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Botanical Description & Habitat

Gentiana lutea


Common names

Bitter rootBitterwort
European gentianFelwort
FillwortPale gentian
Yellow gentian

Native of the alpine and sub-alpine pastures of southern and central Europe. It is also found in Asia Minor and is cultivated in the United States.

Has a thick, branching, yellowish-brown root producing a hollow, erect stem reaching four feet in height. The stem bears opposite obovate leaves which are bright green, sessile, and have five prominent veins. Lower leaves are also present and emerge from the root. Large, orange-yellow flowers bloom from July to August, appearing in the upper leaf axils, growing in whorls of 3 to 10 blossoms. The fruit is an obovate capsule.

Medicinal parts
Root and rhizomes - collected in the late summer and autumn, then dried slowly.

Historical Properties & Uses

Gentian root is one of the strongest bitters known. It embodies the best of the bitters' known characteristics: stomachic, cholagogue, choleretic, sialagogue, secretagogue, appetite stimulant, and digestive tonic.

Gentian has given excellent results in the treatment of dyspepsia and several other forms of digestive disease. As a cholagogue its action is reliable, but not the strongest.

The herb has antibacterial properties, and several of its components are anti-inflammatory. It generally stimulates the digestive system and produces mild rise in blood pressure. Clinical or in vivo tests routinely demonstrate the plant's ability to promote secretion of digestive juices.

This herb has approval status by the German Commission E for loss of appetite (see appetite disorders) and flatulence. .


Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Method of Action

Gentian is the standard bitter
Gentian root is the standard bitter against which all others are measured. At dilutions of 1:12,000 it still has a bitter taste. Pure amarogentine, one of the constituents, is bitter at dilutions as high as 1:50,000.

Gentian is a cholagogue
Gentian has been shown to be a true cholagogue, but not one of the strongest--it raises bile secretion by about 20%. This action is due to the heterocyclic, nitrogen-containing constituents.

Gentian Root has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties
Gentiopicrine, a constituent, has antimalarial and antiamoebic properties.

Several of the constituents of gentian have good anti-inflammatory activity (in formalin-induced aseptic inflammations of rat paws), including oliverine, gentianine, gentianadine and gentianamine, with the former two being more active than the latter two.

Gentianine's anti-inflammatory property has been studied in rat hind leg inflammation caused by subcutaneous injection of egg white at the ankle joint. Administered intraperitoneally at dosage of 90 mg/kg, 30 minutes before egg white, it was effective in reducing swelling and causing its disappearance sooner than controls. Further study revealed the substance does not work on the adrenal glands per se; its action is mediated by the nervous and hypophyseal system. In formalin-induced arthritis, gentianine was more effective than sodium salicylate, and just as effective as chloroquine and cortisone.

Gentian Root has strong action on all aspects of digestion. The ability of gentian extract to stimulate the appetite, stimulate the secretion of saliva and gastric juices, and accelerate the emptying of the stomach, has been investigated and substantiated.

Gentian, in a preparation that also included lesser amounts of cayenne, ginger root and wormwood, was very effective in relieving the symptoms of indigestion and heartburn in human subjects.

Gentian root has been shown to reflexively stimulate the gallbladder and pancreas, and mucous membranes of the stomach, thus contributing to an increased secretion of digestive juices and enzymes.

Gentian preparations have been found to be most effective if administration precedes mealtimes by about one-half hour. Its activity begins about five minutes after reaching the stomach, as digestive juices begin to flow and the secretion of bile increases. Whatever level of digestive liquid is achieved in 30 minutes will be maintained for 2-3 hours without increasing further. This provides for better digestion of fats and proteins.

Gentian has an effect on the vascular system--the abdominal organs are better fed by blood and there is a slight rise in blood pressure.

Gentian can raise blood sugar levels
Intraperitoneal doses of gentian have been found to raise blood sugar levels. This effect begins 30 minutes after injection and lasts for three hours.

Drug Interactions & Precautions

Possible Interactions
If gentian is being used on a daily basis, the following drugs may be imperfectly absorbed: tetracycline derivatives, oral anticholinergics, phenothiazines, digoxin, isoniazid, phenytoin, and warfarin.

Furthermore, certain antipsychotic drugs, such as phenothiazines, as well as other psychoactive agents which are poorly absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract, may be even more poorly absorbed if gentian is also being used.

The urinary excretion of alkaline drugs, such as amphetamines or quinidine, may be inhibited by the antacid nature of gentian. The antacid nature of this herb may also decrease or delay the absorption of nalidixic acid and the sulfonamides.

The ability of gentian to increase insulin production and secretion may be antagonized by heparin. The use of large amounts of gentian on a continuous basis may partially block the digestion, absorption or resorption of a wide variety of drugs and fat-soluble vitamins.

Conversely, this herb may potentiate the effects of oral coumarin anticoagulants, such as warfarin and dicumarol, to the extent it stimulates the liver to catabolize and excrete cholesterol and its by-products via the biliary route.

It should also be noted drugs utilized to treat angina pectoris, such as nadolol and propranolol HCl, may reduce atrio-ventricular conduction induced by gentian.

Safety Factors & Toxicity

Large doses have been known to cause gastroenteritis-like irritation.

Some experts recommend people with high blood pressure, and expectant mothers, should avoid the herb.

Gentian root has approval status by the German Commission E.


Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Preparation & Administration

Gentian root has approval status by the German Commission E.

Recommended daily dosages in Germany are as follows:

1 - 3 g tincture.
2 - 4 g fluid extract.
2 - 4 g root.


Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Note: This Herbal Preparation information is a summary of data from books and articles by various authors. It is not intended to replace the advice or attention of health care professionals.


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