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Herbal Monograph

Herb:  Gentian  (Gentiana lutea; Gentianaceae) ~ GENTIAN and/or GENTIANA

Other Names: yellow gentian, bitter root, bitterwort, gentian root, pale gentian (2); 

G. lutea is used in the West, while the Chinese use either the large-leaved gentian, 

G. macrophylla, a.k.a. qin jiao, or G. scabra, a.k.a. long dan cao.   (15)

Character/Energetics:  mild sweet odor;  sweet metallic taste at first, then bitter  (2)   bitter, cold   (6); cooling   (15)          

Meridians/Organs/Body Parts affected:  liver, gall bladder (6)

Parts used:  dried root, fresh aerial parts   (2);   root (6)  

Identification & Harvesting:  Yellow flowers;  capsule-shaped, 6 cm fruit.  Perennial.  Up to 140 cm high.  Multiple-headed rhizome up to 3 in. diameter.  Main root taps to 1 meter.  Bluish green leaves up to 30 cm long and 15 cm wide.  Thrives best in temperate mountainous regions.  Gather roots from spring through autumn;  dry quickly (longer drying times permit fermentation).  Don’t confuse with root of Rumex alpinus or Gentiana asclepiadea.   (2)

Grows to 3-4 feet;  large, lush yellow flowers that begin to appear when root is 10 years old.   (13)

Hollow stems  (38);

Grows abundantly in France and Spain.  Root is cylindrical, brown, 1 foot or more in length, or broken up into shorter pieces, usually 1/2-1 inch thick, the upper portion marked with numerous rings, the lower longitudinally wrinkled, tough and flexible, internally of an orange brown tint, uniformly spongy.  Tastes very bitter.  Odor is strong and distinctive.  When fresh the roots are almost white internally, but develop the brown color and odor during drying

Pronounced longitudinal ribs on leaves;  thick, erect stems.   (61)

A striking 6-foot perennial with branching roots.  Seeds need frost to germinate, and even with frost, germination may take a year, if it occurs at all.  Use root cuttings to establish instead.  Gentian prefers loamy, slightly acidic soil.  An annual dressing of peat moss helps.   (62)

Active Constituents:   Iridoide monoterpenes (bitter principles):  amarogentin (determines the value), gentiopicroside, swertiamarine, sweroside;

Sugars:  saccharose, gentianose (somewhat bitter), gentiobiose (bitter);

pyrridine alkaloids;  xanthone derivatives (yellow-colored): incl. gentisin, gentisein, isogentisin, 1,3,7-trimethoxyxanthone;  trace volatile oils.   (2)

There are many local species of gentians, including various North American and European varieties. They all are bitter-tasting to some degree and have similar uses. Of G. lutea or yellow gentian there are three bitter glycosides. This plant is used as the standard for other bitter plants and in dilution of one part to 12,000 the bitter taste is still apparent.    (6)

Bitter principles incl. gentiopicrin, amarogentine;  pectin, tannin, mucilage, sugars.   (8)

Actions:  bitter principles cause a reflex stimulation of saliva and digestive juices;  therefore it is considered a tonic and roborant, and not simply a bitter (2); alterative, antipyretic, bitter tonic  (6); gastric stimulant, sialagogue, cholagogue.  Accelerates emptying of the stomach.  (8); cholagogue, febrifuge.  Raises white blood cell count (13); Beneficial to female organs (14);

In undiluted drop doses of tincture on tongue, will allay cravings for sweet foods.  Actually stimulates taste receptors on tongue and signals brain to trigger secretion of digestive juices.   (15)

one of the most useful tonics against general debility; one of the best strengtheners of the human system (34); anti-inflammatory, febrifuge (38)

Tonic, deservedly the most popular of tonic medicines (57)

One Chinese study showed gentian has strong anti-inflammatory properties.  Never been shown to stimulate the uterus, but for hundreds of years, herbalists have considered it a powerful menstruation promoter.   (62)

Conditions & Uses:  dyspeptic complaints, loss of appetite, feeling of fullness, flatulence.   (2)

Gentian’s most common use is as a digestive bitter with alcohol, taken in small doses before meals. The Chinese use one of their species for pelvic inflammatory diseases and venereal diseases. It also is useful in treating hepatitis, jaundice and most liver disorders  (6); heartburn, indigestion, diarrhea, vomiting  (13)       

Internal — normalize appetite, chronic indigestion, dyspepsia, gas, liver congestion:  tincture, fluid extract, decoction.  Fever: decoction.  Gout or intestinal inflammation:  powder*, decoction*.  Jaundice:  tincture*, fluid extract*, decoction*.

*usually used in combination with other herbs when treating the indicated problem.   (14)

Being a simple bitter, it may be given in all cases of weakness of digestive organs, general debility, female weakness, hysteria, etc.    (57)

Anorexia, dyspepsia, flatulence, bloating.   (61)

Combinations:  often used with other digestives such as ginger, cardamon.   (8)

because of its bitterness, combine with aromatic herbs.   (14)

add tinctures of dandelion root, vervain, holy thistle, or barberry as additional liver tonics and stimulants, up to a combined total dose of 5 ml.   (15)

GENTIAN   (Gentiana lutea; Gentianaceae)

Precautions:  No recorded health risks or side effects with designated dosages.  Stimulates gastric juices;  do not administer to patients with stomach or duodenal ulcers.  Store in dark.   (2)

Occasional headache from use.   (61)

Pregnant women should err on the side of caution and not use it, due to its folk reputation as an emmenagogue.  German physicians discourage its use by people with high blood pressure.   (62)

Tincturing Process:  Vita Mix: Speed 5. Place c/s gentian root in VM container to nipple level.

Process 120 seconds; Resituate marc in VM container; Process an additional 60 seconds. Alcohol: 50%  (1a)       

Applications:  Tea — pour boiling water over 1/2 tsp (1-2 g.);  steep 5-10 min.  May be sweetened with honey to alleviate bitter taste.   (2)

decoction — put 1/2 tsp shredded root in a cup of water and boil 5 min.  Drink warm, 15-30 min before meals, or during stomach pains from a feeling of fullness.

tincture — take 1-4 ml tincture 3 x daily on similar occasions.   (8)

infusion — boil 1 pt water;  pour over 2 oz. root;  steep until cold.  Strain and add 1/2 pt. brandy.  Take 1-3 tsp at a time.

Powder — 1/4 to 1/2 tsp before each meal.   (13)

Divination: t, p   (48)

Three of Pentacles:  Gentian

genus Gentiana

Bitter tonic.  Alterative made into alcoholic bitters with similar herbs;  a few drops taken in water before meals stimulates the secretion of hydrochloric acid to aid digestion.  Gentian is also used with other herbs as a treatment for herpes and venereal disease.

Divinatory Meanings:  The need to assimilate more skills and to cultivate deeper concentration and understanding as a foundation to developing one’s talents.

Reverse Meanings:  Weakness and irritation from too much self-abuse.   (52)

Dosage:  Avg single dose 1 g.;  daily dose 2-4 g.   (2)

Tincture:  10‑30 drops approximately 20 minutes before meals as a bitter tonic; standard decoction in formulas or 3‑9 gms.     (6)

2-5 drops tincture on the tongue per dose.  [Joniris R.D. Note: This method may be effective in stimulating digestive secretion through brain pathway, without risk of GI over-reaction which might exacerbate ulcerous condition.  In addition, this appears to be the most efficient method of simple digestive stimulation;  perhaps not as effective for treatment of the conditions listed above. –.]   (15)

Powdered dose 10-30 grains.    (57)

tincture:  5-20 drops before meals.   (61)

General Notes:  “It is reported to be good for…such as have evill livers and bad stomackes.” — John Gerard, 1597.  Herb takes its name from King Gentius of Illyria, 2nd c. BC, who discovered its febrifugal property.   (15)

Odor, color and taste develop during drying process.   (8)

Use as a bitter tonic predates 1st c. AD.  Listed in United States Pharmacopoeia from 1820-1955 as a digestive stimulant.  Results of modern studies corroborate traditional uses.   (61)

Causes less intestinal irritation than other bitters.  Folk medicinal use as a substitute for cigarettes.   (62)

Cayuga Botanicals R..D. Note: [reflex stimulation of saliva and digestive juices  may  well accelerate nutrition and repair driven by the digestive stimulation and actualization:  hence the old saw, “starve a cold, feed a fever.”  E.g., if “feeding a fever” brings it down, perhaps it is the stimulation of digestive functions that is the mechanism.

Cayuga Botanicals further speculates that a digestive stimulating tonic such as gentian root has an ancillary effect on recovery from athletic training:  recovery time depends on speed of several different serial processes, and if one of these processes represents a weak link, recovery time is lengthened regardless of the efficiency of the other processes.  After heavy training, demand for nutrients is elevated;  therefore a digestive stimulant could strengthen and streamline what otherwise might be a weak link in the recovery chain, the uptake of macronutrients.]    (1)



(1) Cayuga Botanicals Research Data

(1a) As above “Gentian Root Tincture” file

(2) PDR for Herbal Medicines (Medical Economics Co., 1998), pgs. 866-67

(6) Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., pg. 204

(8) The New Holistic Herbal by David Hoffman, p. 202

(13) The Herb Book by John Lust, pgs. 412-13

(14) Natural Healing With Herbs by Humbart Santillo BS, MH, pgs. 123-24

(15) The Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody, pgs. 63, 155

(34) A Modern Herbal (Vol. 1 A-H) by Mrs. M. Grieve, p. 348

(38) Encyclopedia of Herbs & Their Uses by Deni Bown, pgs. 132, 287

(48) The Rulership Book by Rex E. Bills, p. 57

(52) The Herbal Tarot Deck (Created by Michael Tierra and Designed by Candis Cantin), p. 35

(57) Potter’s Cyclopaedia by R.C. Wren, F.L.S., pgs. 149-150

(61) 101 Medicinal Herbs by Steven Foster, pgs. 96-97

(62) The Healing Herbs by Michael Castleman, pgs. 183-85


PHOTO: Wikipedia