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King Gentius of Illyria (180-67 BC) is said to have done the initial introduction of gentian when he gave the herb, later named after him, to his army when it cured them of a mysterious fever. It has long been used as a bitter flavoring for alcoholic drinks, especially in Germany and Switzerland where Gentian flavored beer was drunk before the introduction of hops. Gentian wine was also served as an aperitif at 18th century dinner parties to encourage the guest’s digestion following a meal.

Gentian is found in many liquor stores as the chief flavor in vermouth, and in Stockton and Angostura bitters, both of which were originally used as digestive tonics. Angostura bitters was produced in Angostura, Argentina (now Ciudad Bolivar), by Dr. J.G.B. Siegart, who was the Chief Surgeon at the U.S. Military Hospital in 1824. The label describes it as a “pleasant and dependable stomachic” and suggests adding it to soups, stews, vegetables, ice cream, and just about every other food. Today, extracts of gentian root can also be found in the American soft drink Moxie, and are attributed to its unique flavor.


One of the most bitter of the bitter digestive tonics, gentian is appropriately called “bitter root.” Gentian root is a digestive bitter with cooling and drying properties. It is often used just before or just after a meal to help active the digestive system and to support the body in assimilating nutrients.

Uses of Gentian


    This information in our Herbal Reference Guide is intended only as a general reference for further exploration, and is not a replacement for professional health advice. This content does not provide dosage information, format recommendations, toxicity levels, or possible interactions with prescription drugs. Accordingly, this information should be used only under the direct supervision of a qualified health practitioner such as a naturopathic physician.

    Active Constituents

    Gentiopicrine, alkaloids, triterpenoids, xanthone and essential oils

    Parts Used

    • Root

    Important precautions

    Large doses should not be used over a long period of time. It should not be used in pregnancy. It should also be avoided during times of acute digestive distress.

    Additional Resources

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