It’s late August, which always reminds me of yellow wheat fields for some reason, especially that by late August, wheat harvest is finished. Probably it is kind of leftover of August=yellow wheat fields for me.
Anyhow, so for resonating this feeling, this post will be about the cornflower (Centaurea segetum Hill. (= Centaurea cyanus L.). I wanted to specify, because chicory is called cornflower in some places. Also as you can see, there are 2 Latin names. The Centaurea cyanus is the synonim of the Centaurea segetum, which is the accepted name. That is somewhat interesting for me, because usually the earlier published names are the accepted ones, but I am sure there is a reason for that, what I am not aware at this moment.
On the Latin name, Centaurea cyanus.
Centaurea refers to a Greek myth about a wise centaur, called Chiron, who was poisoned bye a poisoned arrow and treated his wound with cornflower. As there are no medicinal value to the plant, it is likely to be mis-identified, and it was probably a different blue flower.
About the cyanus, there are a couple of myths, but as the cyanus is the Greek word for ‘dark blue’, it is possible that it was used just as a description for the plant by Linné (not uncommon, many plant has a Latin name where the second part indicates the colour of the flower).
‘segetum’ means ‘of cornfields’, so if I think about it, it is actually much more fitting for that plants, than cyanus, especially that we can see other colour variants these days.
It is native to Europe and it used to grow on the cornfields (= here referring to grains in general, not the actual corn), but in its natural habitat it is endangered. This basically means, that it is not endangered in the classical sense, but it is endangered in a way that you won’t find it anymore in its natural habitat. (Herbicides and the agricultural “we don’t tolerate plants together, we want one single species on acres and acres.) Now it is popular to plant in flower beds in certain areas, hence the generally not endangered status.
This plant is an Archaeophyte to the British Isles, which means that it is not originally native, but it was introduced in the ancient times. (And not a modern introduction like bringing in tropical plants in these days with the flower trade.) In Britain it is present since approximately the Iron Age.
In the florist trade, they select out particula shades, for example pastel coloured versions as well. The flower itself is edible, it can be used to decorate salads or cake decoration for example. Since it is edible, it can also be used to flavour herbal infusions, teas. Historically, the flower have been used for its blue pigment. The delicate hue of the cornflower blue was one of Jan Vermeer of Delft’s favourite.
In the book ‘Traditional Folk Remedies’ by Michael Howard it is mentioned that in traditional folklore cornflower is worn by young men in love. If the flower’s colour fades quickly, it means his love is not returned. (Unfortunately I couldn’t find the book, it would be good to know what culture’s folklore he was talking about. Apparently he was an Anglo-Irish writer, so I would say, we can assume he was talking about folklore of the British Isles or at least Anglo-Saxon and Irish traditions.)
People used to believe that a cornflower picked on a certain day, can stop a noseblood and that a water distilled from Cornflower petals can help the weak eyes. As mentioned earlier, there are no medicinal benefits of the plants, these are just folk stories. I don’t say, back in the time, people were stupid or lied, but since they knew less about natural sciences in general, it is very likely that someone used the flower and the nosebleed stopped and then they suggested it to other people. And nosebleed usually stops after a little while, so it is a possibility that this is how the folk usage started and spread.
The cornflower is the national flower of Estonia since 1968.
Throughout history, cornflower was connected with romance, love. There are many stories associated with.
For example the one below (: Mythical Flower Stories by Marilyn Reid)
Wilhelm, the King of Prussia and first Emperor of United Germany, made the Blue Cornflower “Die Kornblume”, his emblem in memory of a special time for him during the Napoleonic wars. His mother, Queen Louisa of Prussia, was forced out of Berlin and she fled with her children and hid in a cornfield. To help her children to stay still and quiet, she sat with them in the corn weaving garlands out of Blue Cornflowers and Wilhelm never forgot that time.
Later on it went on representing Germany in whole.
In France, the cornflower is called le bleuet. Le bleuet de France is the symbol of the 11 November 1918 armistice and it is a common symbols for veterans (like the remembrance poppy in the United Kingdom).