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Gentian, the King of Bitter Herbs

judsoncarroll4judsoncarroll4 Posts: 3,413 admin
edited October 2020 in Herbal Medicine-Making

New blog post:

Gentian, the King of Bitter Herbs

Perhaps the most common bitter herb used in aromatic Bitters is Gentian, but the medicinal value of gentian should not be overlooked. Pictured above is the Yellow Gentian, Gentiana Lutea, commonly used in herbal medicine.  

According to NatrualMedicinalHerbs.net, "Gentian root has a long history of use as a herbal bitter in the treatment of digestive disorders and is an ingredient of many proprietary medicines. It contains some of the most bitter compounds known and is used as a scientific basis for measuring bitterness. It is especially useful in states of exhaustion from chronic disease and in all cases of debility, weakness of the digestive system and lack of appetite. It is one of the best strengtheners of the human system, stimulating the liver, gall bladder and digestive system, and is an excellent tonic to combine with a purgative in order to prevent its debilitating effects. The root is anthelmintic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, bitter tonic, cholagogue, emmenagogue, febrifuge, refrigerant and stomachic. It is taken internally in the treatment of liver complaints, indigestion, gastric infections and anorexia. It should not be prescribed for patients with gastric or duodenal ulcers. The root, which can be as thick as a person's arm and has few branches, is harvested in the autumn and dried for later use. It is quite likely that the roots of plants that have not flowered are the richest in medicinal properties."  

Yellow Gentian is native to the mountains of central and southern Europe, and is endangered, so familiarity with the other members of the family and growing your own would be advised. The aforementioned lists several Gentians. Some have unique documented properties, so be sure to look up each in your favorite herbal:

Gentiana acaulis, Gentiana andrewsii, Gentiana crassicaulis, Gentiana cruciata, Gentiana dahurica, Gentiana decumbens, Gentiana kurroo, Gentiana lutea, Gentiana macrophylla, Gentiana manshurica, Gentiana pannonica, Gentiana pneumonanthe, Gentiana puberulenta, Gentiana punctata, Gentiana purpurea, Gentiana saponaria, Gentiana scabra, Gentiana scabra buergeri, Gentiana straminea, Gentiana thunbergii, Gentiana triflora, Gentiana tubiflora

According to tradition, Gentian was named for Gentius, ruler of the Illyrian Kingdom (181-168 BC). "Dioscorides (the Greek physician) believed that the king Gentius identified the properties of this plant and used the plant root in 167 BC by the incidence of Plague." (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5634738/ 

Saint Hildegard of Bingen recommended Gentian for all, “who has fever in the stomach, often drinks powdered gentian in warm wine and his stomach is cleansed of fever”. Gentian's use in traditional European medicine was well established, being recommended by Hieronymus Bock and Fr. Sebastian Kneipp. 

Although the use of Bitters medicinally had been widely used and acknowledged by physicians for centuries, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 arbitrarily banned all commercial claims of the health benefits of bitter. Granted, some advertisements went too far, such as claiming to "strengthen, invigorate, tone and rebuild the entire system" (according to Bitters, A Spirited History of a Classic Cure All, by Brad Thomas Parsons). I'm not sure which company made that claim, but an ad for Brown's Iron Bitters is a good example:

Read More: https://southernappalachianbitters.blogspot.com/


  • toreytorey Posts: 2,801 admin

    Great article; glad you posted it. I love gentian! Everyone should get to know this wonderful herb.

  • judsoncarroll4judsoncarroll4 Posts: 3,413 admin

    Thanks! Gentian seemed like the most logical starting place. I guess my taste must be different than most, because I don't find it too bitter on its own, at all. I just ordered Saint Hildegard's book in hard copy, so hopefully I'll get a lot of interesting stuff from that, too. She was a mystic, who had frequent conversations with Jesus, angels and saints, and all sorts of apocalyptic visions. But, she was also a great physician, botanist and horticulturalist. She learned from the Benedictines, who had the most expansive knowledge of medicine at the times, But, from what I understand, most of her knowledge came from her visions and those messages.... perhaps like the "wisdom of Solomon", who was said to have knowledge of all plants and their uses? She was also among the most published musicians and composers of the middle ages.... pretty darn impressive!

  • toreytorey Posts: 2,801 admin

    Awesome that you are getting her book. I have read excerpts from it online and have seen it referenced many times but its one I don;t (as yet) have in my library.

    When I first tasted gentian on its own, I was expecting the worst. It is considered the most bitter of all the bitters. But I enjoy the taste. If a bitter recipe doesn't have gentian in it, I will make the recipe as is, but usually the second time I make a recipe, I will add gentian to make it more to my liking, if I am making it just for me.

  • judsoncarroll4judsoncarroll4 Posts: 3,413 admin
    edited September 2020

    I agree. I can do a whole shot of just plain gentian tincture and LIKE IT! The Book is "Hildegard of Bingen's Medicine", so it is all her medical stuff collected into one volume. Maybe someday I'll get into her spiritual writings... but not yet. I also found Fr. Kniepp's books online. His herbal info is very good. I don't think I'll try his full water cure though. https://archive.org/details/39002086176469.med.yale.edu/mode/2u

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