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.
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.
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.