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Blue Jewels

The hue of this week’s chosen plant is so recognizable that an actual colour has been named after the plant. Cornflower blue is a stunning shade of medium to light blue and was one of the favourite colours of the Dutch painter Vermeer. The flower that inspired the name Cornflower blue is the Centaurea, a fascinating plant with many uses and stories.

Cornflowers is a common wildflower that is originally native to the Near East but has naturalized in many European, scandinavian and North American regions. The common cornflower, Centaurea cyanus, is an annual plant which can be grown as an ornamental plant in gardens. It is widely used in florist bouquets and is grown in many colours in pastel shades such as pink, white and lavender but also in striking shades such as black.

Cornflowers have been used for centuries to create a deep blue dye and you can even make a homemade food dye out of them as they are edible. The taste of the pretty common cornflower is a very delicate sweet spicy mix that goes well in salads for both taste and visual appeal.

The Centaurea cynus is also used as an addition to some tea blends such as fine Earl grey teas and the petals can be picked and added to salads, the colour creating a tasty visual feast. As a herbal remedy the cornflower is used by herbalists to treat eye ailments.

Cornflowers have many historical references, one of which tells of the story of   Queen Louise of Prussia and her children fleeing from Napoleon’s forces. It is said that she hid her children in a field of cornflowers and kept them quiet by making flower wreaths form the cornflower. The colour was closely associated with Prussia, whose military uniform was dyed in a colour now called Prussian blue.

Cornflowers also appear in many other points in history-for example they were used together with other plant leaves and berries to make an incredibly ornate natural burial wreath for Pharaoh Tutankhamun. These are beauiful to look at and incredibly well preserved.

In later folklore this flower was worn by young men who were in love and it was said that if the flower faded then the man’s love was not returned and in Victorian England they got the name ‘Bachelor’s Buttons’ as young women wore them to signify that they were single. They were also reportedly the favourite flower of John F Kennedy.

The incredible striking blue variety of this fascinating flower I have chosen at is called Centaurea montana. It is a relative of the common cornflower but is evergreen and has even more striking petals. I grow this plant in my own garden and the first time I saw it I fell in love. The thin, well spaced petals of striking colour seem to hover around the plant in a delicate wings, allowing light to come through the petals. It is a fascinating plant to study. When focusing in on the deep blue hue of the petals and the purple-pink centre of the plant I see why it is no wonder that the jewel like colour of this plant ‘Cornflower blue’  is also used to describe the medium-dark violet-blue tone of the most valuable sapphire gemstones.

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