Cornflower health benefits: for tickly coughs and eye infections

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Corn fields used to be full of cornflowers

Corn fields used to be full of cornflowers

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The cornflower, Centaurea cyanus, used to be a common sight in cornfields (as were¬†poppies) before modern agricultural methods virtually eliminated it. The flowers are pretty, and they are often grown as ornamentals, particularly in the double form. Perhaps because of its popularity, the cornflower has many other names including common cornflower (to distinguish it from other cornflowers, and also from chicory which is sometimes called cornflower), bachelor’s button (a name which it shares with the mountain cornflower), bluebonnet, bluebottle, blue centaury, cyani, boutonniere flower and hurtsickle. A member of the knapweed genus, it is closely related to the mountain cornflower, but not to chicory or the centaury.

Cornflowers are less often seen growing wild nowadays, despite the fact that they will grow in any kind of soil, even very alkaline soils, and can survive drought. The wild cornflower can reach a height of 3 feet (1m), though many ornamental cultivars are bred to be much shorter.

Cornflowers are hardy annuals and very attractive to wildlife. Other members of this genus are food plants for various types of butterfly and moth. As may be expected from their original cornfield habitat, cornflowers prefer cultivated soil and full sun, making them ideal candidates for a well-tended garden.

Cornflowers were once used for many other purposes besides medicine. The flowers are edible and can be used raw in salads or cooked. They were also used as food coloring, mainly for confectionery. The petals can also be used to make ink or a blue dye, mixed with alum water, and dried flowers are often added to pot pourri to add color.

Cornflower is not suitable as a herbal remedy during pregnancy.

The flowers are the part used in medicine. Make a standard infusion by pouring 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water over 1 ounce (30g) of dried flowers or 3 handfuls of fresh. Allow to stand for between 15 minutes and 4 hours, then strain. This infusion can be used as a remedy for tickly coughs and a weak diuretic. It can also be used as a treatment for mild constipation. Externally, it can be used as an astringent, to treat minor wounds,  eye infections and mouth ulcers and to soothe itchy skin.

As with all plants grown for use in herbal remedies, cornflower must be grown organically to avoid its active ingredients being altered or eliminated by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.

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