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Of all the bitter appetising herbs which grow in our fields and hedgerows, and which serve as excellent simple tonics, the Centaury, particularly its white flowered variety, belonging to the Gentian order of plants, is the most efficacious. Centaury shares in an abundant measure the restorative antiseptic virtues of the Field Gentian and the Buckbean
There are four wild varieties of the Centaury, square stemmed, and each bearing flat tufts of flowers which are more or less rose coloured. The ancients named this bitter plant the Gall of the Earth, and it is now known as Christ's Ladder, or Felwort.
Though growing commonly in dry pastures, in woods, and on chalky cliffs, yet the Centaury cannot be reared in a garden.
Of old its tribe was called "Chironia," after Chiron, the Greek Centaur, well skilled in herbal physic; and most probably the name of our English plant was thus originated. But the Germans call the Centaury Tausendgulden kraut—"the herb of a thousand florins,"—either because of its medicinal value, or as a corruption of Centum aureum, "a hundred golden sovereigns."
Centaury has become popularly reduced in Worcestershire to Centre of the Sun. Its generic adjective "erythroea" signifies red. The flowers open only in fine weather, and not after twelve o'clock (noon) in the day. Chemically the herb contains erythrocentaurin—a bitter principle of compound character,—together with the usual herbal constituents, but with scarcely any tannin.
The tops of the Centaury, especially of that flore albo—with the light coloured petals—are given in infusion, or in powder, or when made into an extract. For languid digestion, with heartburn after food, and a want of appetite, the infusion prepared with cold water, an ounce of the herb to a pint is best; but for muscular rheumatism the infusion should be made with boiling water. A wineglass of either will be the proper dose, two or three times a day.