Centaury – characteristics, cultivation and use

Centaury flower
Centaury flower

The centaury is considered one of the best medicinal herbs for stomach and intestinal complaints. The small plant contains bitter substances and other herbal ingredients that can do much for our organism. Its digestive effect and the associated strengthening is so distinct that the centaury is one of the most highly valued medicinal plants. This is already clear from his name. The centaury has been a very important medicinal herb since ancient times, but it has become rare.

The centaury is under protection and must therefore not be collected in the wild.

Profile of centaury:

Scientific name: Centaurium erythraea

Plant family: gentian family (Gentianaceae)

Other names: common centaury, European centaury

Sowing time / Planting time: April – May

Flowering period: July – October

Harvest time: August – October

Location: sunny and sheltered from the wind

Soil quality: loamy, calcareous and nutrient-rich soils

These information are for temperate climate!

Use as a medicinal herb: loss of appetite, diarrhea, hepatitis, gallbladder problems, anorexia

Use as aromatic herb: cabbage, strong soups

Plant characteristics and classification of centaury

Origin and occurrence of centaury

The plant probably comes from southern Europe and has spread from there to the rest of Europe and North Africa. Only in the northern European regions of Scandinavia, the plant is not found. In the wild you will find the centaury usually on the edge and on forest clearings, on wet to semi-arid meadows and occasionally on roadsides.

Since the centaury is listed on red list of endangered plants, the plant is protected, which prohibits the collection of the plant and plant parts as well.

Plant order of centaury

The centaury is a member of the gentian family (Gentianaceae). The botanical name of the herb is Centaurium erythraea. Older posts sometimes contain the older name Centaurium umbellatum or Centaurium minus. The genus of centaurium (Centaurium) today includes about 30 species, which are predominantly found in the Mediterranean region.

Look and characteristics of centaury


Centaury is a usually annual, rarely biennial herbaceous plants that can reach heights of growth up to 40 cm (16 in). The brownish to reddish brown roots of the herb are flat and branched in width.


The stems of the plant are hairless, square and with a thickness of 2 mm (0.08 in) relatively thin. The lower leaves form a basal rosette and look ovate. The upper leaves are elongated to lanceolate and can be up to 4 cm (1.5 in) long and 2 cm (0.8 in) wide, depending on the location of growth.


The flowering time of the plant is between mid-July and early October. The small flowers form a cyme and are pink colored. Each flower, which usually has a diameter between 1 and 1.5 cm (4.0 and 0.6 in), counts five sepals with five petals each. The flowers are almost closed in the dark and open in the sunshine.


At the time of fruit ripening, small capsule fruits, containing numerous seeds, are formed.

Centaury plants
Centaury plants

Centaury – cultivation and care


Basically, centaury is a relatively undemanding herb. It grows best in sunny locations, which are a bit sheltered from the wind. Partly shady places are sometimes also tolerated. A loamy, slightly calcareous and nutritious soil is optimal. The soil should not dry so quickly. The plant always prefers a slight humidity, but waterlogging must be avoided.


If you want to sow the plant in the field, this should be done between mid-April and late May. It is important that no more night frosts are to be expected. The centaury needs light to germ. The seeds should therefore be pressed only slightly into the ground. Optimal is a planting distance between 20 and 25 cm (8 and 10 in). If the germination temperature is between 18 and 20 ° C, the seedlings usually appear after about 14 to 21 days. It is also possible to grow the seeds in preculture. If the herb is to be cultivated in a pot or bucket, use a not too loose herb soil or mix it with some clay flour (bentonite).


If the centaury grows in the field, the plant should not be fertilized in the first year. If the plant is grown on slightly sandy or leached soil, some compost should be incorporated into the soil. Growing the second year (some plants can be biennial), a rich nitrogen organic long-term fertilizer (for example, dung pellets) usually is enough. If the plant grow as a pot and bucket culture, a rich fertilizer should be administered about 4 weeks before flowering.


Centaury likes slightly humid locations, so the soil should never completely dry out. On hot days, it may sometimes be necessary to water twice.


If the centaury is used for healing purposes, it is recommended to collect the above-ground parts of the plant during flowering. It is sufficient to dry the plant parts in a shady but dry place. Remember, the centaury is listed on the red list and is strictly protected. Because of this, only harvest the plants in your garden.


If the centaury is biennial, no special wintering is required. The herb is winter-proof and is considered very frost-tolerant.

Use of centaury

Centaury in the kitchen

In the kitchen, the centaury is used for high-fat foods. Also in salads, soups, cabbage dishes or dressings, the herb can be an interesting variety. It has a very spicy and bitter taste.

Whether you use dried or fresh herbs, the strong and bitter notes are also contained in the dried herb. However, it should be used rather sparingly, because the bitter taste becomes very dominant.

Centaury blends very well with aromatic Mediterranean herbs such as thyme or sage. Due to the containing bitter substances, the herb is very digestive.

Centaury as a medicinal herb

In old herbal books centaury was used for both internal and external complaints. It was recommended for constipation and gall bladder problems. However, it was also used for epilepsy, febrile convulsions and for liver and spleen complaints. Externally, it was used as a weevil as well as against ulcers.

The main field of application of the centaury is the indigestion, especially that of the stomach. Gastric pain and chronic gastritis are predestined for the treatment with centaury. Thanks to its bitter substances, it strengthens the digestion very effectively.

Although centaury promotes appetite for weak, appetiteless people, it also helps overweight people loosing weight. Together with wormwood, centaury as a tea can strengthen the pancreas, as well as it can help with mild forms of diabetes.

Centaury can be used for these ailments and diseases

  • abscesses
  • anemia
  • badly healing wounds
  • belching
  • bile stasis
  • bile weakness
  • bloating
  • chronic gastritis
  • colic
  • constipation
  • convalescence
  • diabetes
  • digestive disorders
  • eczema
  • exhaustion
  • fatigue
  • fever
  • flatulency
  • gall stones
  • gastritis
  • gout
  • heartburn
  • immune deficiency
  • indigestion
  • intestinal catarrh
  • jaundice
  • liver congestion
  • loss of appetite
  • malaria
  • neurasthenia
  • overweight
  • poor circulation of the blood
  • menstrual cramps
  • promotion of gastric juice
  • rheumatism
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • ringworm
  • scrofula
  • spring makeover
  • stomach inflammation
  • strengthening the immune system
  • strengthening uterus
  • swelling of the spleen
  • weakness
  • wounds

Medicinal properties

  • anti-inflammatory
  • blood purifier
  • calmative / soothing
  • stimulating
  • strengthening
  • toning

Preparation of centaury tea

The tea is prepared as a cold extract

  • put 1/2 to 1 teaspoon centaury to 1 cup of water for six to eight hours
  • then remove the tea and warm it gently to serving temperature
  • drink daily two cups in small sips before meals
  • centaury is very well suited in mixed teas with such as anise, chamomile, yarrow, sage, wormwood or oregano

Depending on what the tea should be used for, the temporal intake of the tea may vary. In case of anorexia, mild stomach cramps or chronic irritable stomach, the tea should be taken before meals. In case of feeling of fullness or constipation, a tea can be recommended after meals. Basically, no more than three cups a day should be drunk.

Side effects

Side effects are not expected and not known. During pregnancy, during lactation and in case of uncertain health conditions, a doctor or specialist should be consulted. Centaury should not be used for stomach ulcers and duodenal ulcers.


Ask your doctor or pharmacist. Visiting this page can not replace the visit to the doctor. For serious or unclear complaints, consult your doctor.

Buy Centaury – What to pay attention to?

In many herb shops as well as in online shops and on marketplaces you can find dried herbs from controlled cultivation. Please make sure that the respective product also has a declaration. Since the centaury is strictly protected, it would not be a good thing to involuntarily helping unfair traders.

Gardeners who want to plant the herb can purchase seeds in smaller specialty shops or online. Fresh plants can rarely be purchased from gardening shops or online.


    • The Centaurium erythraea, also known as European centaury, is not a native plant to the USA. If it grows there, it is escaped from someone’s garden. So, I would say it is not protected in the USA.

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