The Benefits of Gentian for Digestion and More
Despite its bitter taste, Gentian, or Gentiana lutea, is a botanically amazing root plant. The benefits of gentian are extensive, and it has a long and specific history. This herb is commonly known as Bitterwort or Sampson’s Snakeroot, and it gets its name from its role as a famous bitter tonic in western folk medicine.
You may have even noticed gentian is used today as a flavoring to alcoholic bitters and vermouth. But, alcohol isn’t where this herb started! Gentian began its journey with the ancient Roman Elites, who were notorious for their food orgies. It was King Gentius of the Illyrians (181-167 BCE), who first discovered the remedial benefits of gentian. As a student of botany, he loved it so much that he named it after himself!
In Europe, gentian found its foothold in society through Father Kneipp (1821-1897). He was a German Catholic priest and one of the forefathers of the naturopathic medicine movement. In his journals, he wrote about its properties as a digestive bitter.
“If the food is felt to be heavy in the stomach, and is troublesome, a little cordial made with a teaspoonful of Gentian extract in half a glass of water, will soon stop the disorder.”
This statement, and the fact that gentian is so bitter, is why I only ever use it in tincture (extract) form. A gentian tea has quite the kick and is best done on a dare rather than on a regular basis!
The Nutritional Benefits of Gentian
So what is the nutritional herbology of gentian? It is high in magnesium, selenium, thiamine, and zinc. Along with these, it’s also surprisingly high in Vitamin A–which is amazing for eye health!
I recently talked about elecampane’s strong flavor, and want to highlight how gentian is similarly enthusiastic in taste. It is by far the most famous bitter tonic in western folk medicine. The flavor is almost entirely due to gentian’s bitter principles: gentiopicrin and amarogentin. The latter is one of the most bitter substances known to man!
The Effects and Benefits of Gentian
Despite its taste, gentian is worth it for the benefits. It has a long list of effects on the body, meaning it can be used for a variety of conditions. These effects include:
- Alterative: Cleansing, stimulating efficient removal of waste products
- Anti-inflammatory: Reduces inflammation in the body
- Antiseptic: An agent that combats and neutralizes pathogenic bacteria and prevents infection
- Bitter herb: Stimulates secretions of digestion and encourages appetite
- Cholagogue: Stimulates the flow of bile from the gallbladder and bile ducts into the stomach
- Digestant: Aids digestion, usually by providing enzymes from various sources
- Laxative (mild): A substance that stimulates bowel movements
- Parasiticide: An agent that kills parasites and worms
- Sialagogue: An agent that stimulates the secretion of saliva
- Gastric stimulant: Increases internal heat, dispels internal chill and strengthens metabolism and circulation
- Stomachic: Strengthens stomach function
It’s clear to see how beneficial gentian can be for digestion. Over the years, I have used this herb for all of these conditions (digestion and more!).
- Sluggish circulation throughout the body (abdomen)
- Stomach issues and Indigestion
- Constipation (with or without diarrhea)
- Poor digestion
- Diabetes and pre-diabetes
- Belly bugs (nematode infestations)
CAUTION: Gentian is not recommended during pregnancy, if you have active ulcers, or have other GI inflammation.
Getting the Most from Gentian
Gentian is a wonderful herb, but don’t get crazy with it (or with any herb). It’s always good to start with your diet (nutrient density, fiber, water) and physical exercise, before focusing on an herbal regime only.
Likewise, we all have different stories and needs, so it’s a good idea to ask your ND, Herbalist, or other practitioner about any herbs you are unsure of. We’ll be able to guide you in this, and I can help with a consultation right here.
A great way to get the benefits of gentian (especially around the holidays with all those digestive challenges!) is this extract too.
Herbal Bitters: This collection of root extracts stimulates the digestive system to soothe gas, bloating, and to relieve occasional heartburn. Bitters are so great they were once sold as patent medicine! Get some here.
*For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. (Because why would we want to do that?)