Gentian Root: history of the herb and how it make its way into your drinks.
Gentian root is found not only in all of our flagship bitters, but also in a tincture that is a vital ingredient for our lineup of Bitters & Soda.
So what is it?
Gentiana Lutea was (and is!) a powerful medicinal herb. From the family Gentianaceae, this medium-sized flowering plant can be found all over the world.
The species special to Hella (Gentiana lutea, pictured below) is unique for two reasons. It has yellow flowers in a primarily blue-flowered genus (hence the species name “lutea,” meaning yellow in Latin), and it is the main source of the specific gentian root used for centuries in medicinal bitters and tonics.
It makes sense that Gentian rose through the ranks of popularity so quickly and eventually made its way to being the base and inspiration for many of our favorite classic cocktails today. The plant, the root, and even the bark can all be used to treat maladies like bloating, fever, muscle spasms, and can even be applied directly to the skin for burns. The list of what Gentian can do goes on and on.
Gentiana lutea received its name sometime between 50-100 BC from an ancient king, Genthios of Illyria, who was said to be the discoverer of the medicinal value of gentian root. There are also records of this plant being used medicinally back much further, even as far as 1000 years prior in ancient Egypt. As always we recommend cocktail and ingredient history dating back this far should be taken with a grain…or rim of salt.
As herbalists in the middle ages turned into apothecary proprietors in the 18th and 19th centuries- finding ways to pleasantly take medicinal tonics became popular and the alcoholic content of gentian tinctures and the adding of other flavors certainly helped. As more people started to enjoy the act of imbibing for pleasure as opposed to needing something medicinally, Gentian’s particular ability to stimulate the appetite, combined with its innate bitterness made it perfect for an Apéritif.
The number of beverages that use Gentian today is immense. Amaro, Aperol, Angostura, and of course, Hella Bitters & Soda are just to name a few.
The next time you’ve got a tummy ache…or basically anything else is wrong- try drinking a Bitters & Soda and let our Gentian tincture do it’s thing.