Cornflower

(Centaurea cyanus) Very scarce in cornfields now, and where it does appear it is more often than not a garden escape. Cyanus is named for the Greek youth Kyanos, who worshipped Flora, and was for ever gathering flowers for her altar. When he died, the goddess gave his name to the flower he was always picking (Skinner). For the Russians, the cornflower perpetuates the memory of a young man changed by a jealous nymph into a plant. The young man's name was Vassili, which is why the Russian name for the plant is basilek (Palaiseul). Another legend comes from Belgium, where it is called Blue Baron. Once, a young baron went about constantly wearing a cornflower. He valued the flower so much that he married a girl of very low degree whom he had seen decorating a statue of the Virgin with these flowers (Sebillot). Sienese painters (Sano di Pietro, for example) used cornflowers on the heads of angels and saints, perhaps to show they were heavenly beings (Haig). But in medieval times, the flower was woven into a garland, and worn on the head while dancing (T Wright). It was used, too, to test a lover's fidelity (He loves me, he loves me not ...) (Dyer).

Blue cornflowers gathered on Corpus Christi Day would stop nosebleeding, if held in the hand long enough, so the belief ran. Does this mean the flowers could be dried and so used on the other 364 days of the year? Hill recommended the leaves, fresh, bruised, to stop the bleeding of a wound (J Hill). Herbalists use it extensively to remedy disorders of the nervous system, for they say it is at the same time curative and calming (Conway). Its use for an eyewash goes back a very long way - Langham, for instance: for "the pain, redness, inflamamtion, and running of the eies". But it seems that cornflowers were best known for treating scorpion stings, Langham, Parkinson and Culpeper all mentioned this use.

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