Sunday, December 7, 2014

Common Centaury

The common centaury is a flowering plant in the gentian family. It is also known as the European centaury. It is a biannual plant that is it can live for two years. It is found through most of Europe and can also be found in parts of western Asia and North Africa. Like many other plants it is now found in areas well outside its range such as in North America and eastern Australia.

In Malta it is frequent in late spring and in summer. Its pink flowers are easily seen especially since it flowers when most of the annual plants have dried up. In Maltese it is known as ċentawrija kbira.

The common centaury is an important plant because of its medicinal properties. It is a strong antioxidant and in many parts of Europe it is made into a tea and drunk by those having gastric and liver diseases. In fact another common English is feverwort.

The flowers can also be used to make a yellow-green dye.

The gentian family, to which centauries belong consists of about 1,600 species ranging from trees shrubs and herbs and having a wide range of colours, shapes and sizes. Many species have medicinal properties or are cultivated as garden plants.

Four members of the Gential family can be found in the Maltese countryside. The lesser centaury (ċentawrija żgħira) and the slender centaury (ċentawrija tal-virga) have similar pink flowers while the yellow-wort (ċentawrija safra) has yellow flowers.

The family is named for the Illyrian king Gentius. Gentius ruled the Ardiaean State, which was located in present day Albania, between 181 and 168 BC. The plant family was given his name because it was believed that he discovered that some species in the Gentian family had medicinal properties and could be used as a tonic.

This article was published in The Times of Malta on 3 July 2014. 

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