The New International Encyclopædia/Gentian

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GENTIAN, jĕn'shan (Lat. gentiana, Gk. γεντιανή, gentianē, said to have been named after an Illyrian king, defeated by the Romans about B.C. 160, Gentius, Gk. Γέντιος, who first discovered the properties of the plant). A genus of plants of the order Gentianaceæ. The species are numerous, natives of temperate and boreal parts of Europe, Asia, North and South America, and New Zealand, many of them growing in high mountain pastures and meadows, which they adorn by their beautiful blue or yellow flowers. The common gentian or yellow gentian (Gentiana lutea) is abundant in the meadows of the Alps and Pyrenees at elevations of 3000 to 6000 feet. It has a stem three or four feet high, ovate-oblong leaves, and numerous whorls of yellow flowers. The part employed in medicine is the root, which is cylindrical, ringed and more or less branched, and which appears in commerce in a dried state, in pieces varying from a few inches to more than a foot in length, and from half an inch to two inches in thickness. It is collected by the peasants of the Alps. Although gentian-root has been examined by various chemists, its constituents are not very clearly known; it contains, however, gentiopicrin, gentisic acid, pectin, fixed oil, and sugar. As much as 14 per cent. of the last is present, and in consequence of it an infusion is capable of undergoing fermentation and of forming the ‘bitter snaps’ or ‘Enziangeist’ which is much employed by the peasants on the Swiss Alps. Gentian is a highly valued medicine, a simple tonic, bitter without astringency, and is much used in diseases of the digestive organs, and sometimes as an anthelmintic. The bitter principle on which its virtue depends exists in other species of this genus, probably in all, and appears to be common to many plants of the same order. The roots of inferior quality of the species Gentiana purpurea, Gentiana punctata, and Gentiana pannonica are often mixed with the gentian of commerce. Among the most common European species are Gentiana campestris and Gentiana Amorella, plants of a few inches in height, with small flowers, both of which are in use as tonics in domestic medicine. Gentiana Saponaria, a North American species, is extensively used in its native country as a substitute for common gentian, and Gentiana Kurroo is employed in the same way in the Himalayas. Several species of gentian are common ornaments of gardens, particularly Gentiana acaulis, a small species with large blue flowers, a native of the countries of Europe and of Siberia, often planted as an edging for flower borders. Gentiana Andrewsii and Gentiana puberula, American species, the former known as closed gentian or bottle gentian from the non-opening of the flowers, and the latter with blue, funnel-shaped flowers, are common in American gardens. Of the fringed gentian species Gentiana crinita is particularly celebrated for the beauty of its flowers, which are large, blue, and fringed on the margins. It has a branched stem and grows in wet ground. The brilliancy of the flowers of the small Alpine species has led to many attempts to cultivate them, which have generally proved unsuccessful, apparently from the difficulty of imitating the climatic and soil conditions of their native heights. The horse-gentian is Triosteum perfoliatum. See Feverwort, and Colored Plate of Mountain Plants.