Several plants of family Gentianaceae, of the genus Gentiana, are commonly known as gentian. The genus contains about 400 species of herbaceous perennials, some weedy, others with large, attractive, trumpet-shaped, usually blue flowers. Found chiefly in northern temperate and arctic ecozones, the genus is best developed in the mountains of Europe and Asia, where many excellent garden plants originated. At least 16 species occur in Canada, primarily in damp soils. Most are found west of Ontario; some are arctic; none have been reported from PEI or NS.
The root of European yellow gentian (G. lutea) was used extensively as a tonic to promote digestion and aid appetite; closed gentian (G. andrewsii), native to eastern Canada, is said to have identical properties. Native peoples and European settlers used any species of gentian for a bitter tonic that was prepared by pouring boiling water over leafy tops and roots. Settlers improved on the infusion by adding a generous quantity of brandy.