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Gentian

Common name: Yellow gentian

Botanical name: Gentiana lutea

Photo

© Steven Foster

Parts used and where grown

Gentian originally comes from meadows in Europe and Turkey. However, it is now also cultivated in North America. The root is used in herbal medicine.

Gentian has been used in connection with the following conditions (refer to the individual health concern for complete information):

Science Ratings Health Concerns
1Star

Indigestion

Poor appetite

Sinusitis (in combination with primrose flowers, sorrel herb, elder flowers, and European vervain)

3Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit.

Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)

Gentian root and other highly bitter plants have been used for centuries by herbalists in Europe as digestive aids (the well-known Swedish bitters often contain gentian). Other folk uses included topical application on skin tumors, decreasing fevers, and treatment of diarrhea.1

Active constituents: Gentian contains bitter substances such as the glycosides gentiopicrin and amarogentin. The bitter taste of these can be detected even when diluted 50,000 times.2 Besides stimulating secretion of saliva in the mouth and hydrochloric acid in the stomach, gentiopicrin may protect the liver.3 Gentian is used to treat poor appetite and indigestion.4 An open study shows that gentian tincture inhibits the feeling of fullness after eating, suggesting it could improve poor appetite.5

How much is usually taken?

Tincture can be taken 20 minutes before each meal, for a total of 1/4–1/2 teaspoon (1–3 ml) daily. Alternatively, whole root, 1/2–3/4 teaspoon (2–4 grams) per day, can be used. Since capsules of the herb bypass the taste buds, they may not have the same effect as other dosage methods.

Are there any side effects or interactions?

Gentian should not be used by people suffering from excessive stomach acid, heartburn, peptic ulcer disease, or gastritis.6

At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions with gentian.

References:

1. Duke JA. CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1985, 207–8.

2. Weiss RF. Herbal Medicine. Gothenburg, Sweden: Ab Arcanum, 1988, 40–2.

3. Kondo Y, Takano F, Hojo H. Suppression of chemically and immunologically induced hepatic injuries by gentiopicroside in mice. Planta Med 1994;60:414–6.

4. Schulz V, Hänsel R, Tyler VE. Rational Phytotherapy: A Physician’s Guide to Herbal Medicine, 3rd ed. Berlin: Springer, 1988, 171.

5. Goetzl FR. Bitter tonics. I. Influence upon olfactory acuity and appetite. Drug Standards 1956;24:101–10.

6. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 135.

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