Gentiana lutea. Gentian.
Nat. Ord. — Gentianaceae. Sex. Syst. — Pentandria Digynia.
Description. — This plant has a long, thick, cylindrical, wrinkled, ringed, forked, perennial root, brown externally, and yellow within. The stem is three or four feet high, simple, erect, round, hollow, and somewhat annulated at base. The radical leaves are narrowed at the base into the form of a petiole, ovate-oblong, five-nerved, plaited, and two or three inches broad ; the cauline leaves are sessile, ovate, concave, acute, smooth, pedunculate, in dense whorls, and of a yellowish-green color; the leaves next the flowers are cordate, amplexicaul, concave; all a pale, bright green. The flowers are large, bright yellow, peduncled, and in whorls at the axils of the upper leaves. The calyx is monophyllous, membranous, yellowish, semi-transparent, three or four cleft, with short, lanceolate, unequal segments. The corolla is rotate, with a very short tube, five or six green glands at the base, and divided into five or six long, narrow, veiny, spreading segments. The filaments vary from five to eight, are shorter than the corolla, and alternate with its segments, and are furnished with long, erect, subulate, somewhat united anthers. The ovary is conical, supporting two sessile, reflected stigmas. The capsule is conical, two-valved, one-celled, containing numerous, small, roundish, compressed seeds, with brownish membranous edges.
History. — This plant grows among the Alps, Appenines, Pyrenees, and other mountainous regions of Europe. The root is the only part used in medicine, and is imported from Germany. It is met with in pieces of various sizes, seldom above an inch in thickness, split lengthwise if large, marked with annular wrinkles, and longitudinal furrows; sometimes it is met with in transversely cut pieces. It consists of an external reddish-yellow layer, separated by a dark reddish-brown line, and a grayish-yellow, or reddish spongy center. It has a feeble, aromatic odor, and a taste at first faintly sweetish, and then purely intensely and permanently bitter. It imparts its virtues readily to cold or hot water, alcohol, wine, spirit, or sulphuric ether. It contains according to Henry and Caventou, gentianin, a volatile odorous principle, a substance analogous to birdlime, a greenish fixed oil, a free organic acid, uncrystallizable sugar, gum, yellow-coloring matter, pectic acid, and lignin. The gentianin, so named by Henry and Caventou, from a supposition that it was the active principle of the root, has been shown, by M. Leconte, to be impure genistic acid, and is, when quite pure, destitute of bitterness and medicinal power. It may be obtained in pale-yellow, needle-shaped crystals, insoluble in water, and soluble in alcohol, by treating the alcoholic extract of gentian, previously exhausted by water, with sulphuric ether, filtering the ethereal solution, and allowing it to evaporate spontaneously. M. Leconte also considers the birdlime or glue to be a combination of wax, oil, and caoutchouc. When distilled with water, gentian yields a minute quantity of concrete oil, having the odor of the root. When the root is macerated in cold water, on the addition of yeast to the infusion vinous fermentation ensues, from which a bitter liquor is obtained by distillation, much prized in some parts of Switzerland as a stomachic.
The bitter principle of the root may be obtained by macerating the alcoholic extract in water, and then subjecting the solution to the vinous fermentation in order to separate the sugar. It is then to be treated with acetate of lead, filtered, and treated with subacetate of lead and a very little ammonia, in order to precipitate the combination of the vegetable principle with oxide of lead ; if too much ammonia be added, in consequence of its stronger basic powers, it will separate the vegetable principle from the oxide. The precipitate obtained is to be washed with a little water, then mixed with a large proportion of the same fluid, and decomposed by hydrosulphuric acid. The liquid is to be filtered, evaporated to dryness with a gentle heat, the residue treated with alcohol of 0.820, and the alcoholic solution evaporated. This gives a brownish-yellow, uncrystallizable substance, very bitter, almost insoluble in absolute alcohol, soluble in ordinary alcohol, and very soluble in water. It possesses acid properties. Gentianin is the name proposed for it.
Properties and Uses. — A powerful tonic, excites the appetite, invigorates digestion, and moderately increases the circulation and temperature of the body. Used in cases of debility and exhaustion, and in all cases where a tonic is required, as dyspepsia, gout, amenorrhea, hysteria, scrofula, intermittents, diarrhea, worms, etc. Dose of the powder, from ten to thirty grains; of the extract, from one to ten grains; of infusion, one or two fluidounces ; of tincture, one or two fluidrachms. When taken in large doses, it is apt to oppress the stomach, irritate the bowels, and even produce nausea and vomiting. Its administration is contra-indicated where gastric irritability is present.
Dr. Kuchenmeister believes that impure and uncrystallized gentianin is the most valuable substitute for quinia, acting as rapidly, and as efficaciously on the spleen, in doses of from fifteen to thirty grains twice a day.
Gentiana Catesbei, Blue, or American Gentian, has a perennial, branching, somewhat fleshy root, with a simple, erect, rough stem, eight or ten inches in hight. The leaves are opposite, ovate or lanceolate, slightly three-veined, acute, rough on the margin. Flowers large, blue, crowded, subsessile, axillary, and terminal. Calyx divided into four or five linear-lanceolate segments, which are longer than the tube. Corolla large, blue, ventricose, plaited ; its border divided into ten segments, of which the outer five are roundish and more or less acute, and the inner five bifid and imbricate. Stamens five, with dilated filaments and sagittate anthers. Ovary oblong-lanceolate, compressed, supported by a sort of pedicel. Style none; stigmas two, oblong, reflexed. Capsule oblong, acuminate, one-celled and two-valved. This plant grows in the grassy swamps and meadows of North and South Carolina, flowering from September to December. The root is little inferior to the foreign gentian, and may be used as a substitute for it in all cases, in the same doses and preparations. Alcohol and boiling water extract its virtues. Probably the Gentiana Saponaria, or Soapwort Gentian, the Gentiana Pneumonanthe, or Marsh Gentian, and the Gentiana Crinita, or Blue Fringed Gentian, possess analogous medicinal virtues.
Off. Prep. — Extractum Gentianae ; Extractum Gentianae Fluidum ; Vinum Symphyti Compositum.