My Experience With Gentian Root

My Experience With Gentian Root

Last week I mentioned my use of an herb called Gentian root. For a number of reasons, I am going to share my experience with Gentian in this article.

What is Gentian?

Gentian has many nicknames. The name most relevant to our discussion here is bitter root. Typically it is the root of Gentian that is used medicinally. Gentian is also noted as one of the most bitter substances in the world. I’ll get to why this is important very soon. First I want to quickly explain why the bitter taste is important.

A Small Primer On Bitters

We evolved as a species to detect bitter tastes for two reasons. One is to detect and avoid poison. The second, is to detect when a plant is more of a medicine than a food. Medicine in excessive quantities can turn into poison.

In a medicinal context, the taste of bitter plays a stimulating role in the body. It triggers responses from our organs that support the absorption and assimilation of nutrients. You can feel this happening as you immediately begin to salivate when you taste something bitter. Poisonous substances can make us salivate too, but for a much different reason.

It is the action of the powerful bitterness of Gentian that is at the root of what I am about to describe.

My Gentian Experience

If you haven’t already guessed, I spend a lot of time in front of a computer. I try not to let it go on for too long, but sometimes I just get so engrossed in what I’m doing, it seems like I blink and it’s dark out already.

Sometimes, I have a big project with a fast approaching deadline. Combine perfectionism and a neurosis for always being on time and you get a great recipe for forgetting to do certain things. Like eat.

At one point – against my better judgement – I was in the process of editing a book. If you’ve ever done something like that, you know it is a big job with a lot of detail and huge margin for error. It is wildly time consuming and can relegate even the most robust and fierce of individuals to tears.

While working so much, I slowly lost my appetite. I noticed this happening one night and realized I needed to go for a workout and give my metabolism a nice boot from behind. So I got dressed and went to the gym.

That did not go as planned. I was very sluggish. And I knew exactly why.

Getting myself into that position – again, against my better judgement – put me into a very common bind. I’m really not hungry and I need to develop an appetite. But physical activity doesn’t feel so great because I need to eat. This situation of course played out into my mood. I was crabby and cranky. And really starting to lose my focus.

Fortunately, Kita had already noticed and had grabbed some Gentian root tincture for me. So when I told her what was going on – of course she already knew – she told me to take a dropper full and see what happens.

As an aside, I always know when something is going to have a bit of a strong taste when she stops to watch me take something. She loves it when I make a crazy face after tasting something bitter. Because she knows that really tasting the bitter in herbal medicine is one of the keys to it working well.

And what a face I made. Remember when I said Gentian is considered among botanists to be “one of the most bitter substances in the world?” Ok, well I call it THE most bitter substance I’ve ever tasted! I shuddered and shook like a dog shaking off water.

(The only thing I can think of that is more bitter than Gentian, is chewing on a Balsam Poplar bud. An experience I do not recommend you try at home.)

Within about 10 minutes, I was starving. Ready to eat. And happy about it! My mood was already on the upswing.

The Best Meal Of My Life

I mixed up a can of garbanzo beans with micro greens and a little feta, tossed it with some olive oil, sliced a tomato and used the slices to line an ezekial wrap. Then I set my beans on top and put my newly created work of culinary genius on the stove for about 5 minutes.

That was the BEST meal, I have ever had. Not because the dish itself was a chef’s masterpiece, but because of how my body received it.

One of the many actions of Gentian root is to assist in nutrient absorption and assimilation. I could practically hear my cells soaking up nutrition. And I could literally feel my body soaking up nutrients.

Gentian root is contraindicated under the following conditions: gastric and duodenal ulcers, stomach irritability or inflammation, gall stones, bile duct obstruction, pregnancy, nursing, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), excess vata conditions. Check with your doctor if you currently present with or are experiencing any of the above.

Would I have felt so good if I had a couple slices of pizza? Not by a long shot. This experience was the result of a combination of Gentian root and high quality food. Our bodies are super smart. They know good stuff when they get it. And they let us know how happy it makes them.

I am now back in the gym and feeling like my old self.

Lessons Learned

The reason Gentian worked for me is because it stimulated my digestive tract and other organs and that was what I needed help with at the time. I do not currently suffer from any chronic or acute illnesses. The experience retaught me a couple of lessons that I thought I already had down. I guess that’s why I needed them re-taught.

First, a much better treatment for me would have been to suck it up and take regular breaks and eat instead of going heads down for 10 hours at a time. Then I wouldn’t have wound up in the pickle I was in.

Second is one that I wrote about myself. It is the whole idea of never letting yourself go hungry. It is a trap that can be hard to recover from. I feel like I got lucky with Gentian because it worked right away.

If you find yourself struggling with poor appetite and that is something you want to change, give Gentian root a shot. Preferably the tincture or the tea. Remember, tasting the bitter is a big part of the medicine. And it does get easier. Gentian doesn’t make me shudder any more so I’m pretty sure I can take on the world now.

In fact – and I know this may sound crazy – I crave it now. Go figure right?

Other Uses Of Gentian And A Small Promise

There is a LOT more that Gentian is capable of in addition to poor appetite. I don’t want to keep you from the rest of your day so I will give you a list in a second but please promise me one thing:

Some of the symptoms listed below could be signs of an existing condition that needs immediate medical attention, ie. jaundice, fever, etc. Please do not take our recommendation of Gentian on this website as a prescription of any kind. It is a powerful plant and it can help but it should not be relied on to address medical complications. As with all of our herbs and herbal formulas, we recommend it based on supporting literature to promote healthy structure and function of the body.

Additional potential uses of Gentian: Indigestion, chronic constipation, hepatitis, jaundice, candida, intestinal parasites, obesity, diabetes, sugar addiction, post illness debility, anorexia, malaria, fevers, arthritis, herpes, and disease conditions that lessen the appetite.

Speak to one of our herbal staff members if you feel you could benefit from the actions of Gentian root. And as always, consult with your physician if you are undergoing treatment for any chronic or acute illnesses.



  1. I used it as tea. I found it was a lot easier to drink if I mixed it with regular sweet tea and ice. It didn’t make me eat any more than usual, but the food did taste alot better. It tasted like I’d been craving it for weeks. (however, I actualy did not experience any cravings or hunger after drinking it)

    I bought it to attempt to gain weight, but clearly that isn’t what it’s doing for me, so I probably won’t be using it again. If you want to use it for the purpose of jump starting your taste buds, however, I highly suggest it.

  2. A few weeks ago was my first experience with gentian. Though I knew of its potential uses (stomach relief, appetite, etc.), I had no idea how bitter it was.

    So, I made an herbal tea — which is how I normally take most of my herbal medicine. Many of the herbs were ones I’ve used before, with burdock and gentian both being new to the mix. I put in only a pinch of each and let the tea brew for a while — I normally give it at least five minutes (I know any of you familiar with gentian are gasping at that “five minutes” because anyone who’s tried it would know that it doesn’t take half that time for gentian to become the bitterest thing ever…). So, I added some sugar and worked on my computer, went to take a sip… Oh…my…g—-… Not only wasn’t I expecting that, but between the shock and the sheer bitterness, I had no idea what to do with myself. I tried tolerate another sip, but barely could. I tossed the tea — actually thinking it was the burdock — and made another cup with only the herbs I was familiar with (i.e. the not-so-bitter ones).

    Over the course of a week or so, I tried burdock again — this time in tincture form. It wasn’t nearly the bitterness I remembered from the tea so I read up more on the gentian and burdock and found I was mistaken! It was really the gentian all along.

    A few days later, my stomach was bothering me and I wasn’t hungry (I’m never that hungry) so I decided to give the gentian a try. I brewed it up — just a small pinch (1/2 tsp or less) — and added sugar. It wasn’t pleasant to drink, and, without much experience drinking/eating bitter drinks/foods, this was a huge stretch from what I was used to (I don’t even drink coffee!). So, I finished it and I could feel myself salivating. I was convinced, when drinking it, that the sheer bitterness would make me throw up, but it didn’t make me feel sick at all. Not much later I started feeling warm, tingly — like when you drink hot chocolate or tea after coming in from the cold and you feel a surge of warmth go through you. It was very pleasant.

    Since then, I’ve had a cup of tea about once a day (no more than that, and each cup of tea is made with no more than 1/2 tsp (or less) of gentian, which is the dose listed in my herbal pdr). Since starting the gentian, I’ve felt more revitalized, more “new” and my mood and stress-tolerance has gotten better. I feel more alive, more able to eat (undoubtedly part of the equation), and my eczema has gotten better. Since taking it regularly, I’ve added peppermint and lemon balm to the tea and make it with those three ingredients alone (and some sugar). I don’t know if I’ve gotten used to the bitterness or if it’s decreased by how I make it (i.e. with the other herbs + the sugar), but it’s a lot easier to drink now and doesn’t shock my system so much.

    According to the herbal PDR I have, 1/2 tsp brewed in tea is a daily dose. I take that or less. The PDR also says: “The essential active principles are the bitter substances contained in the herb. These bring about a reflex stimulation of the taste receptors, leading to increased secretion of saliva and the digestive juices. Gentian root is therefore considered to be not simply a pure bitter, but also a roborant and tonic. (from “PDR for Herbal Medicines” first edition, by the Medical Economics Company) — the last two qualities “roborant” and “tonic” are both conducive to strength and vitality, certainly explaining my reaction to them.

    Though few sources I’ve found (both online and in books) have had any idea of the long-term effects (positive or negative), there was one book I found that said: “Gentian is somewhat mutagenic, meaning that it can cause changes in the DNA of bacteria. For this reason, gentian should not be taken during pregnancy. Safety in young children, nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease is also not established.” (from “Collins Alternative Health Guide” by Steven Bratman) — While this is the only place I’ve found which lists this property, and there was no research mentioned in the article itself, I would still err on the side of caution if sick, very young, very old, nursing, pregnant, or suffering from the mentioned illnesses or health complications. It’s better to be safe than sorry. :)

    So, I made an herbal tea — this is how I normally take herbal medicine. I put in only a pinch of gentian along with others. This was the first time I was trying both gentian and burdock, but all the other herbs were ones I’ve used many times before. This was the same time I was trying burdock for the first time, but all the other herbs in the tea were ones I was already experienced with. I took one sip and, between the bitterness and the shock, I didn’t know what to do with myself! I took two more sips of the tea, then couldn’t drink any more. At first I thought it was the burdock because the smell of the burdock is certainly bitter. I figured out after giving the burdock another try that it was the gentian, after all. Days passed and I decided to try the gentian again. After giving it more of a chance — drinking an entire cup of tea (made with 1/2 tsp of dried gentian — the listed dose in the herbal pdr I own) — I really felt it working. Immediately, I felt myself salivating, I felt hungry. A while later, my body felt warm and revitalized…like my whole body was newly born again. It was really a sublime experience. Since I’ve taken it for a few days (always 1/2 tsp or less in tea per day, to be safe), my mood’s felt better, my eczema is doing so much better. I just feel so much better. I barely taste how bitter it is anymore…because all the taste says to me now is: you’re going to feel good after this!


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