Common name: Yellow gentian
Botanical name: Gentiana lutea
© 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):
combination with primrose flowers, sorrel herb, elder flowers, and European vervain)
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
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,
3. Kondo Y, Takano F, Hojo H. Suppression of chemically and
immunologically induced hepatic injuries by gentiopicroside in mice. Planta Med
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.