The Gentians are an extensive group of plants, numbering about 180 species, distributed throughout all climates, though mostly in temperate regions and high mountains, being rare in the Arctic. In South America and New Zealand, the prevailing color of the flower is red, in Europe blue.
All the known species are remarkable for the intensely bitter properties residing in the root and every part of the herbage, hence they are valuable tonic medicines. That most commonly used in Europe is Gentiana lutea. The root of this species is the principal vegetable bitter employed in medicine, though the roots of several other species, including our native ones, are said to be equally efficacious.
Gentian roots are collected and dried in central and southern Europe, much of the supply for this country having formerly come from Germany, though it is also imported from Switzerland, France and Spain, and French Gentian is considered of special excellence.
Gentian as an Herb for Medicinal Uses
Gentian is one of the most useful of our bitter vegetable tonics. It is specially useful in states of exhaustion from chronic disease and in all cases of general debility, weakness of the digestive organs and want of appetite. Many dyspeptic complaints are more effectually relieved by Gentian bitters than by Peruvian Bark. It is of extreme value in jaundice and is prescribed extensively.
Gentian increases the appetite, stimulates digestive juices, decreases intestinal inflammation, treats indigestion, heartburn, liver and spleen disorders, promotes menstruation, strengthens and builds the body, and is helpful for gout and arthritis.
As a simple bitter, Gentian is considered more palatable combined with an aromatic, and for this purpose orange peel is frequently used. A tincture made with 2 ounces of the root, 1 ounce of dried orange peel, and 1/2 ounce bruised cardamom seeds in a quart of brandy is an excellent stomach tonic, and is efficacious in restoring appetite and promoting digestion. A favorite form in which Gentian has been administered in country remedies is as an ingredient in the so-called Stockton bitters, in which Gentian and the root of Sweet Flag play the principal part.
The dose of the fluid gentian root extract is 1/2 to 1 teaspoonful in water, three times daily.
Gentian Root Tonic
Perks up a declining appetite.
2 to 4 teaspoons chopped dried gentian root
2 cups water
2 teaspoons dried peppermint (optional)
In a small saucepan, bring the gentian root and water to a boil; reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the peppermint if desired. Cover and let steep for 5 minutes. Transfer to a cup. Let cool until lukewarm. Will keep 2 days tightly covered and refrigerated.
Culinary Uses of Gentian
Before the introduction of hops, Gentian, with many other bitter herbs, was used occasionally in brewing.
Fresh Gentian root is largely used in Germany and Switzerland for the production of an alcoholic beverage. The roots are cut, macerated with water, fermented and distilled; the distillate contains alcohol and a trace of volatile oil, which imparts to it a characteristic odor and taste.
In the eighteenth century Gentian wine was drunk as an aperitif before dinner.
If you have any of the following health problems, consult your doctor before using this product: stomach/intestinal ulcers, high blood pressure.
Liquid preparations of this product may contain sugar and/or alcohol. Caution is advised if you have diabetes, alcohol dependence or liver disease.
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