Gentiana lutea, commonly known as gentian or bitterwort is yet another bitter herbal medicine used for digestive complaints and disorders. Applications include dyspepsia, anorexia and loss of appetite. It is approved by the German Commission E for a number of digestive complaints such as loss of appetite, uncomfortable fullness after a meal and flatulence. The rhizome or root is the part used for medicine and contains a number of different active constituents including a range of alkaloids, bitters (gentiamarin and gentiopicrin) and xanthones.
Bone lists gentian’s actions as a bitter tonic, a gastric stimulant, a sialagogue and a cholagogue. It is noted that there are no warnings and precautions and that gentian’s use in pregnancy and lactation is not a concern. The main contraindication listed is the presence of gastric and duodenal ulcers, hyperacidity and finally gastric inflammation (1).
To contrast this point the authors of Herbal Medicines note that gentian should be avoided during pregnancy and lactation due to its ability to affect the menstrual cycle.
Herbal Medicine – The Bitters
If you’ve been following along you may have noticed a pattern. Many herbal medicines, including the ones we’ve covered (Greater Celandine, Barberry and Dandelion) improve digestive function and vigour, stimulate appetite, work on gallbladder and liver function (mainly regarding bile production and flow) are bitter.
Really damn bitter.
I think it is a point worth spending a moment on. Many traditional cultures incorporate the bitter flavour in their cuisine. Much of the heritage or wild progenitors of our cultivated food are bitter. In the developed, westernised nations we have successfully eliminated most bitter flavours from our repertoire. The fact that bitter foods and herbal medicines (many times food additives in their traditional culture) stimulate digestive function is important to note.