The bitter taste of gentian is due to bitter iridoid glycosides; primarily gentiopicroside, swertiamarin, amarogentin and gentiopicrin. Gentian contains several alkaloids, predominantly gentian and gentialutine. Additionally, it contains the constituents: xanthones, triterpenes, pectin, tannin, mucilage, and sugar.
Many species of gentiana are used in a similar way across widely divergent cultures. It is found in the Indian Ayurveda herbal medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine, as well as in European herbal pharmacopeia.
It has a long history of use as bitters, used to promote the appetite and digestion by general stimulation of the digestive juices. Gentian, as with all bitters, is important in traditional herbal medicine as a remedy for physical and mental exhaustion.
It is a traditional herbal remedy for symptoms of sluggish digestion, such as dyspepsia and flatulence.
The herb is used as a blood builder, traditionally used convalescence. It is used as a natural herbal treatment for gaining weight, anorexia and exhaustion.
Gentian is believed to strengthen the entire system by stimulating the digestive function as well as the general circulation and the activity of many glands and organs.
The herb is used as a liver tonic and to stimulate an insufficient production of gastric juices, bile, and saliva. It is used to alleviate inflammations in the gallbladder.
Gentiana scabra, or lung tan in traditional Chinese medicine, has much the same uses as gentian in European herbal tradition. It is used for fevers, rheumatism, toxicity of the bowels, and general debility. It is believed to enhance memory and is used as a liver tonic.
Both gentian and stemless gentian are recognized as generally safe by the FDA, and extracts of gentian are used in a variety of anti-smoking products, cosmetics, and foods.
It is traditionally used as an herbal treatment for wounds; animal studies have shown it to have a measurable anti-inflammatory and wound-healing effect.
The herb is used internally as a remedy for sore throat and arthritic inflammation. It is used in liquors and schnapps and is an important ingredient in Angostura bitters.
It was traditionally often used in combination with other digestive stimulants such as ginger and cardamom.