Botanical and Common Names
- Family Gentianaceae
- Gentiana lutea (Yellow Gentian, Bitter Root, Bitterwort, Gentian Root, Pale Gentian)
- Gentiana macrophylla (Qin Jiao, Large-leaved Gentian)
- Gentiana puberulenta (Downy Gentian)
- Gentiana andrewsii (Closed Gentian)
- Gentiana scabra (Japanese Gentian, Long Dan Cao)
- Do not use if suffering from acid indigestion and peptic ulcers.
It is native to the Alps and other mountainous regions of central and southern Europe from Spain to the Balkans. It flourishes at altitudes up to 8,000 feet. It is an erect perennial, growing to four feet with star-shaped yellow flowers and oval leaves.
Native to Mongolia, and the northeastern provinces of China, Qin Jiao has opposite lance-shaped leaves and violet bell-shaped flowers emerging from the leaf axils. The root is dug up in early autumn and dried as quickly as possible.
The herb reputedly takes its name from a 2nd century BCE king of Illyria named Gentius, who discovered its ability to reduce fevers.
Powerfully bitter, the herb is an essential ingredient of traditional aperitifs and such bitters as Angostura bitters. The customary aperitif is taken about one-half hour before meals, but it has become more of a social expectation rather than a medicinal one.
In medieval times, it was an ingredient of the alchemical brew called “theriac”, a supposed cure-all made according to a highly secret recipe.
It was officially listed in the US Pharmacopoeia from 1820 to 1882.
Qin Jiao is one of the 252 herbs listed in the Divine Husbandman’s Classic (Shen’nong Bencaojing), a Chinese herbal written in the 1st century CE.
- stimulates appetite
- stimulates liver to increase bile production
(b) Qin Jaio
- mildly sedating
- Xanthone derivatives (including gentisin, gentisein, isogentisin)
- bitter principles (iridoide monoterpenes)
- volatile oil
Amarogentin is one of the key bitter constituents of the plant and, although present in smaller quantities than gentiopicroside, it is 3,000 times more bitter. It is thought to be the most bitter substance on the planet, having been tasted at dilutions of 1:50,000.
Chinese research has found qin jiao to have both an antibiotic and anti-inflammatory effect.
The root of several Gentiana species is used as a bitter tonic which excites the flow of gastric juices, promoting the appetite and aiding in digestion. It also strengthens a weak or underactive digestive system, making it a good remedy for the elderly. According to Michael Moore, gentians are the best stomach tonics in the plant kingdom.
While G. lutea is used in the West, the Chinese use either G. macrophylla or G. scabra. In Chinese medicine, the roots are used for digestive and feverish conditions, as well as for urinary infections and rheumatic disorders.
G. macrophylla decoctions are used with other herbs for rheumatic pains, fevers, and allergic inflammations. It is also commonly used in tincture form to “cool” the body. Unlike other gentians, qin jiao is mildly pungent and, therefore, appropriate for a somewhat different range of illnessnes. In Chinese medicine, it is prescribed for fevers, jaundice, and “dry” constipation, and is generally used to help support the function of the liver and digestive system. Since it is also an anti-inflammatory and mildly sedating, it is prescribed for arthritic and rheumatic conditions.
G. scabra decoctions are used in combination with other herbs for liver disorders, hypertension, and urinary infections. It is used as a pure bitter to promote digestive secretions and treat a wide range of illnesses associated with the liver.
G. lutea decoctions are taken before meals to stimulate the appetite by relieving the fullness feeling and stomach pains. Tinctures are used as a digestive stimulant or to stop the craving for sweet foods. It is also prescribed for liver disease, including hepatitis, gall bladder inflammation, or where jaundice is a symptom. Note: When treating liver disease with tinctures, the alcohol must first be removed.
G. adsurgens is native to Mexico and used by the Maya to stimulate the stomach and to treat stomach pain.
G. andrewsii is native to North America and used as a snakebite remedy and as a bitter.