Gentian Root: Health Benefits, Side Effects, and Dangers

Gentian Root: Health Benefits, Side Effects, and Dangers

Gentian root is a bitter herb praised for its medicinal qualities and added to a host of beverages, including tea. Gentian root tea isn’t the most pleasant-tasting tea, but if the claims are to be believed then it could be good for you. The question is: how true are those claims? And is this herbal remedy good for you?

The Health Benefits of Gentian Root

Gentian was named after King Gentius, the last ruler of the Ardiaei, an Illyrian tribe that settled on the Adriatic Coast. It is a flowering species of plant that has been used in a few traditional beverages, including the soft drink Moxie (more on that below) and the Italian liquor Aperol.

In this guide, we’ll focus on the benefits of gentian root when consumed in the form of a tea. The aforementioned drink still contains enough of the herb to derive some of these benefits, but they also contain large amounts of sugar, additives, and, in the case of Aperol, alcohol—these may negate any benefits you get from the gentian.

1. It Can Help with Certain Infections

The only official use for gentian root is in the treatment of sinusitis, although in this case, it’s in a product called Sinupret. This herbal remedy contains yellow gentian in combination with four other herbs, one of which is lemon verbena, which we included in a few of our gift packs and you can read about here.

The manufacturers of Sinupret claim that gentian has an anti-inflammatory action, and they are not alone in this. A number of studies have backed up these claims, suggesting that gentian can be used in the treatment of many inflammatory disorders. There are more potent natural anti-inflammatories out there, including nettle (used in the treatment of joint pain and inflammation) and sideritis scardica (used to treat colds and infections) but gentian root still seems to be a well-tolerated and effective remedy.

2. It’s Packed with Antioxidants

Many of the benefits of gentian root derive from its antioxidant content. The antioxidants in this herbal remedy have been studied for their free-radical scavenging potential and proved to be incredibly adept. (1) These compounds, when consumed in whole foods (researchers are now learning that antioxidant extracts don’t have the same effects and may actually cause adverse reactions) can help maintain overall health and reduce the risk of many chronic diseases.

A few cups of gentian root tea a day will not prevent cancer or heart disease, and they will definitely not offset the damage done by a sedentary lifestyle and a diet high in saturated fat and sugar, but they could play an important role in maintaining a healthy, balanced diet.

3. It May Help with Digestive Distress

A study conducted on more than 200 patients with digestive distress noted that gentian root extracts were able to reduce many of the symptoms they were experiencing, including pain, nausea, and general discomfort. There is also a lot of anecdotal evidence regarding its potential for curing digestive disorders, and if we look at the studies conducted on its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory potential, it’s fair to suggest that there is something to these claims.

However, more reliable research is needed before concrete claims can be made, and until then we can only theorise.

Other Health Benefits of Gentian Root

Gentian is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), where all kinds of miraculous claims are made about it. However, very few of these claims are backed by actual science, and the fundamentals of TCM don’t align with modern science either. Practitioners consider gentian root valuable because it is a bitter herb and has “cold” properties, which supposedly means it can aid in the treatment of “hot” diseases, which covers everything from headaches and conjunctivitis to fevers and convulsions.

It is true that some ancient medicinal practices can provide the health benefits they claim, albeit not for the reasons they claim, but in this case, there is simply no evidence to support many of the claims TCM makes about gentian root.

There are other apparent benefits of gentian root, as well, many of which point to the compounds that make gentian root bitter and the potential that these compounds have to improve liver health. But it’s not easy to sort the genuine science from the pseudoscience. A lot of claims currently being made about gentian root have been recycled from other sources, and in many cases, those sources have taken their information from TCM practitioners or from the opinions of herbalists.

We’ll try to keep an eye on the situation in the meantime and will make changes to this guide if any new and reliable research is conducted. For a herb that has been used for thousands of years, there is surprisingly little information available about its efficiency, especially when you compare it to the wealth of research that exists on everything from lavender tea to linden tea.

Side Effects and Dangers

Gentian root should be avoided during pregnancy and when breastfeeding. There are no known warnings, but as with many herbal teas and remedies, simply not enough research exists to suggest that it is safe at these times. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

It’s a similar case for anyone taking medication and anyone with a preexisting medical condition. Again, there should be no serious risks for the majority of users, but there may be some concerns with certain medications, especially those designed to treat high or low blood pressure.

Moxie and Coca Cola

Gentian root extract is used in the carbonated drink Moxie, which was first launched in 1886 and has been delighting, confusing, and sickening soft drink fans ever since. It’s the “official soft drink of Maine” and is said to possess a bitter, unusual and polarising taste.

We don’t have Moxie here in the United Kingdom, but the company was purchased by Coca Cola in August 2018, so it could be a matter of time before it becomes more widely available. UK horror fans may recognise the drink from the works of Stephen King, a Maine-based novelist who has referenced the drink a few times in his books.

It’s also where we get the word moxie, an American English word that means “courage” and is probably better known in the UK than the drink from which it is derived.

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