Gentian plant. When bitter is better
“Bitter is better”: we can't think of anything more appropriate to say about gentian. This cosmopolitan and bitter plant is extremely good for the liver and the digestive system. Let’s discover together the properties, benefits and uses of Gentian.
What is gentian?
With the name “gentian” we refer to a very specific genus belonging to Gentianaceae, a very large flowering plant family with more than 400 different species in it. Gentian is a cosmopolitan plant, spread all over the world in its many varieties including some with interesting phytochemical and pharmaceutical properties
To describe the appearance of gentian we have to take into account its habitat: it turns out as a slow growing perennial herbaceous plant (40 to 120 cm high) in mid-latitudes and in mountainous areas, while in tropical and subtropical areas it looks like a small shrub. In each of its varieties it is characterized by a large, branched root which is dark on the outside and yellow on the inside. This root is the part of the plant commonly used for recipes and for medicinal purposes.
Where does gentian come from?
Gentian owes its biodiversity to Himalaya: in this region are the origins of our plant which has reached other parts of Asia and Europe in different varieties. In Italy we mainly find Gentiana lutea L., a plant growing in meadows and pastures in mountainous and subalpine regions. The flowers of this species are gathered at the apex of the stems and have an intense yellow corolla, sometimes with small dark spots.
The benefits of gentian
If we compare traditional medicine texts to recent scientific studies, we can note how they both mention the beneficial uses of gentian, in particular its anti-inflammatory, diuretic and protective properties soothing the liver and the digestive system.
As a “cosmopolitan” plant, gentian has always been used throughout all continents in the traditional pharmacopoeia for the treatment of hepatitis, skin disorders, dysentery, fever and other ailments. It is considered portentous for its anti-inflammatory, astringent, diuretic and purification properties, especially for the liver: it is widely used in concentrated formulations as a tonic for the digestive system and to cleanse your stomach, liver and the urinary tract. In Italy gentiana lutea’s roots macerated in alcohol were used on the skin for the treatment of rheumatism and neuralgia.Modern studies on the plant’s phytochemical constituents have confirmed many of these traditional uses.
The uses of gentian
The part of gentian we commonly use is the rhizome (root) which is extirpated once the plant goes into its vegetative rest (autumn) and then dried. This root has a highly distinguished bitter taste and the deriving products are used to stimulate appetite and digestion since the bitter taste enhances the cells of the cerebral cortex that activate salivation and the stomach.
For culinary uses, the root is dried and cut or ground and then used in many regions of Italy to make aromatic wines, bitter and tonic spirits, candies or digestive logenzes. To make the most of its purifying and digestive properties it’s recommended to consume it in the form of an infusion. This is why we have chosen this plant for our Remedium n.4 – Hangover, a complex recipe made up of 12 herbs selected to guarantee a regenerating sensation and to make you start again in the best possible way, especially when we are in “Hangover”.
Curiosity on gentian
It is believed that the name gentian would derive from the name of the last Illyrian king, Gentius, who first discovered the medicinal properties of this rhizome and who used it to heal the plague in 167 BC.
Be careful not to confuse gentiana lutea with Veratrum album, a toxic plant that grows in more or less the same environments in Italy. They have different flowers and if you have to distinguish the two plants without flowers, veratrum always has alternate leaves, while the gentian has opposite.
In Italy gentian is an endangered species and therefore protected. It cannot be freely collected (unless you want to commit a crime!) but you can buy the dried root directly at the herbalist’s shop.
- Mirzaee, Fatemeh et al. “Medicinal, Biological And Phytochemical Properties Of Gentiana Species”. Journal Of Traditional And Complementary Medicine, vol 7, no. 4, 2017, pp. 400-408. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/j.jtcme.2016.12.013. Accessed 11 May 2021.
- Luciano, Riccardo, and Carlo Gatti. Erbe Spontanee Commestibili. Araba Fenice, 2014.