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Centaury – Medicinal Benefits and Uses


Latin Name: Centaurium erythraea

Synonymn: Centaurium minus auct., C. minus auct. subsp. minus, C. umbellatum Gilib., Common Centaury, Erythraea centaurium (L.) Pers. subsp. centaurium

Other Names: Feverwort, Centaury Gentian, Filwort, Centory, Christ’s Ladder, Bitter Herb, Bitterbloom, Bitter Clover, Eyebright, Rose Pink, Wild Succory, Canchalagua

Habitat: The plant is found in the Mediterranean region and as far as Britain and Scandinavia. It is cultivated in the U.S.

Description of Centaury

Characteristics: Centaury has a very bitter taste.

Flower and Fruit: The different-sized flowers form a dense or loose cyme. They are purple to pink-red, seldom white. The calyx tube is pentangular with awl-shaped tips. There are 5 petals fused into a tube, 5 stamens mostly fused to the corolla and 1 superior, narrowly linear ovary. The stigma is 2-lobed. The fruit is a large, yellow, many-seeded capsule.

Leaves, Stem and Root: The plant is an annual that grows to between 5 and 30 cm high. The stem is erect, quadrangular and unbranched. The cauline leaves are crossed opposite, fleshy, oblong-ovate to lanceolate, and sessile. The basal leaves are rosette-like, obovate and narrowed to a petiole.


The following is compiled from several sources:

Acids: Phenolic – Protocatechuic, m- and p-hydroxybenzoic, vanillic, syringic, p-coumaric, ferulic, sinapic and caffeic, hydro-xyterephthalic and 2,5-dihydroxyterephthalic acids among others.

Alkaloids: Pyridine-type – Traces of gentianine, gentianidine, gentioflavine and others.

Monoterpenoids: Iridoids (bitters) – Gentiopicroside (about 2%) as major, others include centapicrin, gentioflavoside, sweroside and swertiamarin; intensely bitter m-hydroxybenzoylesters of sweroside and catapicrin.

Triterpenoids: Includes a- and b-amyrin, erythrodiol, crataegolic acid, oleanolic acid and sitosterol. Xanthones Highly methylated xanthones, including eustomin and 8-demethyleustomin.

Other constituents: Flavonoids, fatty acids, alkanes and waxes.


Tonic-hepatic, mild sedative, febrifuge, astringent (topical), bitter tonic, analgesic (mild), anti-inflammatory, antipyretic.

Medicinal Parts

The medicinal parts are the dried, aerial parts of the flowering plant.

Food Use

Centaury is listed by the Council of Europe as a natural source of food flavouring (category N2). This category indicates that centaury can be added to foodstuffs in small quantities, with a possible limitation of an active principle (as yet unspecified) in the final product. Previously, the bitter properties of centaury were utilised in alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages with maximum permitted doses between 0.0002% and 0.0008%.

Herbal Use

Centaury is reputed to act as a bitter, aromatic and stomachic. Traditionally, it has been used for anorexia and dyspepsia, weak or ‘sour’ stomach, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, indigestion, liver disorders (mild), hypertension, kidney stone, skin blemishes, freckles (lotion), wound healing, tapeworm.

Common Centaury (Centaurium erythraea)

Preparation and dosage

Preparations: Thrice daily.
Tea: Half teaspoon to each cup boiling water; infuse 15 minutes. Half-1 cup.
Liquid extract BHP (1983): 1:1 in 25 per cent alcohol. Dose: 2-4ml.
Tincture: 1 part Centuary herb to 20 parts Vodka; macerate 8 days. Dose: 1 wineglassful for liver and gallbladder. (Russian traditional)

Tapeworm: tea taken daily 2-3 months.

Combination: Equal parts, Centuary, Chamomile and Meadowsweet (tea). 1 heaped teaspoon to each cup boiling water: 1 cup thrice daily.

Side-effects, Toxicity

There is a lack of clinical safety and toxicity data for centaury. An alcoholic extract of centaury (200 mL/plate) was antimutagenic in Salmonella typhimurium strains TA8 and TA100.

Contra-indications, Warnings

Centaury is contra-indicated for individuals with peptic ulcers.

Drug interactions

None documented. However, the potential for preparations of centaury to interact with other medicines administered concurrently, particularly those with similar or opposing effects, should be considered.

Pregnancy and lactation

The safety of centaury taken during pregnancy has not been established. In view of the lack of toxicity data, use of centaury during pregnancy and lactation should be avoided.


Herbal Medicines, Third Ed. by Joanne Barnes BPharm, PhD, MRPharmS, RegPharmNZ, MPSNZ, FLS
Bartram’s Enclopedia of Herbal Medicine by Thomas Bartram

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