The name Centaurium derives from the Greek kentaúreion, the mythological creature with the head and torso of a man on the body of a horse. The centaurs were held to be masters of healing. Pliny wrote that the centaur Chiron used this plant to heal an arrow wound in his foot. The Romans called the bitter-tasting plant Herba felis terrae, which means «earth bile plant».
The species name minus derives from the Latin minor for «smaller» or «lesser».
The medicinal use of centaury can be traced back to the Hippocratics (5th and 4th centuries B.C.). Dioscorides recommended it as a purgative, emmenagogue, and eye- and wound-healing agent.
This annual or biennial herb sprouts from the light-colored root and a basal leaf rosette. The upper portion of the four-edged, 20 to 40 cm high stalk is branched. The sparse lanceolate leaf pairs are decussated on the stalk. The small, pink, tubular flowers sit apically in several cymes.
Centaury flowers from July to September.
Centaury grows throughout Europe as far north as the Polar Circle, in North America, North Africa, and western Asia. It prefers moist forest clearings, roadsides, and mountain slopes at elevations up to 1400 m.
To manufacture an alcoholic extract, A.Vogel/Bioforce uses the fresh, flowering above ground portions of the plant grown in organic cultivation. The herb is harvested when the plant flowers, from July to September. Centaury is often prepared as a tea. Even Goethe had to drink this bitter beverage.