Bachelor buttons are popular as garden plants and cut flowers. Originally found growing wild in the grain fields of Europe, Centaurea cyanus now grows wild all across the northern hemisphere.
Their original color is blue (as denoted by its second name, cyanus) but they are now available in dark maroon, red, pink and white. Bachelor buttons are also commonly called “cornflowers” or “bluebottles.”
They grow in all types of soil, but prefer full sun. They are usually grown from seed and are not commonly available as starter transplants. Cornflowers re-seed themselves quite easily. Left to their own devices they will come up in the same general area year after year.
The seed packages recommend that you direct seed them about two weeks before your average last spring frost. In my garden, the seeds dropped the previous year begin to come up at least a month before our average last spring frost.
In any case, plant the seeds about 1/4 inch deep and keep moist until germination occurs, in about 7 to 14 days. Thin to stand 8 to 12 inches apart when they are about 3 inches high.
Their blossoms are edible and taste clove-like with a little sweet and spicy thrown in. Their bright blue color makes them ideal as decorations for summer cakes. Toss them into cold summer soups and salads.
Made into a decoction, cornflower blossoms are effective in treating eye infections, such as conjunctivitis. A decoction is also used as a wash to revive tired eyes. In herbal medicine, cornflowers are well-known for their healing properties.
Cornflowers are also used as an ingredient in tea, including the popular Lady Grey blend. Their blue flowers were used as a food coloring and pigment for water color paints. Several nations and causes have adopted it as a symbol of their collective pride.
At a time when flowers were used as symbols, available men would wear them as a boutonniere. This is most likely the origination of their most popular common name. “bachelor buttons.”