Gentiana, especially the species gentiana macrophylla (Large Leaf Gentian), is also known as Qin Jiao in Pinyin. As one of important Chinese herbs, it was recorded and rated as a medium-grade drug in Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (God of Agriculture’s Canon of Materia Medica) due to somewhat toxic. The main medicinal part of gentiana is the root (Radix Gentianae Macrophyllae), which is one of the essential ingredients of many rheumatoid arthritis treatment options in traditional Chinese medicine. In addition, clinically it is also widely used for the treatment of joint pain, tuberculosis, hot flashes, jaundice, and so on. Because of its extensive medicinal uses, in recent years the wild resources of gentian plant have declined to the point of being endangered due to indiscriminate exploitation.
What is gentiana?
Actually gentiana doesn’t refer to a certain species but a large genus in the gentian family (Gentianaceae). This genus has about 400 flowering plants, in which the most common species are Gentiana lutea (great yellow gentian), Gentiana andrewsii (closed bottle gentian), Gentiana acaulis (stemless gentian), and more. These alpine plants are characterized by large strong-blue flowers that are something like a trumpet.
However, medicinally it mainly refers to the dried root of Gentiana macrophylla Pall., Gentiana straminea Maxim., Gentiana crassicaulis Duthie ex Burk., or Gentiana dahurica Fisch. What’s more, other species used medicinally also include Gentiana tianschanica Rupr. ex Kusn, Gentiana tibetica King ex Hook. f., Gentiana kaufmanniana var. kaufmanniana, Gentiana siphonantha Maximowicz ex Kusnezow, and Gentiana decumbens L. f. By the way, make sure to tell it from gentian root, which usually means another Chinese herb – Long Dan Cao.
Gentiana macrophylla is a perennial herb, 20 to 60cm in height. Taproot is thick and long, cylindrical, tapering, twisted, and with a few branches and threaded central section; roots have many remnants of foliar base. Stems are erect or oblique, cylindrical, and glabrous. Most of basal leaves are tufty, sessile, up to 40cm long, 3 to 5cm wide, and with lanceolate or oblong-lanceolate blade, acute apex, entire margin, and 5 main veins; smaller stem leaves are 3 to 4 pairs, opposite, and with linked bases. Flowers mostly cluster into verticillaster that is acrogenous or axillary on upper part of stems; one side of calyx dehisces in half; tubular corolla is dark purple, about 2cm and 5 lobed at apex; stamens are 5; ovary is oblong and sessile. Capsule is oblong or oval. Seeds are oval, wingless, brown, and shiny. Flowering time is from July to September and fruiting time is from August to October. Habitats are both sides of the brook, roadside slopes, and thickets 400-2,400 meters above sea level. It is distributed in Mongolia, Siberia and the Far East of Russia. In mainland China, it is usually found in Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Hebei, Shanxi, Xinjiang, Northeast China, Shanxi and other places. But when it comes to medicinal properties, the one from Qinghai, in particular from Huangnan, is the best of the best.
Gentiana macrophylla root contains gentianine, gentianidine, gentianal, gentiopicroside, and swertiamarin. Recently another report says that it contains gentiopicroside, montanic acid, methyl montanate, roburic acid, α-amyrin, β-sitosterol, and β-sitos-terol-β-D-glucoside.
Gentiana health benefits
As mentioned previously, gentiana is one vital ingredient in many medications for rheumatoid arthritis pain, such as Du Huo Ji Shang Tang, Da Qin Jiao Tang, and more. And clinical studies indicated that 100 injections, composed of procaine and gentiana 100g or gentiana 50g and Bai Zhi (Angelica Dahurica), were ever used for over 2000 person-time, 2ml each by intramuscular administration. And the result showed that it could help chronic leg and back pain in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and whole body joint pain caused by wind-cold. And in another study, the injection made of total alkaloids of gentiana, 100mg total alkaloids (gentianine) each 2ml, was used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. And the result showed that it has significant effects on easing pain, reducing swelling, and relieving fever, and restoring joint function.
Modern pharmacological actions of gentiana root
1. It has sedative , analgesic, antipyretic and anti-inflammatory effects;
2. It can inhibit the secretion of reflective increasing of intestinal fluid;
3. It can significantly reduce the thymus index, which shows that it has anti-histamine effect;
4. It has a certain inhibition on virus, bacteria, and fungi;
5. Gentianine can lower blood pressure and elevate blood sugar;
6. Gentiopicroside inhibits CCl4-induced elevated transaminase, which indicates that it is with anti-hepatitis effect.
Sample gentiana formulas on herbal remedies
Chinese pharmacopoeia believes that it is acrid and bitter in flavor and neutral in nature. It goes to meridians of stomach, liver, and gall bladder. Common functions are removing wind-damp, clearing damp-heat, and stopping arthralgia. Main gentiana uses and indication include rheumatoid arthritis pain, tendon spasm, joint pain, afternoon tidal fever, and infantile malnutrition fever. Recommended dosage is from 3 to 9 grams.
1. Qin Jiao Tian Ma Tang from Yi Xue Xin Wu (Medical Revelations). It is formulated with Tian Ma (Gastrodia Root), Qian Huo (Notopterygium), Dang Gui (Dong Quai), Chuan Xiong (Sichuan Lovage Root), etc. to treat wind-cold-wetness type of arthralgia.
2. Qin Jiao Sheng Ma Tang from Wei Sheng Bao Jian (Precious Mirror for Defending Life). It is combined with Sheng Ma (Black Cohosh Rhizome), Ge Gen (Kudzu Root), Fang Feng (Radix Saposhnikoviae), Shao Yao (Peony Root), etc. to treat stroke, including symptoms like eye or mouth drooping on one side, language deficits (aphasia), chills, and so on.
3. Qin Jiao Fu Lei Tang from Yang Shi Jia Cang Fang (Yang Family Depository of Formulas). It is matched with Ren Shen (Ginseng), Bie Jia (Soft Turtle Shell), Chai Hu (Bupleurum), etc. to cure the consumptive lung disease, hectic fever due to yin deficiency, and consumptive cough.
4. Qin Jiao San from Xiao Er Yao Zheng Zhi Jue (Key to the Therapeutics of Children’s Diseases). It is coupled with Bo He (Mint Herb), Zhi Gan Cao (Honey Fried Licorice Root), etc. to relieve infantile malnutrition fever.
5. Shan Yin Chen Wan from Sheng Ji Zong Lu (Complete Record of Holy Benevolence). It is put together with Yin Chen Hao (Herba Artemisiae Scopariae), Zhi Zi (Gardenia), Da Huang (Rheum Palmatum), etc. to treat jaundice.
Gentiana side effects and contraindications
4 cases of patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis were ever reported with adverse reactions of nausea and vomiting 4 to 13 days after taking orally 100mg gentianine, 3 times a day. And one case suffered from palpitations and slow heart rate after taking 100mg gentianine but fortunately he recovered soon. TCM wise, gentiana herb shouldn’t be used in the cases of emaciated patients with chronic pain, frequent urge to urinate, and lose stool.