Centaury was known to the old herbalists as ‘Earth Gall’ because of its bitter taste. The name centaury was said to come from the Greek Centaur Chiron who, when wounded by a poisoned arrow, was cured by using the herb.
Centaury, centaurium umbellatum, is an attractive annual herb with small rosy-pink flowers and sharply pointed green leaves. The sturdy, square stems grow from a rosette of leaves at the base to a height of 10-14 in (25-35 cm). It is found at the edges of dry fields and country lanes and on the slopes of chalky hills. The flowers bloom from July to October, only opening in fine weather and never after midday. Centaury can be easily found growing in the wild and is considered to be a tiresome weed in the garden so it is rarely cultivated — though it can be grown successfully. The whole plant is cut off just above the ground immediately before the flowers bloom in July or August. It is then dried and stored in the usual way.
Centaury is a good tonic herb with a bitter taste. An infusion taken before meals will stimulate the appetite and help the digestion. Other herbs such as mint or angelica can be added to the infusion to counteract the bitterness. It is also a remedy for mild stomach disorders and for heartburn.
* To make centaury infusion: Pour 2 cups of boiling water over a handful of dried leaves. Leave to in fuse for 5 minutes then strain.
Centaury makes a good tonic wine, which is also slightly laxative.
* To make centaury wine: To I bottle of dry white wine add a large handful of fresh centaury and a few juniper berries. Leave to soak for a week, then strain the wine and sweeten it with honey. Take a small glassful before meals.
A decoction of dried centaury is helpful for varicose veins and, applied daily to the scalp, is a remedy for falling hair.
* To make the decoction: Add 3 handfuls of herb to 2 cups of water. Bring slowly to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Leave the mixture until it is cold then strain. Use the decoction in the form of a compress on varicose veins.
A decoction of centaury makes a good cleansing lotion for the skin. Each day the face should be washed in the lotion then left to dry naturally. This will help to clear the skin of spots and blemishes and will fade freckles. The skin will appear smoothed and softened as a result of regular use.
* To make the decoction: Use a handful of the herb to I cup of water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Leave until cold, then strain and pour the lotion into a stoppered jar. Keep the lotion in the refrigerator. Discard any remaining and make a fresh decoction every 3 days.