Gentian is an herbaceous perennial plant in the Gentianaceae family, found throughout North America and Central and Southern Europe in grassy alpine, sub-alpine meadows and pastures, usually in calcareous, moist, and loamy soils. It typically grows between 3 and 6 feet in height, bearing oppositely arranged pointed, broad lanceolate or elliptic leaves that have five prominent veins on their undersides, which gradually decrease in size as they grow up the stem. The flowers appear on older plants after about three years, and are yellow and grow in a whorl in the axils of the uppermost leaves. The-wheel shaped corolla is separated nearly to the base into 5–7 narrow petals. The roots of the plant and long and thick, growing up to about a foot long and an inch in diameter. There are many local species of gentian found throughout North America and Europe, all with a similar bitter taste and herbal properties and uses. The plants produce prolific amounts of seeds through which they easily propagated. Roots should be harvested before the plants flower to ensure strong potency.
Dried root and rhizome
Gentian root is a bitter, gastric stimulant that works to stimulate appetite and digestion, promoting the production of bile, saliva, and gastric juices, and accelerating the emptying of the stomach. It’s useful for individuals with sluggish digestion, dyspepsia or flatulence, and low appetite. It also has cholagogue and sialagogue properties and is a generally fortifying herb. It also has alterative and antibacterial properties, making it useful internally for rashes and skin eruptions. In Chinese medicine, a local varietal of Gentian is useful for pelvic inflammatory disease and venereal diseases, as well as hepatits, jaundice, and most liver disorders.
Gentian is rumored to be named for the King Gentius of Illyria, an ancient region of the Western Balkans on the Adriatic Sea. It was most commonly used as a tonic for improving appetite and digestion. Chewing on the roots is thought to discourage smoking and is a folk remedy for relieving fevers. In Aryuvedic medicine, it is indicated for fever and inflammation, and for sedating hyperactivity of the liver and spleen. It’s useful for healing both genital and intestinal sores. It’s one of the best Pitta decreasing herbs, and is also the primary herb in Angostura bitters.
Flavor Profile and Energetics
Cold, bitter, pungent, increases Vata, decreases Pitta and Kappa.
1/2 tsp of shredded root, simmered for 5-10 minutes, and taken warm at least 15 minutes before meals or if experiencing acute stomach pains from fullness. As a tincture, 2-4ml taken before of after meals.
For digestion, take with other carminatives, such as cardamom, bitter orange, and ginger. For reducing fever, combine with equal amounts of black pepper and dry ginger. For regulating liver function, it can be taken with aloe.
Individuals with hypoglycemia, pronounced nervousness, or muscle spasms should avoid prolonged use of gentian.
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