Centaurea is a spontaneous herbaceous plant belonging to the Asteraceae or Compositae family, generally biennial, but which can also be annual or, in some cases, perennial. In addition to the wild state, it can be cultivated as a medicinal plant and as an ornamental plant.
It can be easily found in the forests of Europe and northern Africa, but it is not possible to say exactly if its origins are European because it is also widespread in North America and Asia.
It is classified as a sub-species of the Tracheobiontae (vascular plants), as a super-division is a Spermatophyta (conesemi plants), by division is a Magnoliophyta or Angiospermae (plants with flowers), class Magnolipsida (dicotyledons).
Being a polymorphous plant, it is difficult to describe, however, about 500 species are known: among the most popular names are Centaurea minor, Piccola Centaurea, Erba china or Chinina, Centaur major, Grass of fever, Bows of the earth.
The Centaurea can be high up to 50 cm., It is characterized by alternate leaves that are usually bright green, even if in some species they have a silver-gray color and sometimes they are covered by a white down.
The tubular flowers, which bloom on very long stems, are arranged radially and surrounded by bracts on several rows, sometimes thorny. The particularity of the flowers is that the internal ones are fertile, while the peripheral ones are sterile. The coloring can be pink, white, blue or purple, depending on the Centaurea species. The fruits are always achenes and hardened.
The name "Centaurea" seems to derive from the Greek and is inspired by Chiron, a centaur master of Asclepius, Hercules and Jason, famous in Greek mythology for his wisdom and for his great virtues in the field of medicine.
The legend tells that one day Ercole hit him by mistake with an arrow, particularly dangerous because he was poisoned with the blood of the hydra of Lerna, and thanks to this plant Chiron was able to heal.
To cultivate the Centaura it is first necessary to place it in a position that is as much as possible in the sun. It can be grown directly in the ground, in the garden, or in pots to be displayed on the balcony, but it is important that it is sheltered from the wind. Furthermore, a common soil can be used, as long as there is a part of sand to drain it.
The Centaura lives well in the heat, but it also bears cold temperatures.
As far as irrigation is concerned, it should be wetted regularly so that the soil never remains too dry, especially in pot the soil must be constantly moist, but without water stagnation that could cause the birth of fungi.
The Centaura does not need fertilizers or special care, it can be sown without particular problems and it grows very easily, it is enough only watering and elimination of dried leaves and dried flowers when they occur.
Composition and property
Inside the Centaura there are several components, among which the most important are the bitter secoiridoid glycosides, phytosterols, flavonoids, triterpenes, sterols, phenolic acids, fatty acids, oleanolic acid, a small amount of alpha -amarin and beta-amarine, in addition to actidine and pyridine alcaolides.
The Centaurea minor was used by the Gauls as an antidote against poisons and as a remedy for jaundice.
Today it is used today in the form of an infusion, decoction, herbal tea or liqueur, with a very intense bitter taste, and many properties are recognized, among which one of the main ones is to stimulate the appetite and promote digestion, therefore it is mainly used as bitter digestive and tonic, to help the digestive function.
In fact, like all bitters, it increases the amount of gastric juice and influences chloropeptic secretion, therefore it has the ability to help the digestive functions of the substances that are ingested by our body.
Because of its capacity as an appetite stimulant, it is particularly indicated in cases of anorexia and gastric atony, for liver pathologies and for the gallbladder.
Also possessing depurative properties, it can be useful for hyperuricemia and jaundice problems.
The ideal would be to drink the Centaura herbal tea half an hour before meals and slowly sip it to allow the best stimulation of the stomach, which cannot occur if given in powder or tablets because the oral mucosa would block part of its effectiveness.
Furthermore, it has been found that the Centaura has antibacterial and febrifugal properties, so it can be used against the flu, and even appears to be useful in the case of sciatica and gout due to its slight purgative action.
The infusion of Centaura may also have an external use, in fact in folk medicine it was even used to eliminate freckles and skin spots, and an anti-curulant property was found, effective against lice and other parasites.
The part of the plant that is used in phytotherapy is the flower, but sometimes the herbaceous parts are used for the composition some herbal teas together with the gentian and absinthe.
It is advisable not to take infusions or infusions of Centaura in the case of peptic ulcer, gastroduodenal, gastritis and for those suffering in general of irritation to the digestive tract.
It is also contraindicated in all those cases where there is an ascertained hypersensitivity to its components and caution is advised against the intake during pregnancy.
In cases of intolerance or if taken in excessive doses, Centaura can cause side effects such as nausea, gastric pain and vomiting.