Gentiana (Long Dan Cao, Qin Jiao)Gentian (Long Dan Cao, Qin Jiao)

Botanical Name: Western – Gentiana lutea. Eastern – G. scabra, G. macrophylla.

There are many varieties of gentian. In the west the most commonly used species is yellow gentian (yellow Gentiana). The other varieties have similar properties so they can, and are, also used depending on what is available. There is no better stomach tonic than gentian and it is considered extremely useful in treating jaundice. The Chinese make use of two different species of gentian: Gentiana scabra (Long Dan Cao) and G. macrophylla (Qin Jiao) attributing them with slightly different characteristics. In the west Yellow, Japanese, Autumn, Field, Marsh, Spring, Cross-Leaved and Five-Leaved Gentian are all commonly used interchangeably as they all have similar characteristics.

Below is an overview of Gentian (Long Dan Cao, Qin Jiao), combining and interpreting the best of Western Science, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shamanism, Folklore and more. Gain a balanced and thorough understanding of the healing properties of Gentian (Long Dan Cao, Qin Jiao).

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Western Name: Gentian

Also Known As: Gentiana

Organs/Systems: Digestive Systems, Fevers, Nervous System

Key Actions: Anti-toxic for liver, Tonic, Digestive, Stomachic, Febrifuge, Emmenagogue, Anthelmintic, Antiseptic, Antibiotic, Antihepatotoxic

Medicinal Uses: Fever, PMS, digestive disorders, protects the liver, cleanses the liver, diarrhea, gastritis, heartburn.


Pin Yin: Long Dan Cao, Qin Jiao

Also Known As: Long Dan Cao (translates as “Dragon’s gall”) aka Lung Tan, Qin Jiao aka Chin-chiu.

Meridians: Long Dan Cao – Liver, Gallbladder, Stomach. Qin Jiao – Gallbladder, Liver, Stomach.

Key Actions: Long Dan Cao – Drains Damp-Heat from the Liver and Gall Bladder channels, Drains Excess Liver Fire.
Qin Jiao – Dispels Wind-Damp, Clears Deficient Heat, Resolves Dampness, Moistens the Intestines.

Medicinal Uses: Long Dan Cao – Red swollen sore throat and eyes, swollen ears, sudden deafness, jaundice, pain, swelling or dampness in the genital area, foul-smelling vaginal discharge and itching, headache and red eyes or when Liver Wind-Heat is present, fever, spasms, convulsions, or flank pain.
Qin Jiao – Painful obstruction and cramping, especially in the extremities, Yin deficiency with fever, including steaming bone disorder, tuberculosis, malaria, jaundice, especially acute cases and in infants, unblocks the bowels, dry constipation, commonly used to counteract the drying qualities of other herbs that dispel Wind-Dampness.

Basic Habitat/Botany:

Gentiana is a genus of flowering plants belonging to the gentian family. This genus contains a remarkable 400 species. They have oppositely arranged leaves and sometimes, a basal rosette. The trumpet-shaped flowers are usually deep blue or azure, but can be white, cream, yellow and even red. Many species are polymorphic and can bear flowers of different colors at the same time. The tap root is thick and yellowish.

Gentian likes alpine habitats in temperate regions of Asia, Europe and the Americas. There are even some species located in New Zealand and Australia. Some plants are evergreen, some are not. They like well-drained, neutral to acid soils rich in humus and can take full sun or partial shade.

Gentiana (Long Dan Cao, Qin Jiao)Parts Most Frequently Used: Root, Leaf

Flavors/Temps: Long Dan Cao – Bitter, Cold. Qin Jiao – Bitter, Acrid, Slightly Cold.

Caution: A safe tonic herb that can be used by young and old, sick and healthy.

History/Folklore: Yellow, Japanese, Autumn, Field, Marsh, Spring, Cross-Leaved, and Five-Leaved are the most commonly used varieties of gentian. Yellow gentian is the commonly used European species, though all species are considered to have similar properties and are used interchangeably. Blue flowered species predominate in the Northern Hemisphere, red flowers in the Andes and white flowers in New Zealand. The yellow species (Gentiana lutea) is most often sited in western herbal texts, but all species have similar properties. The highly toxic white hellebore (Veratrum album) plant has been mistaken for white gentian. Proper plant identification matters, if in doubt, use the more commonly used yellow varietal (Gentiana lutea).

The plant is famous for its bitterness which is not diminished by drying or dilution. Many beverages are made with gentian root. The herb is used in aperitifs, liqueurs, digestifs, and tonics. Bitter digestive drinks commonly use gentian root as an ingredient. The French liqueur Suze, the Italian liqueur Aperol, the German digestif Underberg, and the bitter drink known as Angostura Bitters, all contain gentian root.

The genus name Gentiana is attributed to the King of Illyrain (180-167 B.C.) who is said to have discovered the plant’s tonic properties.

Dioscorides, one of the first reliable western herbalists to document herbal functions, recommended gentian for digestive issues and as a poultice to treat inflamed eyes.

The German “father of natural healing,” Sebastian Kneipp praised gentian as an herb to support stomach secretions and strengthen nerves. He recommended if you only have a small garden then you ought to be sure to grow sage, wormwood and gentian.

The Chinese name, Long Dan Cao (G. scabra), translates as “Dragon’s Gall” and is a reference to the plant’s extremely bitter taste. A Chinese Materia Medica dating from ca. 500 A.D. categorized gentian as being an “upper class” herb due to its general efficacy and ability, if taken over time, to promote health and longevity.

Studies in China indicate that small doses of Long Dan Cao (G. scabra) have an affect on the secretion of gastric juices.

In China, Long Dan Cao (G. scabra) and Qin Cao (G. macrophylla) are differentiated from one another as follows: Long Dan Cao (G. scabra) is considered stronger in its heat clearing actions and Qin Jiao (G. macrophylla) is considered stronger in clearing Wind-Damp conditions. Long Dan Cao (G. scabra) is better at treating deficiency Heat syndromes involving Liver and Gall Bladder Fire channels. Qin Jaio (G. macrophylla), is better at treating excess Liver syndromes with Fire flaring upwards to the head and face (red eyes, headaches etc.) Both are extremely bitter herbs and have the same properties as all bitter herbs the world over.

The most common disease that Qin Jiao (G. macrophylla) was used to treat before antibiotics was likely tuberculosis. The disease causes extreme deficiency, night sweats, intermittent fever and overall weakness and fatigue.

In the Middle Ages, the plant’s were used as an antidote for poisons and in the 18th century gentian wine was served as an aperitif before dinner.

Only a few species are able to be cultivated, most occur in their wild habitats. They are popularly grown in rock gardens.

The roots have a strong, disagreeable odor and can taste slightly sweet at first, and then, they quickly become extremely bitter.

Gentian roots and leaves have been used in traditional Austrian medicine to treat skin, liver, flu, rheumatism and more.

Bitter herbs are known by science to stimulate and heighten nervous function, support the immune system, and aid recovery from various chronic illnesses.

Gentian is related to the gentian violet dye (methylrosaniline chloride).

Key Constituents:

Gentiin, Gentiamarin, Bitter glucosides, Gentianic acid (Gentisin), Gentiopicrin, Dextrose, Laevulose, Sucrose.
Did you know?

A Pure, Bitter Herb

Gentian is likely the best-known and most-studied pure bitter herb in the world!

Liver's Helper

Gentian protects the liver, stimulates liver function, helps restore liver cells, and increases the flow of bile.

Fun fact!

Best Combined with Aromatic Herbs

Because gentian is so bitter it is best combined with aromatic herbs such as orange peel and/or crushed cardamon seeds.

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