The herbal remedy called the gentian (Gentiana lutea L.) is belonging to the plant family Gentianaceae. The remedy is processed from all the underground parts of the herb. This herb is moderately tall and has an erect stem. It is a perennial herb that bears large and ovate shaped leaves. As a remedial plant, the gentian is considered to be one of the most popular of the bitter stomachic herbs by herbalist. The gentian herb is characterized by the relatively large flowers it bears; these are borne on peculiar orange yellow colored clusters on the plant body. The native European herb is found in the alpine and sub-alpine pastures all along the central and southern regions of the continent. Extensive cultivations of the herb takes place in many mountainous regions of the European continent. Particular regions in many different European countries have different forms of the bitter alcoholic beverage prepared from gentian; this alcoholic drink has assumed almost the stature of a trademark for different European regions.
The use of the herb as a bitter is extensive, but many modern herbalists praise the properties of the gentian regarding it a potentially far more useful herb compared to its use as a bitter herb in alcoholic drinks. The greatest use of the gentian in herbal treatments has been to alleviate the exhaustion brought on by chronic disease; the herbal remedy is also used for treating general debilitation in the body as well. The herb is also considered a major tonic – an effective strengthening agent for the entire human body. Fevers can be alleviated by its febrifuge actions, the herb alleviates fever well, gentian remedies also aid in stimulating the menstruation in women and is used as a major emmenagogue, it is also considered to be a major anthelmintic agent, aiding in the quick elimination of intestinal worms, and is prized for its antiseptic actions. The gentian has also been used by herbalist in treating malaria combined with other medications, it is also considered to be useful in the treatment of hysteria. Commercially available as an alcoholic extract for consumption, but the gentian is normally consumed in the form of an herbal tea.
The main reason for the bitter taste of the gentian herb is due to the presence of compounds called glycosides, two such compounds, the amarogentin and gentiopicrin are the mainly the cause of bitterness in the herb. Gentian also contains many alkaloid compounds in its chemistry, several alkaloids, primarily the compounds gentianine and gentialutine, as well as compounds such as xanthones, the triterpenes, and many
sugars are also seen in extracts. None of the so called effects of the herb has been demonstrated in human subjects, with the exception of its bitter stomachic effect. In tests, the bile secretion in some experimental small animals was seen to be boosted by gentian; anti-inflammatory effects are also induced by the alkaloid gentianine in test animals.
At the present time, the universal use of the gentian to stimulate appetite and its use in the role as an aid to digestion seems to indicate that the herb has specific uses in such conditions. This may be disputed as gentian is consumed infused in alcohol, a difficulty is in distancing the effects of the gentian from that of the alcohol itself, as alcohol consumed in moderate amounts leads to very similar effects on the digestive system. Any undesirable effects are not likely to be induced by the gentian in normal individuals, even though, reports of occasional headaches from gentian have cropped up. Taking the gentian medication at doses greater than 0.1 to 2 g in 150 ml of water, over thrice daily, can result in an overdose and induce nausea or vomiting in the person. Gentian remedy is also medically contraindicated in cases of gastric and duodenal ulcers as well as in hyperacidity cases. Expected mothers and individuals with very high blood pressure may not tolerate the gentian medication well according to experts. The use of any medication, herbal or otherwise must be undertaken with extreme caution at any rate by such people.
The gentian is named for Gentius, who was a king of ancient Illyria; this king supposedly discovered the virtues in the herb during the 2nd century BC. The use of the herb in the medical systems of classical Greece is attested by the name gentian – a tribute to the king.
The human tongue distinguishes all the known flavors by the use of only four primary taste receptors found on the tongue, the receptors for sweet, sour, salty and bitter tastes. The taste receptor for bitter flavors is actively stimulated by the bitter principles in the gentian herb; the presence of the herb on the tongue boosts the production of saliva and gastric secretions due to this effect. The action of the bitter principle, leads at once to the stimulation of the appetite and also greatly improves the functioning of the digestive system at the same time.
Physical systems such as weakened digestion, leading to excess abdominal gas, persistent indigestion, and poor appetite can be relieved due to the stimulatory effect of the herb on the digestive system. The active absorption of nutrients in the stomach is also increased by this improvement in the secretion of the stomach – a general improvement in digestion is induced by the herb. A stimulatory effect on the gallbladder and liver is also observed when gentian is used by patients. The use of the herb, promotes the efficient functioning of these organs, it boosts their primary actions in the digestive system. For this reason, taking the gentian is a very good idea, in any condition connected to a weakened digestive system affecting the patient. Older patients are often advised to take gentian as a digestive tonic.
Gentian acts by promoting the rapid absorption of nutrients into the body across the wall of the gut, due to its effect on the functioning of the digestive system. The gentian herb also helps the body in actively absorbing a wide array of other useful nutrients, such as the essential mineral iron and the vitamin B12, and is the preferred herb for use in cases of iron-deficiency anemia – which is almost always a result of heavy bleeding due to other problems. Women affected by heavy and excessive menstrual bleeding are often given gentian along with their other prescriptions for this reason.
Other medical uses
Habitat and cultivation
The gentian family of plants has many members, but the European gentian is the largest species of the family. It is a native species of the Alps and other mountainous regions, located in the central and southern regions of Europe, in mountain ranges from Spain all the way to the Balkans. The European gentian grows well at elevated altitudes from 2,300-8,000 ft or 700-2,400 m in height. Cultivation of the herb can be done easily from the seeds, or by splitting the large root crowns of the plant. A shady and sheltered on loamy soil are the habitats preferred by gentian plants. Autumn is the harvest season, during which roots are dug up and quickly dried for later use.
The bitterness of the gentian plant is mainly due to the presence of a chemical constituent known as amarogentin, even though this compound is present in the plant in much smaller amounts compared to the gentiopicroside compound. The compound known as amarogentin is at least 3,000 times as bitter as the compound gentiopicroside; in fact, it can be tasted at minuscule dilutions of 1:50,000 of the extract. Some have postulated that this compound might possibly be the bitterest compound in the world.
The ideal dose of the gentian tincture is to dissolve about twenty drops in a small glass of water; this can be sipped at least fifteen minutes prior to eating.
Side effects and cautions
Individuals affected by excessive acid secretions in the stomach, those suffering from heartburn, and those affected by stomach ulcers and gastritis must not take the gentian in any form, due to possible side effects.
- Root – G. lutea:
- DECOCTION – The gentian herbal decoction can be prepared by using 10 g of the gentian herb for every 500 ml of water, let the decoction boil for twenty minutes before straining and cooling. This herbal decoction can be taken for abdominal fullness and stomach pains, once before meal daily.
TINCTURE – An herbal gentian tincture can also be taken at doses of two ml each thrice every day to stimulate the digestive system, or this tincture can be dropped in single doses to beat back sudden cravings felt for sweet foods and sugar. The tincture of the gentian is used by herbalist to help treat liver diseases of some kinds, such as hepatitis, and to help alleviate inflammations in the gall bladder, especially those with symptomatic jaundice affecting the person.
- Root – G. macrophylla:
- DECOCTION – The macrophylla variety of the gentian is also made into a tincture, and often combined with other useful herbs, like the du huo and the cinnamon, to treat problems such as rheumatic pains, all kinds of fevers, and to alleviate allergic inflammations in the body.
- Root – G. scabra:
- DECOCTION – The herbal decoction made from scabra variety is also combined for medicinal use with other herbs, like the chai hu, zhi zi and huang qin herbs, this herbal formula is used in the treatment of different liver disorders, problems such as hypertension, and to treat urinary infections in patients.