GENTIAN, Gentiana lutea

Gentian Plant

Gentian got its name from king Gentius who lived about 180 BC. He was a king of the ancient country of Illyria which was on the Adriatic sea, close to what is now Yugoslavia, or Greece. Dioscorides said he introduced this herb as an herbal medicine to aid digestion. However, others say that the Pharaohs of Egypt used this herb as a bitter tonic for digestion centuries before.

Digestion is an important part of good health. Like the sign in doctor's office said, “To not have food is bad, to not have digestion is worse”. That's why there are so many digestion aids.

A bitter tonic should be used to aid digestion. When bitter digestive juices are lacking in the stomach, a bitter tonic will tone the stomach and help digestion. However, people don't like to take a bitter tonic. They want something sweet that tastes good.

An old herb book told about folks a hundred years ago who used gentian not only for indigestion, dyspepsia and fevers, but it said it gave more force to the circulation, therefore aiding in exhaustion, fainting, female weaknesses, hysteria, jaundice, liver problems, nervousness, rheumatism, gout, and more. It even told about them giving gentian to anyone suffering from anorexia.

Down through the ages was used by the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Turks, French and English. When the pilgrims came to this country, the Indians taught them to use sampson's snake root, which is a similar species of gentian which grows in the eastern part of the United States. In 1820, gentian was listed in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia (like our FDA) as a digestive stimulant.

Around 1880, an apothecaryan (or druggist)named Thompson made up a formula for bitter tonic out of gentian and other herbs. He called it “Moxie,” and sold it as a nerve food. He claimed it would cure brain and nervous exhaustion, loss of manhood, helplessness, imbecility and insanity. Thompson took his Moxie medicine on the road, like a snake oil salesman. Moxie didn't do much as a medicine, but the people liked the taste, so he marked the price down and they bought it as a drink. He changed the formula a little and sold it as a beverage. Moxie had a kind of a bitter taste so it was advertised as a drink for the daring and those who had courage.

Moxie was advertised as the “in” drink. It was “cool” to drink Moxie. It caught on as a soft drink. Everyone in the New England area drank Moxie, and for years it even out-sold Coca-Cola. This is no surprise to many, because gentian was used in making beer before the use hops. It is still used in the making of some liquors, like Vermouth. The word Moxie went on to become the slang word for someone who had courage, pluck, guts, smarts, style and perseverance.
Most herbal historians say that gentian is a native of Southern Europe. It grows best in altitudes from 3,000 to 5,000 feet. It can be found growing wild in the Pyrenees mountains of Spain and Portugal, and in the Alps in Italy and Switzerland. Gentian can grow to about 5 feet tall. Gentian will not flower until it is over 10 years old. The yellow, five-petaled blossoms grow in whorls that nestle at the axile or base of the upper leaves. The leaves have 5 to 7 veins, oval with pointed tips and are sessile, or stemless, and join around the stalk. The fleshy root or rhizome is brown outside and yellow inside and should be dug in the fall.

Dry the root and use it in capsules or tea, one level teaspoon to a cup. Take the tea, one teaspoon at a time, one half hour before meals to help digestion. Give three times a day to convalescents to strengthen the stomach and purify the blood. Sweeten with honey and orange peel to overcome bitterness. Gentian is good for parasites and worms, it helps malaria, is a diuretic, an antibilious, will increase saliva, and it is a liver tonic. Apply bruised, fresh leaves as a cooling antiseptic poultice for wounds and inflammations. Grow some in your garden.

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