A healthy digestive system is the cornerstone of overall vibrant health. Throughout history it has been widely known that bitter herbs support this important bodily process, and Gentian Root is one of the top bitter herbs used to stimulate the production of saliva, bile and stomach acids. It is widely used in digestive tonics, such as angostura bitters, which are taken before a meal.
Gentian works on the stomach, liver and gall bladder – organs which each play a part in the digestive process. This root’s digestive benefits are in part attributed to the phytochemical amarogentin, which is mainly responsible for the bitter taste.
It is believed that bitters such as Gentian work by stimulating the mouth’s taste receptors. When bitters hit the tongue the saliva glands produce more saliva (the first element of digestion), which informs the digestive tract to release digestive enzymes that help to break down food. Gentian also stimulates bile production, which aids in the digestion and absorption of fats and fat-soluble vitamins in the small intestine.
According to research, the aforementioned "bitters" (composed mainly of the glycosides gentiopicrin and amarogentin), may activate not only bile but also hydrochloric acid, the major component of gastric acid, which helps the body to digest food more efficiently. This in turn leads to better nutrient absorption and a faster transition time through the digestive system. Additionally, special cells in the stomach - due to this stimulus - secrete the digestive hormone gastrin.
As in the past, in modern herbalism Gentian is considered a powerful protector and ally to the liver. It supports the overall function of the liver and gallbladder and blends well with other liver protective herbs.
Gentian stimulates the production of bile, which not only helps to promote digestion; it prevents a sluggish liver by preventing the accumulation of waste and speeding up the digestion of proteins and fats. This in turn can help to allay the sense of fatigue that can be felt after consuming a heavy meal.
As a liver protective agent, Gentian has been observed to increase levels of reduced glutathione (GSH), catalase, superoxide dismutase and GSH peroxidase in various settings of toxin-induced oxidative damage.
Whilst inflammation is a valid response by the body in its quest to heal itself, persistent low-level inflammation is becoming increasingly known as one of the root causes of most disease. Gentian Root contains several constituents with anti-inflammatory properties; secoiridoidal, iridoid glycosides, gentiopicroside, xanthones, polyphenols and flavones, which are of particular benefit to the cardiovascular, respiratory and digestive systems.
The anti-inflammatory properties of Gentian also make it useful in wound healing. It soothes inflamed tissues and has anti-bacterial and ant-microbial actions and improves blood flow to damaged tissue, speeding up the healing time.
Finally, the active compounds of Gentian not only lower inflammation, they can provide relief from pain by positively modulating pain pathways in the brain.
Folklore and history
It is said that during the reign of King Gentius, Illyria was devastated by the plague. So great was the mortality among his subjects, the pious king appointed a season of fasting and prayed that if he shot an arrow into the air, the gods would direct its descent, guiding it to a herb possessed of sufficient virtue to arrest the course of the disease. The king shot the arrow and it fell to the root of a plant which, when tested, was found to possess the most astonishing curative powers, and did much to lessen the ravages of the plague. The plant from that time on became known as the Gentian, in honor of the good king, whose supplications brought about the divine manifestation of its medicinal properties. Sadly, King Gentius went on to surrender his kingdom to the Romans in 168 BCE.
In more recent times, Gentian found fame as the key ingredient in a soft drink called "Moxie". In its heyday, Moxie outsold Coca Cola and was touted as the ultimate "nerve food". Moxie became synonymous with good times and the "vigorous" life that drinking the product was supposed to sustain. It holds a place in history as the world's first mass-marketed soft drink.
Gentian has a long and esteemed history of traditional use, primarily as a digestive aid and to strengthen the digestive system. The ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and Arab physicians all used Gentian Root as a herbal medicine, it was especially indicated for health issues where a weakened digestive system was involved.
Gentian Root is also popular in Traditional Chinese Medicine and the Indian healing system of Ayurveda, where it is commonly used to treat liver disorders, support detoxification and to stimulate the digestive system.
Gentian Root Powder
1 - 2 grams before a meal, or as recommended by a Herbal Practitioner.
Gentian Root Tincture
Can be added to water or fruit juice and taken when required (preferably before meals).
Traditionally Taken: 2-3ml taken 2-3 times per day, or as directed by a Herbal Practitioner.
Gentian Root Tea
Use 1-2 teaspoons of Gentian Root per cup of boiling water and steep for 3-10 minutes depending on taste. Then strain and serve.
Gentian Constituents include; secoiridoidal and iridoid glycosides such as gentiopicroside, amarogentin, gentiopicrin, xanthones, monoterpene alkaloid; polyphenol and flavones
Not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Please consult your healthcare practitioner if you are taking blood pressure, blood thinnng or blood sugar medication before using Gentian Root. Do not use 2 weeks before scheduled surgery.