X

Gentian: A Bitter Herb Filled With Hormonal, Digestive, and Liver Benefits

What You Will Learn in This Article

  • What is gentian?
  • The benefits of gentian
  • How gentian helps digestion
  • How gentian helps the liver
  • How gentian helps balance hormones
  • How to take gentian

Did you know your favorite cocktail might have medicinal properties? It certainly could if you find a high quality source of gentian-rich bitters. Interestingly, bitters help with the metabolism of alcohol—both in breaking down byproducts of fermentation and in lessening the harm from overdoing it. (1) Still, you might have to nix the gin if you’re working on supporting your liver (which, by the way, is also very important for hormone balancing).

But truly, bitters weren’t historically added to beverages just for flavor. Herbalists long ago knew there were certain beneficial herbs that, consumed before or after meals, could greatly improve digestion and overall health. In fact, gentian is a staple herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which goes back thousands of years.

As an herbalist myself, I believe there’s a reason why this herb has had such a long history of use in traditional medicine. In this article, I’ll cover some of gentian’s purported benefits.

What is Gentian?

What is gentian?

Gentian refers to a family of herbs (genus, Gentiana) that has been used medicinally for centuries. The 400 or so species may be found in mountainous regions all over the world. In the United States, it grows in the San Bernardino and San Jacinto ranges of California at 8,000 feet and higher. In Europe, it grows in the mountains spanning central and southern parts of the continent. (2, 3)

The flowers of this plant are generally a blue-purple color, but may also be yellow, depending on the variety. However, the therapeutic part of gentian (at least when it comes to digestion) is its root. (4)

Research has revealed that gentian’s medical benefits come from its active compounds, including iridoids, secoiridoids, xanthones, and flavonoids. Most of our current knowledge about its use as an herbal remedy comes from the traditional medicines of Iran, China, Serbia, and other countries—including those of Europe. (2) Modern research has confirmed some of the traditional uses of this herb, especially as a digestive and liver tonic.

Because of its known digestive effects, gentian root has been incorporated in tonics, apérififs, and liqueurs for generations. It is sometimes even used in an herbal blend called “gruit” in the process of brewing beer. Today, gentian is a common ingredient in your local liquor store. It’s a key ingredient in both Angostura bitters and Peychaud’s Bitters.

In this article, we’ll focus on the great yellow gentian (Gentiana lutea), which has been the preferred species in herbal medicine.

How Gentian Helps Digestion

How Gentian Helps Digestion

Gentian is especially known for its use as a digestive tonic. It’s been used to help soothe an upset stomach, nausea, excess gas, and much more. (2) Some other digestive benefits of gentian as noted in herbal reference guides include: (3, 5, 6)

  • Antiparasitic/Anthelmintic (flukes, roundworms, tapeworms)
  • Antispasmodic (calming spasms)
  • Optimizing levels of hydrochloric acid in the stomach
  • Boosting digestive enzymes
  • Appetite stimulant
  • A tonic for indigestion and dyspepsia in the evening
  • Speeding up the emptying of the stomach – such as in gastroparesis
  • Supporting abdominal blood flow
  • Increasing nutrient absorption in the gut

Gentian works its magic all along the digestive system, beginning in the mouth. The bitter taste of gentian helps stimulate the body to make more saliva and stomach acid, which helps in the breakdown of food particles, improving digestion and absorption. (7)

That bitter taste doesn’t just affect the taste buds and brain (which reacts to taste). Researchers have discovered that there are bitter taste receptors in the stomach and intestines. It’s as though the whole upper part of the digestive tract were covered in taste buds like the tongue —sensing bitter, sweet, and savory tastes. (1)

The gut’s ability to “taste” is why consuming bitters has been shown to stimulate peristalsis, the movement of food along the digestive tract. The bitter taste stimulates movement (8) This movement in the gut is important for avoiding chronic constipation, which is needed for the removal of waste products from the body – including metabolized “dirty” estrogens. We’ll talk more about that later in the article.

How Gentian Helps the Liver

The liver is another key organ in the digestive process that is sometimes forgotten. Gentian has been used in traditional medicine around the world to support liver function. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Gentian is called Qin Jiao, and is used for liver detoxification, lowering inflammation, reducing pain, and combatting viruses. (9)

Gentian is also a cholagogue, which means it’s helpful for increasing the production of bile in the liver. Bile is essential for a healthy gallbladder and liver, breaking down triglycerides and cholesterol, and binding up “dirty” estrogens and removing them from the body. (1)

We have a great article you can read to learn more about how liver and bile production influence hormone balance.

How Gentian Helps Balance Hormones

How Gentian Helps Balance Hormones

Gentian is also an emmenagogue. An emmenagogue is an herb that stimulates blood flow in the pelvic region, including uterus. Women may take these herbs to stimulate menstruation. For that reason, it may help regulate an irregular menstrual cycle. (5, 6)

Some other ways in which gentian could help balance hormones include the following:

Lowering Inflammation

Gentian root appears to have anti-inflammatory activities, which can help address chronic inflammation. Gentiopicroside, one of the main iridoids in gentian mentioned above, was shown to be helpful in improving symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic inflammatory condition. (10) Animal studies confirm that gentian lowers inflammatory markers is therapeutic to inflamed joints. (11, 12)

It’s difficult to balance your hormones when you’re inflamed. One of the ways inflammation causes hormone imbalance is by increasing the activity of an enzyme called aromatase. (13)

This enzyme helps the body make more estrogen, so if it goes overboard, you could end up developing estrogen dominance. If you’re already dealing with estrogen dominance, inflammation is likely going to make it worse. Conditions related to estrogen dominance, like PCOS, endometriosis, and breast cancer, are associated with higher or imbalanced aromatase activity. (14)

You can read more about Estrogen Dominance here.

Liver Support

As mentioned earlier, gentian has traditionally been used to support the liver. If the liver is overburdened, it’s not going to be as efficient at detoxifying metabolized estrogens. Again, if the metabolized estrogens are allowed to keep recirculating, it can contribute to Estrogen Dominance.

Easing Constipation

Gentian can help constipation by stimulating peristalsis and bile flow, it can therefore help address estrogen dominance. That’s because excess estrogen gets bound in the gut and is released through the stool. If you have chronic constipation, you may find it’s difficult to overcome estrogen dominance and balance your hormones.

Read more about how constipation creates hormone imbalance here.

Other Benefits of Gentian

Here are a few additional benefits of gentian, based on research:

Sinus Infections

Sinupret is a classic herbal remedy for sinus infection that has been used in Germany for decades. Gentian is one of the key ingredients, along with 4 others herbs. It was ranked #10 in all products (including pharmaceuticals) prescribed by doctors in Germany in 2003. (15)

While researchers don’t know exactly how Sinupret works, a cell study found that sinupret helped the body get rid of mucus. (16)

A study of 184 children used Sinupret syrup alongside a nasal saline rinse or just a nasal saline rinse for 10 days. Those using the Sinupret had much less congestion, stuffy noses, and postnasal drip at the end of the study compared to those who just used the saline. (17)

While Sinupret includes other herbs, gentian is known to lower inflammation and also combat infections.

Supporting a Healthy Weight

Including gentian root into your daily routine may help you maintain a healthy weight. A review study completed in 2019 found that Gentian (Gentiana lutea) root could be helpful in the treatment of obesity and diabetes. (18) Gentiopicroside, a major active ingredient in gentian was found to reduce weight and amount of fat in an animal study the same year, and a 2020 study confirmed that gentian extract does have anti-obesity effects. (19, 20)

Now that we’ve covered a few benefits of gentian, let’s go over how to take it.

How to Take Gentian

Gentian can be taken as a decoction (boiling the pulverized root) or as a tincture. As a decoction, the amount taken is usually 4 to 8 grams. As a tincture, 1-2 ml is the usual dose. It’s taken 3 times a day, 15-30 minutes before meals or anytime there’s a feeling of gut discomfort and fullness. (6)

A lower dose of gentian may work as a digestive stimulant. A higher dose may help drain the body of mucus, infection, and inflammation.

Safety Considerations: Don’t take gentian if pregnant. Gentian may also aggravate stomach or intestinal ulcers. Also avoid if you already have diarrhea, as gentian could make it worse. In a very small group of people, gentian may cause headaches. (5, 6)

Gentian in the Wellena Digestive Bitters

If you find your digestive system is a bit slow and you’re dealing with hormone imbalance(s), you may want to consider adding gentian to your daily routine. At Wellena, we’ve incorporated gentian into one of our digestive bitters tinctures.

Digestive Bitters

The Wellena Digestive Bitters tinctures come in “Before” and “After” formulations. Gentian is included in the “Before” formula to help stimulate the appetite and ramp of the production of stomach juices. The bitters work as a team to optimize your digestive fire before eating and then soothe the digestive and nervous systems after the meal.

Because it’s ideal to use both tinctures with your meals, we’ve combined them into the Digestive Bitters Kit. This kit includes both the “Before” and “After” bitters along with an organic cotton bag for travel. What’s great is that you also save 10% when you buy the kit over buying the bitters individually.

Using both tinctures in this kit can help support:

  • Less stomach pain
  • Less burping
  • Less bloating
  • Less acid reflux
  • Fewer food sensitivities
  • Better liver detoxification
  • Better blood sugar balance
  • Better bowel movements
  • More energy

You can pick up your kit by clicking here.

Resources

1. Bove, M. The Role of Bitter Herbs for a Healthy Microbiome. Southwest Conference on Botanical Medicine. March 2019.

2. Mirzaee, Fatemeh et al. “Medicinal, biological and phytochemical properties of Gentiana species.” Journal of traditional and complementary medicine. Jan. 2017.

3. Moore, M. Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West. 2003.

4. Šobot, Ana Valenta et al. “Yellow gentian root extract provokes concentration- and time-dependent response in peripheral blood mononuclear cells.” Arhiv za higijenu rada i toksikologiju. Dec. 2020.

5. Pursell, J. J. The Herbal Apothecary Book. 2015.

6. Hoffman, D. Medical Herbalism. 2003.

7. McMullen, Michael K et al. “Bitters: Time for a New Paradigm.” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM vol. 2015 (2015): 670504. doi:10.1155/2015/670504

8. Byers, S. “A New Taste for Bitters.” Journal of the American Herbalists’ Guild. 2012.

9. Wu, Shaoping et al. “Research Progress of Natural Product Gentiopicroside – a Secoiridoid Compound.” Mini reviews in medicinal chemistry. 2017.

10. Wang, Meiling et al. “Anti-Rheumatic Properties of Gentiopicroside Are Associated With Suppression of ROS-NF-κB-NLRP3 Axis in Fibroblast-Like Synoviocytes and NF-κB Pathway in Adjuvant-Induced Arthritis.” Frontiers in pharmacology. May. 2020.

11. Zhao, Lei et al. “Gentiopicroside prevents interleukin-1 beta induced inflammation response in rat articular chondrocyte.” Journal of ethnopharmacology. 2015.

12. Xie, Xiaoqian et al. “Therapeutic effects of gentiopicroside on adjuvant-induced arthritis by inhibiting inflammation and oxidative stress in rats.” International immunopharmacology. 2019.

13. Morris, Patrick G et al. “Inflammation and increased aromatase expression occur in the breast tissue of obese women with breast cancer.” Cancer prevention research (Philadelphia, Pa. 2011.

14. Patel, Seema. “Disruption of aromatase homeostasis as the cause of a multiplicity of ailments: A comprehensive review.” The Journal of steroid biochemistry and molecular biology. 2017.

15. American Botanical Council. SINUPRET® Consumer/Patient Information Sheet. Herbal Gram. n.d.

16. Zhang, Shaoyan et al. “Sinupret activates CFTR and TMEM16A-dependent transepithelial chloride transport and improves indicators of mucociliary clearance.” PloS one. Aug. 2014.

17. Popovich, Vasyl I., and Halyna V. Beketova. “Results of a randomised controlled study on the efficacy of a combination of saline irrigation and Sinupret syrup phytopreparation in the treatment of acute viral rhinosinusitis in children aged 6 to 11 years.” Clinical Phytoscience. 2018.

18. Joksić, Gordana et al. “Potential of Gentiana lutea for the Treatment of Obesity-associated Diseases.” Current pharmaceutical design vol. 25,18 (2019): 2071-2076. doi:10.2174/1381612825666190708215743

19. Choi, Ra-Yeong et al. “Gentiopicroside isolated from Gentiana scabra Bge. inhibits adipogenesis in 3T3-L1 cells and reduces body weight in diet-induced obese mice.” Bioorganic & medicinal chemistry letters. 2019.

20. Park, Eunkuk et al. “Antiobesity Effects of Gentiana lutea Extract on 3T3-L1 Preadipocytes and a High-Fat Diet-Induced Mouse Model.” Molecules (Basel, Switzerland). May. 2020.