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What is a Gentian?

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  • Written By: Sara Schmidt
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 08 December 2016
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Gentians are a variety of plants that grow on every continent, save for Antarctica. They are variegated herbs; some are evergreen while some are not, and they can be perennial, annual or biennial. Cultivated for their beauty, gentians also have many uses.

There are over 400 species of gentian. Some of the most common varieties include the Swertia, Exacum, Centaurum, Eustoma, and Gentiana. While the gentian blue is one of the most popular versions of the plant, its colors can also be yellow, green, violet, pink or red.

Flower gentians are very hardy plants. They are fairly tall, with large, oval-shaped leaves, big flowers, and strong, erect stems. They are able to grow in a variety of conditions and environments. Gentians can be found in the desert and the rain forest, as well as the savanna and the tundra. The flowers can even thrive in rock gardens.

Many different gentian uses have been discovered by science. The root in particular is a popular herbal remedy that is normally administered through a tea infusion. It is used for a variety of purposes, the most frequent one being alleviation of exhaustion from chronic illness. A tonic for strengthening the body, it has also been used for treating fevers, Temporomandibular joint syndrome, menstruation irregularities, intestinal worms, and malaria. The herb is known for its antiseptic qualities as well.

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Elderly patients are often prescribed gentian as a digestive aid. This is because the plant fosters quick absorption of nutrients overall. It is especially useful in absorbing vitamin B12 as well as iron, making it a beneficial treatment for patients with iron-deficiency anemia.

Use of gentians as an herbal remedy should be supervised by a physician. Overdose can result in nausea, vomiting and other side effects. People who have high blood pressure, heartburn, stomach ulcers, and expectant mothers should avoid the herb.

Some alcoholic drinks make use of the plant. Due to its glycosides compounds, the gentian has a very bitter taste, which makes it a popular ingredient in aperitifs and digestives. It has also been used in soft drinks. The most common variety used for this purpose is the Gentiana lutea.

King Gentius of Illyria was said to have discovered the medicinal purposes of gentians. Therefore the plant was named after him as a tribute. It was then utilized in ancient Greece as a key agent in medical procedures.

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