A cosmopolitan genus of about 400 species of annuals, biennials, and deciduous or evergreen perennials. Gentians of many kinds are grown for their funnel-shaped flowers, which in some species are bright blue and in others may be purple, yellow, or white. Gentians contain some of the most bitter compounds known, against which the bitterness of some substances is scientifically measured. Bitter-tasting herbs benefit the digestive system, stimulating gastric secretions and improving digestion. Gentiana lutea is the classic bitter digestive, so much so that the taste can still be detected when diluted to 1 in 12,000 parts. Many different species are used similarly in different parts of the world, the choice being largely dependent on local availability. Wild collection of Gentiana species is subject to management measures in certain countries. Gentiana was named after king Gentius of Illyria (c.500BCE), who is credited with discovering the medicinal uses of G. lutea.

Yellow gentian is named for Gentius, the first century BCE king of Illyria, who is credited with discovering the herb's medicinal properties. Yellow gentian contains the extremely bitter glycoside amarogentin, which is said to promote digestion, ease gastrointestinal inflammation, and lessen fevers. An anti-inflammatory, antifungal agent, yellow gentian is thought to help lower fevers and help control blood sugar.

Clump-forming, herbacous perennial with fleshy roots, stout, hollow stems, and broadly ovate, pleated, basal leaves, to 30cm (12in) long. Yellow flowers, 2.5cm (1in) across, with short tubes and narrow petals, appear in whorled clusters in summer.

Common Name:
Other Names:
Bitter Root, Bitterwort, English Gentian, Gentian Root, Pale Gentian, Yellow Gentian
Botanical Name:
Gentiana lutea
Moist, light, well-drained, rich, neutral to acid soil in sun or partial shade. Gentiana lutea prefers alkaline soil. Plants may succumb to root rot in wet conditions.
By seed sown when ripe; by division or offshoots in spring.
Roots and rhizomes are lifted in autumn and dried for use in decoctions, tablets, and tinctures.
Native Location:
Alps, Apennines, Pyrenees, Carpathians
1-2m (3-6ft)
60cm (24in)
Over 400 species of this bitter-tasting plant are found worlwide, and gentian (G. lutea) is the most bitter of them all. So bitter, in fact, that it is the standard against which other bitter herbs—prized as liver tonics and digestive aids—are often measured. Gentian—or yellow gentian, as it is sometimes called—is a native of southern Europe, including Bosnia and the Balkans, and is named for the man who purportedly discovered its healing actions 2,200 years ago: King Gentius of Illyria, a small region on the Balkan peninsula. But archeologists have revealed that ancient Egyptians used gentian medicinally as far back as 1200 BCE. The Roman scholar Pliny and the Greek physician Dioscorides (both of whom credited Illyria's king for discovering the herb) praised gentian for its effectiveness as a liver tonic and as a treatment for indigestion and exhaustion. Gentian's centuries-old reputation as an appetite stimulant and digestive aid resulted in the practice of mixing the herb with brandy to make an apertif that could be drunk before meals. By the seventeenth century, British herbalist Nicholas Culpeper was singing the praises—albeit overblown—of gentian's general tonic effects, claiming that it "strengthens the stomach exceedingly…comforts the heart…preserves against faintings and swoonings…helps the bitings of mad dogs and venemous beasts…refreshes such as be over-weary with traveling…[or] troubled with tough phlegm, scabs, itch, or the fretting sores of ulcers."
Parts Used:
Underground parts, Roots and rhizomes
An intensely bitter (though sweet at first), tonic herb that stimulates the liver, gall bladder, and digestive system. It reduces inflammation and lowers fever.
Medicinal Uses:
Internally for liver complaints, indigestion, gastric infections, and anorexia. Not given to patients with gastric and duodenal ulcers.
To treat loss of appetite, flatulence, and heartburn. Germany's Commission E has approved the use of yellow gentian to treat loss of appetite, flatulence, and dyspeptic complaints, such as heartburn and bloating.
Gentian has appetite-stimulating, cooling, fever-reducing, and tonic properties. It helps to stimulate the flow of bile to the intestines and aids digestion. It is taken internally for anorexia, exhaustion, flatulence, fever, gallbladder ailments, indigestion, inflammations, liver ailments (including hepatitis and jaundice), and poor appetite.
As a digestive aid and appetite stimulant, gentian is taken before meals in a decoction (tea). To make a decoction, add ½ teaspoon of dried root to 1 cup of water and boil for 5 minutes. Strain. Drink warm 30 minutes before mealtime. For other ailments, make a cold decoction by soaking 1 teaspoon of dried herb in 1 cup of cold water for 2 hours. Drink up to 1 cup throughout the day.
Typical Dose:
A typical dose of yellow gentian is approximately 1 gm of the root.
No serious side effects are associated with taking gentian at prescribed doses, but practitioners of Chinese herbal medicine war against using the herb when diarrhea is a symptom. If you are pregnant, have high blood pressure, or have ulcers, talk to your practitioner before using gentian.
Possible Side Effects:
Yellow gentian's side effects include gastrointestinal distress.
Drug Interactions:
Taking yellow gentian with these drugs may interfere with the action of the drug:
Aluminum Hydroxide, (AlternaGel, AluCap)
Aluminum Hydroxide and Magnesium Carbonate, (Gaviscon Extra Strength, Gaviscon Liquid)
Aluminum Hydroxide and Magnesium Hydroxide, (Maalox, Rulox)
Aluminum Hydroxide and Magnesium Trisilicate, (Gaviscon Tablet)
Aluminum Hydroxide, Magnesium Hydroxide, and Simethicone, (Maalox, Mylanta Liquid)
Calcium Carbonate, (Rolaids Extra Strength, Tums)
Calcium Carbonate and Magnesium Hydroxide, (Mylanta Gelcaps, Rolaids Extra Strength)
Cimetidine, (Nu-Cimet, Tagamet)
Esomeprazole, (Nexium)
Famotidine, (Apo-Famotidine, Pepcid)
Famotidine, Calcium Carbonate, and Magnesium Hydroxide, (Pepcid Complete)
Lanzoprazole, (Prevacid)
Magaldrate and Simethicone, (Riopan Plus, Riopan Plus Double Strength)
Magnesium Hydroxide, (Dulcolax Milk of Magnesia, Phillips' Milk of Magnesia)
Magnesium Oxide, (Mag-Ox 400, Uro-Mag)
Magnesium Sulfate, (Epsom Salts)
Nizatidine, (Axid, PMS-Nizatidine)
Omeprazole, (Losec, Prilosec)
Pantoprazole, (Pantoloc, Protonix)
Rabeprazole, (Aciphex, Pariet)
Ranitidine, (Alti-Ranitidine, Zantac)
Sodium Bicarbonate, (Brioschi, Neut)
Disease Effects:
May worsen cases of ulcers or other stomach ailments.
Economic Uses:
Used in making gentian liqueurs, brandy, and Enzian schnapps; a key ingredient of Angostura bitters. (See angostura).
Encyclopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown. Copyright © 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited. pg 222-223
The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide by Geo. T. Grossberg,MD and Barry Fox,PhD Copyright©2007 Barry Fox,PhD. Pp.504-505
The Modern Herbal Primer by Nancy Burke Copyright©2000 Yankee Publishing, Inc. pp. 63-64