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What is Knautia?

By N. Phipps
Updated May 16, 2024
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Discovered and named after German doctor and botanist Christopher Knaut, the Knautia genus is a group of clump-forming plants. Also known as window flower or Scabiosa, these short-lived perennials are native to Europe and Asia. They are usually found growing along roadsides and in meadows. This diverse group includes various species, all sharing the same domed blooms that resemble pincushions. Flowers may be found in a variety of colors including white, pink, burgundy, purple, and red.

In the garden, Knautia varieties can make quite a statement. Their unusual appearance adds instant charm and interest. They make useful additions to cottage and cut-flower gardens, both for their attractive blooms and medicinal properties. They can also be massed together in borders, meadows, or naturalized areas of the landscape. Blooming often takes place in spring and continues throughout fall if deadheaded regularly.

Scabious plants prefer conditions similar to those in their native environments. They like full sun to partial shade. Knautia plants also like well-draining soil, though they’re not too particular about if it is dry or moist. These plants will tolerate heat, drought, and humid conditions remarkably well too.

Planting or sowing of seeds normally takes place in spring. Any division should be performed during this time as well. Once established, the general care of scabious plants is pretty simple. Deep watering on occasion may be necessary in overly dry situations. In addition, trimming Knautia plants back at the end of winter will help rejuvenate older plants. In some areas, the plants may self-seed as well, making the removal of spent blooms necessary, especially if they become a nuisance.

Although not practiced as much today, many Knautia species, such as K. arvensis or Field Scabious, have a notable history of medicinal use. In fact, since medieval times, the plants have been highly valued for its astringent and diuretic properties. The word scab from scabious seems to be linked to its use in treating skin disorders, such as eczema.

Both the fresh and dried leaves and flowers have been made into ointment and used externally for treating cuts, burns, and bruises as well. A decoction of the root juice was also used as a cure for sores. Taken internally, Knautia species were used as a blood purifier. In addition, these remedies were thought to help with fevers and coughs. Some herbalists have also used the remedy for purifying one’s thoughts and bringing about peace and tranquility.

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