Cornflowers once grew as weeds in the grain fields of the UK. Their wiry stems were hard on the farmers’ scythes, earning it the name hurtsickle. Use of herbicides has turned this flower into an endangered species.
Fortunately, the bright blue blossom was naturalized for the flower garden market, and for the floral industry, and is very popular in the US. More commonly called bachelor button, the cornflower comes in pink, white, and maroon as well as blue, and grows on tall branched stems with grayish green leaves.
The cornflower is the symbol of political parties in Estonia, Sweden, and Finland. It is one of the national flowers of Germany, and in France serves somewhat the same purpose as poppies worn by veterans in the U.S. and Canada.
Blossoms are sometimes used as garnishes for salads. Their flavor is said to be slightly like that of cloves. In the past, blue cornflowers were ground to make a dye for pastries, and were used to make ink.
Medicinal uses of cornflowers in folk medicine are many. The flowers are said to be useful in treating ulcers, wounds and infections in humans and livestock. The dried flowers are often seen in potpourri mixtures, where they add a lovely blue color. Extracts of cornflower are added to shampoos and rinses. The flowers are added to various tea blends and herbal teas.
Cornflowers are easy to raise, either started indoors or by sowing directly outdoors. The seeds should be planted a half inch deep, and kept moist until they sprout. It is desirable to plant them in a crowded fashion, which improves their performance. Germination rate is good, so they don’t need to be sown thickly.
The term bachelor’s-button may be derived from the practice of young men wearing cornflowers in their lapels when they went courting. If the object of their affection was untrue, or did not return their feelings, the flower was said to fade. Single women wore cornflowers to signal their availability. In the Victorian language of flowers, cornflowers can symbolize single blessedness, hope in love, or delicacy.
The Latin name for cornflower, Centaura cyanus, references two Greek myths. The half man, half horse centaur named Chiron was noted for teaching humans about the curative properties of herbs. He used a cornflower to heal his own wound. Cyanus represents a young man who always wore blue, and was devoted to the goddess Flora. He was in poor health because he didn’t take care of himself, preferring to weave garlands in honor of Flora. She loved him in return, and when he died in a cornfield, she turned him into a blue flower.
Unlike other so-called blue flowers that are actually blue-purple, the cornflower is a light shade of azure. It is truly blue, easy to grow, and striking in appearance. No wonder it is one of the most popular choices of the home gardener.