Gentian root, or Long Dan Cao in Chinese name, is an herb traditionally used in herbal remedies for a wide variety of liver-associated diseases. In The Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica Classic it was viewed as one of the medium-grade drugs. Gentiana is a valuable plant. Even judged by its outside appearance alone, this purple blue gentian flowers, a type of alpine flower, are appealing enough to the eyes. That is also the reason why it is called as one of the China’s three major natural flowers. You know, the other two are well-known azaleas and primula. In clinic, this herb is commonly used for the treatment of refractory chronic migraines, scalp eczema, high blood pressure, orchitis, psoriasis, chronic prostatitis, hair loss, acute jaundice hepatitis, acute cholecystitis, etc. Of course, the premise and foundation of the above-mentioned treatments are that they should be fallen into the scope of excess fire or damp-heat syndrome in the liver meridian. So, what is gentian root good for? What is it used for? Is gentian root safe? More information is coming.
What is gentian root?
Medicinally it refers more than just one species in the genus Gentiana. In other words, Long Dan Cao mainly means the dried rhizome and roots of Gentiana manshurica Kitag., Gentiana scabra Bunge, Gentiana triflora pall, and Gentiana rigescens Franch. Other names include Chinese Gentian Root, Gentiana, Radix Gentianae, and so on. For better medicinal properties, it’d better be harvested during spring and autumn. And it should be cleaned, dried, cut into sections before the use. And now it can be used in many different ways, such as gentian root supplement, tincture, tea, powder, liqueur, capsules, and so on.
Gentiana scabra is a perennial herb, 1 to 2 feet in height. Leaves are opposite; lower leaves are small, scaly, and 2 to 3 pairs; middle and upper leaves are lanceolate, with dark green top surface, pale green lower surface, 3 distinct veins, and no petiole. Tubular bell-shaped blue flowers grow on the tip of a branch or at axillae that is close to the branch. Fruits are oblong, slightly flat, two-lobed when ripe, and with numerous small seeds. Rhizome is short, yellowish brown or pale yellow, and clustered with many slender roots.
Main chemical constituents are Gentiopicrin, Swertiamarin, Sweroside, Trifloroside, Amarogentin, Gentiopicroside tetraacetate, Amaroswerin, Gentioflavine, Gentianine, Gentianidine, Gentianol, Gentianose, β-Sitosterol, and so on.
Gentian root health benefits
As for illustrating how this herb works, using gentiana for treating hair loss is a good example. In modern society, accelerated pace of life and increased work stress can lead to mental burdens and then baldness. It is a challenging task to cure general hair loss, let alone the alopecia universalis, which can causes the falling out of all body hair, such as the eyebrows, beard, eyelashes, pubic hair, and armpit hair. And worse than that, the gradually rising mental stress would in turn aggravate this condition and thus hair loss sufferers end up finding themselves in a vicious circle.
Zhang Yuping, a researcher in Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese, found that the clinically alopecia patients share a distinct characteristic – the hyperactivity of liver-fire. From 2000 to 2003, she used dried gentian root to treat 6 cases of alopecia universalis. All of them have ever received Western medicine treatment but shown no improvement. After 2 courses of treatment (30 days each), combining with external lotion, all body hair began to grow; after 6 courses of treatment, sparse hair occurred; after 12 courses of treatment, the hair became thicker and alopecia universalis was cured. And she summarizes that the treatment of hair loss should follow the rules of deficiency syndromes mixed with excess ones, eliminating pathogen, and strengthening vital qi.
Modern pharmacological actions of gentiana
1. Its water extract has different degrees of inhibition on skin fungi like trichophyton gypseum and Nocardia bacteria. In addition, it also has inhibition on leptospira, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, proteusbacillus vulgaris, and Salmonella typhi;
2. Gentiopicroside contained has anti-inflammatory, hepatoprotective and anti-parasite effects;
3. Erythricine has sedative and muscle relaxant effects. And in large dose it has antihypertensive effect while inhibiting the heart and slowing heart rate;
4. It inhibits the production of antibody and invigorates the stomach.
Selected gentian root recipes on herbal remedies
From the point of view of TCM, it is bitter in flavor and cold in nature. And it goes to meridians of liver and gall bladder. Main gentian root effects include heat-clearing and damp-drying and clearing away the pathogenic heat of liver-gall. Basic medicinal uses and indications are damp-heat jaundice, vaginal swelling and itching, morbid vaginal discharge, persistent erection, itching due to eczema, red eyes, deafness, hypochondriac pain, bitter taste, and infantile convulsions. Recommended gentian root dosage is from 3 to 6 grams.
1. Long Dan San from Tai Ping Sheng Hui Fang (Taiping Holy Prescriptions for Universal Relief). It is mixed with Zhi Zi (Gardenia), Da Huang (Rhubarb), Bai Mao Gen (Japanese Blood Grass), etc. for the treatment of damp-heat jaundice.
2. Long Dan Xie Gan Tang from Lan Shi Mi Cang (Secret Library of the Orchid Room). It is used with Ze Xie (Alisma), Mu Tong (Akebia Caulis), Che Qian Zi (Plantago Seeds), etc. to treat downward flow of damp-heat, vaginal swelling and itching, morbid leukorrhea, and eczema itching.
3. Long Dan Xie Gan Tang from Yi Fang Ji Jie (Analytic collection of medical formulas). It is matched with Chai Hu (Bupleurum), Huang Qin (Scutellaria Baicalensis), Gardenia, etc. to cure liver-fire induced headache, red eyes, deafness, bitter mouth, and hypochondriac pain.
4. Liang Jing Wan from Xiao Er Yao Zheng Zhi Jue (Key to the Therapeutics of Children’s Diseases). It is formulated with Niu Huang (Calculus bovis), Qing Dai (Indigo), Huang Lian (Coptis Rhizome), etc. to heal high fever and convulsion due to the hyperactivity of liver channel.
Gentian root side effects and contraindications
The renal toxicity of Long Dan Xie Gan Wan has been repeatedly reported in recent years. But this has nothing to do with gentian root and the culprit is another herbal ingredient – Guan Mu Tong (Caulis Aristolochiae manshuriensis). And gentiana’s side effects are mainly from two types of misconducts. First, it has mild irritation to the gastrointestinal tract, which can facilitate the digestion of food. But in large dose instead it impedes the digestion. In addition, it may lead to headache, flushing, dizziness, and decreased heart rate. And secondarily, the misuse of it may cause adverse reactions too. Since it is of extremely cold nature, this reducing method in a long term is very likely to impair the healthy qi and thus result in dizziness, fatigue, and spiritual lassitude. Hence, it shouldn’t be used in deficient cold of spleen and stomach. Besides, use it with caution in deficiency of yin and body fluid.