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Adored by butterflies and bees, cornflowers are known for their dreamy blue blossoms in the summer. Here’s what you need to know about its rich history, cultural significance and symbolic meanings.
About the Cornflower
Also known as bachelor’s button, cornflowers were once frequent weeds in the grain and cornfields of Southern Europe, which is how it got its name. The flower belongs to the Centaurea genus of the Asteraceae family. The C. cyanus is an annual cornflower described by many as miniature carnations, or even as thistles without the thorns.
- The “Blue Boy” is the most popular variety of cornflower, with vivid periwinkle blue blossoms, but there are also purple, pink and white cornflowers. They commonly bloom from midsummer until the first frost and grow around 1 to 3 feet tall.
- On the other hand, the perennial C. Montana has flower buds that resemble tiny pineapples and boasts its lacy petals and a dark colored center. The
- “Gold Bullion” variety has lavender blooms with maroon centers and golden leaves, while its “Black Sprite” is adored for its black star-shaped flowers.
Interesting Fact: It’s thought that cornflowers are best for herb and vegetable gardens because their nectars attracts insects, which boost the growth of squash, tomatoes and other plants. Also, they’re edible and are said to have a cucumber-like or a spicy, clove-like flavor.
Myths and Stories about the Cornflower
The plant’s botanical name Centaurea was inspired by the mythical centaur, a half-man and half-horse creature in Greek mythology. Many associate cornflowers with Chiron, a centaur who was famous for his wisdom and knowledge of medicine. According to the myth, he used cornflowers to heal wounds caused by poisoned arrows, which were dipped in venom or blood of Hydra, the water-snake-like creature.
Apart from mythology, the cornflower played an important role in European history. During the Napoleonic Wars, Queen Louise of Prussia hid in a field of cornflowers, along with her children, to escape from Napoleon’s army. She even wove wreaths from the bloom, which kept her children from crying. Wilhelm, the son of Queen Louise, later became the king of Prussia, as well as the emperor of Germany. To honor his mother, he made the cornflower the national emblem of the country.
Meaning and Symbolism of the Cornflower
Cornflowers have been cultivated for centuries and have gained various meanings along the way. Here are some of them:
- Being Single – Also referred to as bachelor button, cornflowers were once worn by men in love to show that they were single and had a romantic interest to a woman. It was thought that when the bloom faded too fast, it was an omen that the love wouldn’t be returned.
In some contexts, it can also represent celibacy or the state of being unmarried, usually for religious reasons. While the flower meaning pertains to single people, they can also represent blessedness in general.
- Hope in love – Since bachelors wore the bloom in their lapels when they went courting, it became associated with romance and patience. There’s also a belief that someone looking for his or her soulmate should put dried cornflowers in an amulet to attract a lover.
According to an English tradition, young women wore cornflowers to show that they were ready for marriage. If a young woman hid the flower under her apron, it meant that she already had someone in her heart.
- A Symbol of Refinement – Cornflowers are prized for their exotic beauty and deep, vivid color, making them associated with delicacy and elegance. They’re among the few truly blue flowers found in nature, which make them unique and somewhat distinguished.
- In some contexts, they can also represent single wretchedness, which is why they have been called the Hurtsickle and Devil’s Flower.
Cornflowers were also symbols of old traditions in various cultures and time periods. Here are some of them:
- In ancient Egypt, cornflowers symbolized life and fertility since they resemble the blue lotus and because they’re a companion of cereal plants. During the funeral of pharaohs, these blooms served as floral decorations. Egyptians also believed that their pharaohs would become the fertility god Osiris, who was constantly resurrected in the growing corn.
- In 15th-century Greece, cornflowers became associated with fidelity, tenderness and reliability since they appeared in Renaissance paintings, decorating the garments of various figures and goddesses.
- In Germany, these blooms are a symbol of resilience and freedom, due to the popular story of Queen Louise of Prussia.
- In Christian symbolism, cornflower represents Christ and the Queen of Heaven, Mary. During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, it was featured on Christian paintings and frescos, especially on the ceiling of St. Michael’s church in northern Bavaria.
Uses of Cornflower throughout History
Cornflowers have a long tradition in herbal medicine as an anti-inflammatory and have been associated with rituals and ceremonies.
- In Magic and Superstitions
These blooms are believed to bring happiness, attract love and enhance one’s psychic abilities. In meditation, they’re used to decorate altars, as well as hung in closets and on front doors to keep your home safe while you’re away.
- As an Ornamental Flower
During the Amarna period in Egypt, around 1364 to 1347 B.C., cornflowers were cultivated as a garden plant. During the Victorian era, they were packed into corsages, small vases and containers with other popular flowers of the time, including Madonna lilies, irises and calendulas.
- As Grave Decorations
In ancient Egypt, they adorned mummies, tombs and statues. It’s thought that floral garlands and wreaths of cornflowers were placed on the tomb of pharaoh Tutankhamun as offerings and an aid for his reincarnation. Until the Greek–Roman period, they continued to be a popular grave decoration.
- In Medicine
During the 12th-century England, monks made cornflower wines for treating flu, coughs, kidney diseases and vertigo. In fact, all parts of the plant have been utilized as medicine, from natural antibiotics to diuretics, purgatives and astringents.
In France, they’re commonly used as an eye compress for relieving eye strain—and even called casse lunette that means to break one’s glasses. In other regions, they’re used as a poultice for cuts, scrapes, wounds and inflamed rheumatic joints. There are even cornflower teas to boost immune system, reduce fever and relieve pain.
- In Gastronomy
It’s said that the flavor of cornflower petals varies depending on the season and growing conditions, but one should never consume cornflowers from the roadsides and florists. When grown in the garden without the use of pesticides, they’re said to be a great addition to salads, pasta, fritters, custards and other desserts.
In some regions, cornflower pasta salad is popular, especially with tomatoes and avocados. There’s also a butterscotch and cornflower sauce commonly served over ice cream, baked apples and rice puddings! Sometimes, they add a decorative touch to vodka, elaborate drinks and cakes.
- In Fashion and Beauty
It’s thought that cornflowers were used as jewelry in ancient Egypt, particularly on earrings, necklaces and collars. Nowadays, they’re made into lotions and eye creams for relieving strained, tired eyes. There’s also a cornflower water utilized as an astringent and skin toner, as well as flower baths to soothe and soften skin.
- In Arts
The cornflower of ancient Egypt came from Western Asia, along with imported grain seeds. Eventually, they became a popular motif in finely glazed ceramics and earthenware, as well as in wall friezes and floor designs, which can be traced back on the reign of Echnaton during the 1350 B.C.
They have also been featured on famous paintings including The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli, and Vincent van Gogh’s masterpieces Vase with Cornflowers and Poppies and Wheatfield with Cornflowers.
- In Emblems and National Flower
In 1540, the blooms were featured in a tapestry, with the coat of arms of Emperor Charles V of Habsburg. They became the French flower of Remembrance in 1926, called bleuet de France, symbolizing the nation’s solidarity with people who died in war. Nowadays, the cornflower is regarded as the national flower of Germany, as well as the emblems of Estonian political party and Swedish national party.
The Cornflower in Use Today
While these sky-blue flowers are commonly seen in open, sunny fields, you can also have them in your cottage garden and borders. You can bring their allure indoors too with fresh floral arrangements—not to mention the more flowers you pick, the more the plant produces. When dried, cornflowers make striking decorations, especially when placed in teapots or vases.
Since cornflowers are found in a true-blue hue, they’re best for bringing your wedding color palette to life, and can be the something blue of the bride. As bachelor’s buttons, they’re ideally worn as boutonnieres by the groom and his best man. Also, they look pretty and delicate in bouquets and centerpieces. A great thing, they’ll not only spice up your wedding décor, but also add some flair to your desserts, cocktails and cake!
When to Give Cornflowers
Cornflowers are perfect for every occasion including birthdays, anniversaries, congratulations and holidays. A bouquet of blue cornflowers can also be a creative way to surprise someone and make them smile. They can also be great communion flowers, as well as a thoughtful expression of sympathy.
From Greek mythology to Queen Louise of Prussia, cornflowers hold hold an important place in many cultures and traditions. They’re loved by gardeners, painters and royals, and add a burst of color to any garden, home or event.