The gentian plant grows so slowly that it takes ten years to bloom and can live up to more than fifty years. This behavior could be an example for people fond of nature. Some greedy plant-gatherers have brought the gentian to the edge of extinction. It is a pity when its colossal root, which can weigh up to six kg, has been systematically gathered to give its aroma to alcoholic beverages.
The great Greek physician, pharmacologist, botanist, and author Pedanius Dioscorides wrote in his De Materia Medica: “The root of gentian, when drunk with water, helps people suffering from liver and stomach disorders.” At present, some twenty centuries later, the observation of that Greek scholar is still valid, and gentian is one of the most appreciated appetizers and digestive plants.
Gentian Plant Scientific Facts
- Other names: Bitterwort.
- French: Gentiane.
- Spanish: Genciana.
- Environment: The gentian plant grows in meadows and sunny slopes, in mountainous areas of Central and southern Europe, preferably in calcareous soils. The plant is cultivated in America.
- Description: Vivacious plant of the Gentianaceae family, growing from 60 to 100 cm high, with a smooth, upright stem from which large, oval-shaped flowers grow opposite one another. Its flowers are bright yellow and grow in clusters.
- Parts of the plant used medicinally: The root.
Healing Properties and Warnings
The root of gentian plant contains diverse bitter components, among which the most outstanding are gentiopicrin and amarogentin. The latter is the bitterest substance known. When dissolving part of amarogentin in fifty million parts of dissolvent, its bitter flavor is still noticeable. Moreover, gentian contains various sugars, tannin, and pectin. Its properties are as follows:
- Stomachic invigorator: The bitter components of the gentian root excite the secretion of all digestive glands, including saliva glands. Thus, they increase appetite and promote digestion. The gentian root is especially recommended for chronic gastritis with a lack of gastric juice, ptosis, gastric atony, indigestion, vomiting, lack of appetite, and recovery from feverish diseases. According to Dr. Leclerc, “Invigorator but not an irritant.”
- Choleretic and cholagogue: It stimulates the secretion of bile in the liver and its emptying into the duodenum. It is recommended for liver congestion and biliary dysfunction.
- Febrifuge: Gentian does not have strong febrifuge properties; however, it is especially effective for malaria. It has been proven that gentian can destroy the protozoa that cause malaria and attack red blood corpuscles. It can be used in association with quinine and is particularly recommended for quinine-resistant malaria.
- Immunostimulant: It stimulates the defenses of the body. It has been proven that gentian root produces an increase in white blood corpuscle (leukocytes) production; thus, positive action in cases of immune system depression (lack of infectious resistance) is probable.
WARNING! People suffering from an active gastroduodenal ulcer should abstain from using gentian since an increase in gastric juice secretion will worsen the illness. It should also be avoided during breastfeeding because the bitter components it contains pass to the milk, and although they are not toxic, children on a milk diet will refuse to take it.
WARNING! The gentian plant must not be mistaken with white hellebore (Veratrum album L.), a toxic plant that grows near gentian. The difference is that the former has alternate leaves (which grow singly from the stem), hairy on the underside, and white flowers with a pretty unpleasant smell.
Gentian Liquor: We advise against the use of alcoholic preparations or liquor from gentian since the harmful effects of alcohol counteract the plant’s beneficial properties.
How to use Gentian
- Cold extract: Put a piece of gentian root (the size of a hazelnut: around 10g) in a liter of cold water. Steep for four or five hours. Drink three cups daily before meals. Some anise seeds can be added during the process to reduce its intensely bitter flavor; however, sweetening is advised against it.
- Decoction with 10g per liter of water. Boil for an hour. Drink half a cup before each meal.
- Powder or dry extract: The recommended dose is 0.5-1g before each meal.
REFERENCES George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. “Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants.” George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. Ed. Francesc X. Gelabert. vols. 2 San Fernando de Henares: Editorial Safeliz, 2000. 452,453. Print. [Gentian plant]