Stockton, CA: Therapeutic Research Faculty; 2003.
5 Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. Vol I. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.; 1971.
6 Williamson EM. Potter’s Herbal Cyclopaedia. Saffron, Walden: C.W.Daniel Company Ltd.; 2003.
7 Facciola. S. Cornucopia - A Source Book of Edible Plants. Vista, CA: Kampong Publications; 1990.
8 Garbacki N, Gloaguen V, Damas J, Bodart P, Tits M, Angenot L. Anti-inflammatory and immunological effects of Centaurea cyanus flower-heads. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 1999;68:235-241.
9 Species action plan. Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus). Available at: http://www.ukbap.org.uk/UKPlans.aspx?ID=198. Accessed March 18, 2005.
10 PARC: Organic farms achieved big success in Tulkarem. Farming in Palestine: An Agricultural Update. Available at: http://www.eurosur.org/PARC/eng/farming/farming16.html. Accessed March 18, 2005.
11 Centaurea cyanus. Plants for a Future Database. Available at: http://www.ibiblio.org/pfaf/cgi-bin/arr_html?Centaurea+cyanus&CAN=COMIND. Accessed March 18, 2005.