Gentian – Gentiana spp.

Gentian - Gentiana spp., photo by Steven Foster

Latin name:

Gentiana is a large genus containing over 200 individual species. The official United Plant Savers’ priority species are G. affinis, G. alba, G. andrewsii, and G. saponaria.

Common Name:

Gentian

  • plain gentian (G. affinis)
  • pleated gentian (G. alba)
  • closed bottle gentian (G. andrewsii)
  • harvestbells (G. saponaria)

Family:

Gentianaceae (Gentian family)

Lifespan:

Perennial

Reproduction:

Gentian plants are pollinated primarily by bumblebees, and after their flowers stop blooming in late summer to early fall, they produce seed capsules with two separate sections that release many tiny seeds that are dispersed by both water and wind.

Geographic Region:

The “priority” species in this genus are found in every U.S. state except for Maine.

  • G. affinis is found in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
    • It is also found in the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Columbia, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories.
  • G. alba is found in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
    • It used to be found in Pennsylvania but is now considered to be completely extirpated (locally extinct).
    • It is also found in the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Ontario.
  • G. andrewsii is found in Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.
  • G. saponaria is found in Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Habitat:

Gentians generally prefer partial shade, with G. alba preferring more sun than G. andrewsii, which is a notably shade favoring species, and all species prefer moist soil. They live in damp, open woods, prairies, and meadows.

Status of Endangered/Threatened (by state):

  • There are no state or federal protections put in place for G. affinis in the U.S.
  • G. alba is “Threatened” in Ohio and Wisconsin, “Rare” in Indiana, “Endangered” in Kentucky, Michigan, and “Extirpated” in Pennsylvania.
  • G. andrewsii is listed as “Threatened” in Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont. It is listed as “Exploitably Vulnerable” in New York, and “Historical” in Rhode Island.
  •  G. saponaria is listed as “Endangered: in New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and “Probably Extirpated” in Michigan.

None of these species have been evaluated by the IUCN Red List.

Part of Plant Used/Active Medicinal Compounds:

Gentiana was used historically in an attempt to cure headaches, fainting, sore eyes, chills, muscular soreness, and as a liver medicine. It was also seen as an important plant in curing witchcraft, as dried roots served as an anti-witch charm.
In modern days it is used by herbalists primarily for stomach problems, sinus issues, and occasionally for anxiety, though studies have found the effectiveness as an anxiety medication to be roughly in line with the effectiveness of placebos.

Recommendations For Industrial and Home Use:

Please use gentian responsibly, and talk to your doctor before using gentian or any other medicinal plant. Gentian plants are viewed as being relatively difficult to cultivate and grow on a large scale, but efforts are being made to grow them, and you can find them at several nurseries and online. If you can, purchase either cultivated arnica or wild-harvested species that haven’t been listed as being at-risk.

Citations

  • Elmore, Francis H., 1944, Ethnobotany of the Navajo, Sante Fe, NM. School of American Research, page 69.
  • Herrick, James William, 1977, Iroquois Medical Botany, State University of New York, Albany, PhD Thesis, page 413.
  • Hilty, (n.d.), Illinois Wildflowers, Results compiled from multiple publications. Retrieved September 11, 2019, from https://www.illinoiswildflowers.info
  • Johnston, Alex, 1987, Plants and the Blackfoot, Lethbridge, Alberta. Lethbridge Historical Society, page 49.
  • Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. (2015). Plant Database: Gentiana. Results compiled from multiple publications. Retrieved September 9, 2019, from https://www.wildflower.org
  • McMullen M. K., Whitehouse J. M., Towell A., (2015), “Bitters: Time for a New Paradigm”. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol 2015, http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2015/670504
  • USDA. (n.d.). Plants Profile for Gentiana (Gentiana). Results compiled from multiple publications. Retrieved September 11, 2019, from https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=DROSE
  • Walach H., Rilling C., Engelke U., (2001), “Efficacy of Bach-flower remedies in test anxiety: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial with partial crossover”, Journal of Anxiety Disorders, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0887-6185(01)00069-X

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