Gentian root is an herb that has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. It comes from a large genus of plants that typically grows in the mountain climates of Europe, Asia, and the Americas. These plants have trumpet-like flowers that come in blue, yellow, and other colors.
People have traditionally used gentian roots to fight inflammation and swelling, treat infected wounds, and serve as an antidote to animal poison. However, there are few scientific studies on its uses.
This article provides a detailed overview of the possible uses, benefits, and side effects of gentian root.
Gentian root comes from flowering plants in the Gentiana genus, which includes more than 400 species that grow in the highlands in parts of Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Gentiana flowers come in a variety of beautiful colors, but only the root is used for medicinal purposes.
It’s yellow-brown and can be dried and made into pills, teas, tinctures, and extracts. In traditional medicine, people often mix it with water and apply it topically or consume it as a drink.
People have used water infused with gentian root to treat swelling in the liver, spleen, and stomach. They’ve likewise used plasters made from gentian root and vinegar on skin inflammation, infected wounds, and bites from poisonous animals.
Gentian root is known for its bitter taste. It’s particularly used in traditional settings as a digestive tonic to stimulate the stomach, liver, and gallbladder function. In fact, the name gentian comes from the ancient Illyrian king Gentius, who identified that the herb could be used as a tonic.
Even today, it remains a component of alcoholic aperitifs, which are served before meals to stimulate appetite, as well as digestifs, which are served after meals to aid digestion.
People use gentian root to make bitters that are added to some alcoholic drinks. It’s also an ingredient in Moxie, one of the oldest brands of soda in the United States, which is known for its bitter aftertaste.
Gentian root comes from plants of the Gentiana genus. It’s used in traditional medicine as a digestive aid and treatment for various ailments. Researchers continue to explore its medicinal properties today.
While gentian root has a wide variety of uses in traditional medicine, few scientific studies back its purported benefits. The main active compounds in gentian root are iridoids, secoiridoids, xanthones, and flavonoids.
The amounts of these compounds in the plant depend on the type of Gentiana plant, time and year of harvest, and drying process. Thus, not every preparation of gentian root may offer the same benefits.
May help with arthritis
Gentian roots may possess anti-inflammatory properties and therefore help with inflammatory conditions. For example, one of the main iridoids in gentian root, known as gentiopicroside, may help treat rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory condition that results from the immune system attacking healthy cells. This leads to pain, inflammation, and swelling in the joints.
Test-tube and animal studies have shown that gentiopicroside fights inflammation associated with arthritis, possibly by preventing the formation of cells that break down bones.
Additionally, one study in rats with arthritis found that gentiopicroside significantly reduced levels of inflammatory markers in the blood and improved inflamed joints.
While these results suggest that gentian root may help with arthritis and other inflammatory conditions, no studies have tested this effect in humans.
Most studies have used extracted gentiopicroside from Gentiana plants. It’s unclear whether consuming gentian root in the forms typically available has the same effects as taking gentiopicroside on its own.
It’s also important to note that some research suggests that gentiopicroside is not found in raw forms and only exists in dried gentian root.
Researchers have explored the anti-inflammatory effects of gentian root in people with sinus infections. Symptoms include congestion, headaches, and facial pain resulting from inflammation of the sinuses.
Gentian root is a component of Sinupret, an herbal treatment for sinus infections that have been on the market for over 80 years. Sinupret also contains verbena, sorrel, elderflowers, and primula flowers.
Researchers do not know exactly how Sinupret helps with sinus infections. The iridoids and flavonoids from the gentian root may contribute to its benefits.
One test-tube study in human cells found that Sinupret enhanced mucus clearance. A controlled study gave 184 children with sinus infections Sinupret and had them use a saline rinse for 10 days.
Those who received this treatment experienced significantly improved nasal congestion, nasal discharge, and postnasal drip compared with those who used the saline rinse alone.
More research is needed to fully understand the effectiveness of Sinupret in treating sinus infections. What’s more, Sinupret is a mixture of herbs that includes gentian root, so it’s unclear whether gentian root would have the same benefits on its own.
Iridoids and secoiridoids in Gentiana species may increase appetite and offer protective effects for the digestive system. These compounds include gentiopicroside, amarogentin, and amaroswerin.
These compounds contribute to the bitter taste of the gentian root. Consuming bitter substances may help stimulate the body to secrete saliva and gastric juices, thus promoting appetite and good digestion. One study in 50 children with anorexia found that those who took gentian root extract daily had significantly increased appetite, weight, and calorie intake after 2 months, compared with a placebo group.
The possible appetite-stimulating effects of gentian root are one reason why it’s a common ingredient in aperitifs and bitter liqueurs.
In addition to treating poor appetite, gentian root may help treat upset stomach, nausea, and gas. However, no recent human studies have suggested that gentian root can help with these problems. There’s not enough evidence to support its use.
In fact, products like gentian roots that stimulate gastric juices may make certain issues worse. For example, too much stomach acid may cause acid reflux and ulcers.
Some people claim that gentian root may help with arthritis, sinus infections, low appetite, and digestive issues. However, few studies support these traditional uses.
There’s not very much research on the effect of gentian root in humans. Therefore, it’s difficult to assess its potential side effects and downsides. Gentian root appears to be safe when taken by mouth in combination with the other herbs in Sinupret.
The abovementioned study on the use of Sinupret in children with sinus infections reported no adverse reactions to the product. Still, the Sinupret label lists some possible side effects, including skin rash and stomach upset. Some individuals may also be hypersensitive to gentian root and develop adverse reactions.
Overall, there’s no documentation on the safety of gentian root on its own, nor its various available preparations and range of recommended dosages.
Without enough information on this herb, children and pregnant and lactating women should not take gentian root. Additionally, gentian extract has been shown to decrease blood pressure in rats. This evidence does not necessarily apply to humans. However, individuals who have low blood pressure or are taking medications to reduce blood pressure should stay on the safe side and avoid gentian root.
Not much research has been conducted on the safety or side effects of gentian root. Children, pregnant and lactating women, and those taking blood pressure medications should avoid gentian root.
Dosage and forms
Gentian root is likely safe for most healthy people when consumed in small amounts. For example, people may consume it in combination with other herbs in Sinupret or as part of a liqueur or drink with bitters.
However, there’s not enough information about the effects of medicinal amounts of gentian root in humans to support a standardized dosage.
The recommended amounts listed on gentian root supplements vary. They include 0.5–1.5 mL for liquid extracts, 500–900 mg for pills, and 1–2 teaspoons for tea.
It’s also important to note that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate supplements as tightly as medications. Therefore, the contents and claims listed on supplement labels may not be accurate. Overall, scientific evidence supporting the therapeutic use and safety of gentian root is scarce.
While gentian root may be acceptable in small amounts in a multi-ingredient product or drink, taking supplements may not be worthwhile. Some supplements can also be expensive. Speak with your healthcare provider before trying gentian root supplements. If you experience any side effects, stop using them.
There’s no standardized dosage of gentian root in any of its available forms. Recommendations listed on supplements vary, and side effects remain largely unknown.
The bottom line
Gentian root is known for its bitter taste, and people have used it in traditional medicine for centuries. Several compounds in gentian root may have therapeutic effects, such as anti-inflammatory properties and digestive benefits. However, there’s minimal scientific evidence to back up its effectiveness.
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