Gentiána is Latin and, according to Pliny and Dioscorides, refers to the last king of the Illyrian Labeatians, who are supposed to have discovered the plant's healing powers. Lutea derives from the Latin lúteus, which means «yellow».
The gentian root was thoroughly described by Dioscorides, Pliny, Celsus, and Galen. It was regarded as a medicine against poisonous animal bites, side aches, liver and stomach ailments, cramps, and fever. Leonhard Fuchs wrote in the 16th century: «In sum, gentian root and the juice from it take away all kinds of constipation. Being a capital medicine for all kinds of poison and is well tolerated by a weak stomach.»
The gentian is a hardy plant that can live up to 60 years. Over a period of several years, the mighty tap root forms a single basal rosette with large, elliptical leaves. The hollow stalk, which can grow up to 1 m high, does not grow from the rosette until the 10th or 12th year. The stalk bears three to ten axillary, cymic pseudo-verticils; the blossoms are gold-yellow, wheel-shaped, and form a five-pointed corolla. The large, bluish-green, elliptical leaves are opposed.
The gentian flowers from July to August.
The gentian is a mountain plant and grows on mountain meadows at elevations from 750 to 2500 m. It is at home in Alpine and Alpine foothill regions, in the medium-elevation ranges of Central and Southern Europe, and in Asia Minor. Gentiana lutea is the only species of gentian that can be cultivated to produce drugs.
A.Vogel/Bioforce uses the fresh roots of biennial plants gathered wild to produce an alcoholic mother tincture.
For medicinal preparations, the roots are dug up in the Spring or Fall and rapidly processed, to prevent fermentation. Fermented roots are more aromatic, but less effective, and are used in the manufacture of gentian schnapps and other bitters liqueurs.