encyclopedia

Gentian Root

Scientific Names:     

Gentiana lutea L. [Fam. Gentianaceae]     

Forms:     

Coarsely cut, dried root for making infusions; gentian root tincture.     

Traditional Usage:     

– Anorexia
– Anti-inflammatory
– Antioxidant
– Appetite Loss
– Bile Stimulant
– Cellular Regeneration
– Cleansing
– Detoxification
– Digestive Disorders
– Dyspepsia
– Earache
– Flatulence
– Gastrointestinal Disorders
– Heartburn
– Hypothyroidism
– Indigestion
– Ulcers     

Overview:     

Gentian root and rhizome, Gentiana lutea L. [Fam. Gentianaceae], otherwise known as Bitter Root, is named after King Gentius of ancient Illyria (180-167 B.C.) who is said to have discovered its medicinal properties. This classical bitter herb is a yellow-flowering perennial native to the alpine meadows of central and southern Europe and western Asia. The commercial supply of gentian root largely comes from the mountains of France, Spain and the Balkans from elevations between 1,000-2,500 meters. Permits are required to harvest gentian, now a protected plant in Germany, Yugoslavia and many other countries, because it has been extirpated from many different areas. Wild harvested plants generally require 7 to 10 years to be harvestable. Traditionally, gentian is used for treating flatulent colic and indigestion. The German Commission E approves gentian root and rhizome for treating digestive complaints including lack of appetite, feeling of distention and flatulence. One clinical trial with 10 healthy subjects showed that gentian root tincture taken by oral dosage increased and prolonged emptying of the gallbladder indicating a choleretic effect (increased bile flow) and stimulated gastric juice secretion. Gentiana lutea and related species from India including G. chirata and G. chirayita, are included in the Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia, which indicates their use for treating anorexia, dyspepsia and gastrointestinal complaints. In Ayurvedic medicine, gentian's actions are classified as bitter, gastric stimulant and bile stimulant. Animal studies have also documented choleretic properties for gentian, and one compound found in the root called gentianine has been reported to have anti-inflammatory activity. A recent study to discover new natural antioxidants screened seven plants including Vitis vinifera as reference and found that Gentiana lutea was the only one that presented a hydroxyl-radical scavenging activity. Dr. James Duke, author of The Green Pharmacy, also recommends gentian root for treating earache, heartburn, hypothyroidism and ulcers.     

Active Ingredients:     

Gentian root contains: alkaloids including 0.5-0.8% gentianine and gentialutine; seco-iridoid bitter substances including 2-3% gentiopicroside as the main component, swertiamarin and sweroside; only 0.05-0.084% of the acylglycoside amarogentin, however, due to its extreme bitterness value (58,000,000) it is considered the essential component; xanthones including gentisin, isogentisin; gentioside, etc.; saccharose; trisaccharide; 5-8% gentiobiose; volatile oil containing many components including triterpenes such as beta-amyrin and lupeol; phytosterols and pectins. Starch is absent.     

Suggested Amount:     

Gentian root infusions are recommended with the dosage of 0.6-2.0g of the coarsely cut or powdered rhizome/root per cup of tea, with a cold or moderately warm cupful of the tea taken half-an-hour before each meal. Boiling water is poured over the drug and allowed to steep for 5-10 minutes covered, and then passed through a tea strainer. Alternatively, the drug can be prepared in cold water and allowed to draw for several hours before drinking. The daily dose of tincture (1:5 in 45% alcohol) is 1-4ml taken three times daily, and the powdered rhizome/root can also be taken with the same dosage recommendation as above using 2-4 grams daily. In view of noted mutagenic activity of some of the root constituents based on animal studies, it is recommended to use the lower dosages.     

Drug Interactions:     

None known.       

Contraindications:     

Gentian root is contraindicated in cases of stomach and intestinal ulcers and also in cases of high blood pressure, although no rationale is given to this statement. Gentian is also contraindicated during pregnancy and lactation, in view of the documented mutagenic activity of the herb and also due to an affect of the herb on the menstrual cycle.     

Side Effects:     

People sensitive to bitter substances may experience headaches occasionally after using gentian root preparations. Mutagenic activity has been noted for gentian in animals studies and therefore large dosages are not recommended. The Council of Europe lists gentian root as a natural source of food flavoring (category N2). This category indicates that gentian can be added to foodstuffs in small quantities, with a possible limitation of an active principle (as yet unspecified) in the final product.     

References:     

Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J 2000. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Copyright American Botanical Council. Publ. by Integrative Medicine Communications, 1029 Chestnut Street, Newton, MA 02464. Pp. 149-152.
 
Calliste CA, Trouillas P, Allais DP, Simon A, Duroux JL. 2001. Free radical scavenging activities measured by electron spin resonance spectroscopy and B16 cell antiproliferative behaviors of seven plants. J Agric Food Chem. 2001 Jul; 49(7): 3321-7.
 
el-Sedawy AI, Hattori M, Kobashi K, Namba T. 1989. Metabolism of gentiopicroside (gentiopicrin) by human intestinal bacteria. Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo). 1989 Sep; 37(9): 2435-7.
 
Newall CA, Anderson LA, and Phillipson JD. 1996. Uva-Ursi. In Herbal Medicines. A Guide for Health Care Professionals. The Pharmaceutical Press, London, pp. 134.
 
Wichtl M (ed). 1994. Gentianae radix – Gentian (English translation by Norman Grainger Bisset). In Herbal Drugs and Phyto-pharmaceuticals. CRC Press, Stuttgart, pp. 2330-235.