Centaurium erythraea

Eritrean centaur

Centaurium erythraea


Annual or biennial herbaceous plant, glabrous and with a tap root 10 – 50 (60) cm high.
Stem erect, glabrous, tetragonal, crossed by ± 6 sub-winged nerves; generally solitary and branched in the apical part with appreciated branches (rarely from the base or from the middle).
Basal leaves of light green colour, forming a persistent rosette with short petiole and oblanceolate or elliptical shape with 3 – 7 evident and ± parallel veins (1 – 1.5 x 3 – 5 cm), entire margin, at anthesis they are deciduous ; the opposite caulines, sessile, oval-elongated in shape and much smaller.
Flattened terminal corymb inflorescence with bifore and leafy cymes.
Flowers pentamerous (rarely tetramerous), subsessile of a color that can vary from pale or intense pink (rarely white), funnel-shaped with a corolla tube exceeding the calyx.
Calyx with lesiniform laciniae with 5 prominent corners, ± 1/2 or 3/4 long the tube at anthesis (4 – 5 mm).
Corolla with oval petals with pointed apex, 5 – 6 mm long and shorter than the tube.
Stamens 5 with yellow, fragile anthers, which fold when the pollen is released and at the beginning of fruiting take a spiral shape.
Style 1 with 2 deciduous stigmas.
The fruit is a sub-cylinder capsule of 2 x 10 mm, exceeding the calyx and with 2 compartments.
Small, brown seeds with characteristic netted relief.

Organic form

H bienn - Biennial hemicryptophytes. Biennial cycle plants with buds placed at ground level.
H scap - Hemicryptophytes scapose. Perennial plants with buds placed at ground level and with an elongated floral axis, often without leaves.
T scap - Scapose therophytes. Annual plants with elongated floral axis, often without leaves.

Flowering period

July September


The name of the genus comes from the Latin "Centaurium", trans. from the Greek "κενταύριον", variant of κενταύρειον = "centaurea because a plant of this genus was credited with having healed the centaur Chiron, son of Cronus and Philyra and an expert healer. He was Asclepius' teacher and introduced him to body care with herbs Thus he treated Chiron's foot wound inflicted by Hercules. According to legend, due to these qualities, upon his death he was transformed by Jupiter into a constellation, that of the sage. The epithet of the species derives from the Greek "erytros" = "red" " with an allusion to the color of its flowers.

Environment and Distribution

Thermophilic plant that frequently grows in the clearings of woods, clearings, dry meadows, path edges and also in sandy soils from 0 to 1500 m above sea level.

Global Distribution

Paleotemp. - Eurasian in the broad sense, which also reappears in North Africa.

Distribution Map

Properties and Uses

Officinal species

In ancient times the plant was called "fel terrae" = "gall of the earth" due to its very bitter taste. This characteristic is taken for the presence of substances such as: bitter glycosides, gentiopicrin, erytaurine, phenolic acids, triptenes, flavonoids, fatty acids, resins (± the same principles present in Gentians).
The leaves and flowering tops of the plant are used, dried in the shade, in a dry and ventilated place.
For a long time it was used as a substitute for quinine; in the form of decoction or infusion or mother tincture, in folk medicine and herbal medicine it is used as a carminative, choleretic, purifying, stomachic, tonic, vermifuge. The crushed green leaves are used to disinfect wounds, as a healing agent and also as an after-shampoo for hair care.

Overdose causes irritation of the digestive tract with vomiting and diarrhea.

Notes and Curiosities

Centaurium flowers open in the morning if the weather is good and close at midday. Even a small passing cloud can make them close.
During the Middle Ages it was widely cultivated for its therapeutic virtues, especially by the Gaulish people.
Today it is also used for the preparation of the liqueur called "vermuth" with "eupeptic" effects on gastric secretion.
Attention: Pharmaceutical applications and food uses are indicated for informational purposes only, we therefore decline any responsibility for their use for healing, aesthetic or food purposes.

Main Sources: infoflora And actaplantarum