I noticed today that August is in the air, but so is fall which I really don't understand since they aren't usually friends. I wish that fall would go back to his room and leave us be till September arrives, but alas and alack the weird weather of 2008 persists. In keeping with weird choices I have decided to not go with an obvious herb for August but am settling on a beautiful blue flowered herbaceous plant called gentian (Gentiana lutea). My mom planted a gentian last year and this year it is actually blooming and its quite pretty.
Gentian is in the family named after itself Gentianaceae. The part of gentian used is the root and rhizome. (which means I will not probably be harvesting any this year so that the plant has a few years to establish itself before I start dividing roots-luckily a little gentian root goes a long way!) Gentians main action is as a bitter, it is also a sialagogue* (meaning it makes you salivate), hepatic, cholagogue, antihelmintic, and an emmenagogue. Bitters are herbs that aid in digestion via the stimulation of many or all digestive juices. Bitters actually work through the tongues response to bitter taste. The tongue tells the body to increase secretions of saliva (sialagogue), gastric juices (HCL, pepsin etc.), and bile (cholagogue). It also accelerates the stomachs ability to empty. Gentian is most commonly used as a general appetite stimulant and digestive aid and is used for people with sluggish digestion, acid reflux and flatulence. It can be helpful for people that are generally sluggish, have lost their appetite (anorexia, depression), jaundice and liver dysfunction or congestion (Do not use for gallstones, the moving/stimulating nature of gentian can cause gallstones to become lodged in the hepatic portal). Bitters also stimulate te self repair mechanisms of the gut lining.
Gentian is one of the most bitter 'bitters' though I think hops is more bitter on the contiuum, however gentians secndary actions (cholagogue, sialagogue etc) make it a much better all around bitter and is usually my number one choice. Gentian pairs well with fennel and ginger which can slightly aid with the taste (keep in mind you must taste the bitter to get the affects!). Also fennel is an excellent aromatic digestive aid which will help with cramping and flatulence, and ginger will aid as a stimulant and anti-emetic (anti-nausea).
Bitters should be taken an hour before a meal, though you can take it after a meal if you feel you aren't digesting something properly.
*sialagogue is my old professor Sheila Kingbury's favorite word, and one of my favorites as well :)
Hoffman, David- Medical Herbalism, Healing arts press, 2003