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What is Gentian?

Common in the mountains of central and southern Europe, G. lutea is a perennial herb that produces a cluster of fragrant orange-yellow flowers. G. acaulis (stemless gentian) is native to the European Alps at higher elevations. The roots and rhizomes are nearly cylindrical, sometimes branched, and are longitudinally wrinkled. The darker brown roots have a more persistent, bitter taste than the lighter tan roots. The roots and rhizome of G. lutea are used medicinally, whereas the entire plant of G. acaulis is used. Numerous other species of gentian native to China are used in Chinese traditional medicine. Radix Gentianae Scabrae (Chinese or Japanese gentian) contain chemical constituents similar to those of G. lutea.

Scientific Name(s)

Gentiana lutea L. and other species including Gentiana acaulis L. and Gentiana scabra Bunge.

Common Name(s)

Gentian also is known as stemless gentian, yellow gentian, bitter root, bitterwort, felwort, pale gentian, wild gentian, gall weed, gentiana, Radix Gentianae Lutea.

What is it used for?

Traditional/Ethnobotanical uses

The gentians have been used for centuries as bitters to stimulate the appetite, improve digestion, and to treat a variety of GI complaints (eg, heartburn, vomiting, stomach ache, diarrhea). Stemless gentian usually is consumed as a tea or alcoholic extract, such as Angostura bitters. The extracts are used in a variety of foods, cosmetics, and some antismoking products. The plant has been used externally to treat wounds, and internally to treat sore throat, arthritic inflammation, and jaundice. Despite the name, the dye gentian violet is not derived from this plant.

General uses

No clinical trials support traditional use of gentian to stimulate appetite, improve digestion, or treat GI complaints. Gentian has also been used to induce menstruation and to treat wounds, sore throat, arthritic inflammation, and jaundice.

What is the recommended dosage?

Infusions, extracts, and teas of gentian roots and rhizomes have been used as a bitter digestive tonic in doses of 1 to 4 g/day. There are no clinical studies to support this dosage recommendation.


Gentian should not be used in patients with ulcers or high blood pressure.


Documented adverse effects. Avoid use.


None well documented.

Side Effects

The extract may cause headache, nausea, and vomiting.


Toxicity information is limited.


1. Gentian. Review of Natural Products. Facts & Comparisons [database online]. St. Louis, MO: Wolters Kluwer Health Inc; March 2011.

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