Common Names

Gentian , wild gentian, yellow gentian
Botanical Name
Gentiana lutea
GENTIANACEAE ~ Gentian family

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What is it?

The roots and root branches of Gentian, a long-living herb that grows a slender stem to over a meter that produces blue-green leaves and yellow flowers in bowl shaped clusters.




How has it been used?

The ancient Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans and the Arab physicians of the middle ages all used Gentian as a digestive tonic. They also widely used Gentian for liver disorders, an antiseptic wound wash, and as a treatment for intestinal worms.

Gentian has been very widely used in herbal medicine for people who have chronic health troubles where a weakened digestion is involved.

The great German herbal doctor Rudolph Weiss wrote 'Gentian makes heavy foods more easy to digest by stimulating gastric juice secretion and stomach motility and by improving the muscle tone of the stomach... stomach complaints which are achylous (lacking juice) and atonic (lacking strength) are the primary indications for Gentian'.

Maude Grieves writes 'Gentian is one of our most useful bitter tonics, especially in general debility, weakness of the digestive organs or want of appetite... it is one of the best strengtheners of the human system'.

In early 20th century slang 'Moxie' meant courage combined with recklessness. Some of the most highly regarded people of the time such as Teddy Roosevelt and Charles Lindberg were said to have plenty of 'moxie'. This term came from a strongly flavoured soft drink available in New England from the 1890s that was itself called 'Moxie' It was touted as a cure-all and owed its virtue to being made with Gentian!

Other traditional uses for Gentian that continue to this day include:

  • Failure to thrive in infants
  • Weakness and loss of appetite in adults
  • Food allergies and intolerances
  • Liver congestion and jaundice
  • Uncontrollable sugar cravings
  • Gastric acid deficiency
  • Diarrhoea with yellow stools
  • Chronic fatigue with loss of appetite for food
  • Exhaustion from the post-viral syndrome


Science on Gentian

~ Gentian was given in a clinical study to 205 patients in a dosage that was equivalent to 600mg of the root per day. Rapid relief of symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea, heartburn, flatulence, constipation, appetite loss and vomiting was achieved (Wegener T: Z Phytother 19:163-164, 1998)

~ In an experimental model Gentian was shown to stimulate the secretion of enzymes in the small intestine and there was a marked increase in gastric secretion with its acid and pepsin content when Gentian was given by mouth (Kazakov BN, Cited in Scientific Committee of ESCOP monographs: Gentianae radix, UK, July 1997)

~ In healthy volunteers Gentian extract produced a significant increase in salivary secretion from 1 to 30 minutes after oral administration and in a similar study a single dose of Gentian (equivalent to about 20 drops of a tincture) stimulated gastric secretion, release of bile from the gall-bladder and bile production by the liver (Borga M et al: Curr Ther Res 29(3):525-536, 1981)

Safety of Gentian

Gentian may not be well tolerated by pregnant women (somewhat understandably!) but there is no reason to think it would do any harm to the woman or her baby. It is certainly safe in breast-feeding and may even help the production of healthy milk. If needed, small children and the elderly should use Gentian with confidence because, even if it is hard for them to take, it may do them great good.


Personal experiences

Gentian is a herb with which I have developed a tremendous amount of respect and affection because I have repeatedly seen how it can:
a) help children who have been repeatedly sick and growing poorly start to thrive
b) help adults with bloating, food intolerances and fatigue
c) help people get on top of sugar -addictions

d) help perform a little miracle with older people who had lost their appetite and were fading fast

I will often combine Gentian with some Barberry or Celandine if I want to work on the liver or I will add just a little Golden Seal if I especially want to shift congestion out of the system but the following ancient, potent formula, or one very like it, gives all the benefits of Gentian. I write it up here in detail for anyone who wants to harness the healing power of this great remedy.

Gentian & Ginger formula

Gentian and Ginger Formula

30-40 mls Gentian                       
10-20 mls Ginger      

These amounts are to make up 50mls - use more or less Ginger in the mixture as preferred, I recommend that the 'hotter' the constitution the less Ginger you should use and vice versa, the 'cooler' the constitution the more Ginger you should add.

The Dose

Depending on a person's size and sensitivity the best dose is somewhere between 12 to 16 drops of the formula before food. If I want to get a very strong action of the herb, especially when I am starting treatment, I will sometimes recommend to take half the dose, e.g. 6- 8 drops, be sure to feel the 'action' in the mouth, then take the second part of the dose a half minute or so later, e.g. another 6- 8 drops to make the total of 12- 16 drops.

The Timing

Timing is very important to get the best possible result but I encourage you to be open to experimenting with what works best for you. The longest I would imagine a person would go in taking the drops before food would be about 15 minutes, the shortest time frame could be as little as just a minute. As you will shortly read in the next section the desired effect is to get the digestive 'fire' well and truly stoked up before you eat so if you have plenty of saliva in your mouth and it hasn't eased off yet and you feel keen to get started on your food then you have probably timed it about right, tuck in!

The Action

As soon as you get the Gentian formula into your mouth you will start stimulating the flow of digestive juices right throughout your system. You can immediately feel this for yourself in how you will start to produce more saliva in your mouth. Scientific studies, along with countless experiences throughout history, show that the same increase of 'juice' that you feel in your mouth is likewise happening all along the digestive tract.

Digestion is a marvellously complex process whereby food is transformed into energy and the physical regeneration of our bodies - I often use the analogy of this process as being like a 'fire' that takes the fuel of food and turns it into metabolic 'heat' and energy.

A person without good digestive secretions has a stomach that is like a barely smoldering fire. When you throw logs of food onto such a fire they just sit there causing yet more congestion. In this analogy the Gentian formula blows into the cauldron and this process of getting the fire burning before eating can make a profound difference to a person's health outcomes.

The Taste

To get the benefit of Gentian it is vital to understand that the formula needs to be felt in the mouth for that action to happen further down the digestive tract. In other words, you really do have to taste it for it to work!

Gentian has been called the 'King of Bitters' and you will understand why as soon as you have some! I encourage people to experience the full intensity of the Gentian formula as best as they can and the less you dilute it with water the stronger it will taste!

If a person can take their drops of Gentian tincture straight, so much the better. If they can let it stay in their mouth for a few moments before swallowing, better still. If they can swill it around for a moment before swallowing, then best of all.

I have noticed that once people have had their Gentian a few times then they almost always say that it gets easier to take. This is not necessarily because it gets any less bitter, in fact as people get used to taking Gentian they tend to dilute it less so it actually tastes stronger! What happens is a rather extraordinary change in consciousness whereby the instinctive repulsion to bitterness is gradually replaced by a deeper experience of what is happening within... as the food is digested better and the liver, stomach and pancreas all start to function better the brain starts to get a clear message -- 'this stuff helps!'

I know what I am about to say may sound unbelievable but it is a fact that many hundreds of patients have said to me that they have grown to like the taste of their Gentian formula and, in many cases, they say that they even started to crave the taste of it for a while!

Treatment length

Gentian does not have to be used indefinitely. For many of my patients I have found that by using it diligently for just a short while (e.g. a week or two) they get the benefit from it that they needed. Their 'fire' is now burning well by itself, and they can stop the treatment.

How long you need to take it for is simply a process of listening to your own body. So long as it has helped to relieve some problem then, so long as the problem does not return, you know you can put it aside. For some people, especially when they know they will be eating heavier foods or foods that used to give them difficulty with their digestion, it will be wise for them to have the formula on hand and to use it just whenever they need.


Constitutional note

Gentian has an intriguing further action. It is known as a ‘cooling bitter’ because, whilst it feels warming and stimulating to the digestion what happens, paradoxically, is that at the same time it helps take ‘heat’ away from places in the muscles and joints where inflammation has become stuck.

Another great paradox with Gentian is that you can give it to someone who needs their appetite to come back with excellent results and then you can give it to another person who just can't get a handle on their excess sugar cravings and get an equally potent effect! It clearly does something to rewire the brain in relation to food and is one of the few remedies that can legitimately be said to help a person lose excess weight when needed...

It is known that Gentian is one of the best cooling remedies for those of a hot constitution where excess heat has caused an imbalance that may show up in signs of both too much congestion or equally too much depletion. That said I also use a great deal of Gentian for those of a cooler constitution but this is where I am likely to add extra Ginger.

There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Gentian can particularly offer its benefits when an activation is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - something that is discussed here and shown in a chart here.


Excerpt from Felter & Lloyd's Kings Dispensatory from 1898

Gentian is a powerful tonic, it improves the appetite, strengthens digestion, gives more force to the circulation, and slightly elevates the heat of the body.

Used in cases of debility and exhaustion, and in all cases where a tonic is required, as dyspepsia, gout, amenorrhoea, hysteria, scrofula, intermittents, diarrhoea, worms, etc.

Tincture of Gentian was prized by Prof. Scudder as one of the most efficient remedies for "atony of the stomach and bowels with feeble or slow digestion"

Gentian is valuable to relieve irritation and increase the appetite after protracted fevers, where the powers of life are depressed and recovery depends upon ability to assimilate food.

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in my clinic but ideas on how you might find a good herbalist in your area are here.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd