Pau Pámies Grácia, CC BY-SA 4.0


Gentian Flower



Pau Pámies Grácia, CC BY-SA 4.0

General Description / Cultural Significance

One of the natural wonders of Switzerland is the abundance of wildflowers. Growing at elevations between 3,000 to 4,000 feet, the native herbaceous perennial gentian is one of Switzerland’s most remarkable wild plants and iconic Alps wildflower. Switzerland has an ancient tradition of using wild plants as medicine and food. Although knowledge of wild plants is waning in the general population, the
tradition is still passed on in smaller villages. The gentian flower is an alpine wild food plant so well-known and widely used that it has become the symbol of the Alps. The root of the gentian is made into a bitter vegetable tonic that relieves many dyspeptic conditions, and the fresh gentian root is fermented and distilled into liqueurs and apéritifs, which convey the volatile oil’s characteristic herbal
smell and taste. This plant is thought to have been used as medicine since the beginning of human life. The plant genus is now world famous for its pharmacological activities and range of chemical constituents.

Climate Change / Conservation Status

During a visit with scientists at the Jungfraujoch Sphinx Observatory in 2013, they reported substantial changes in snow patterns. Snow amounts and duration continue to reduce and there are many more weeks of rain when it should have been snow. Switzerland has become hotter and drier due to climate change, impacting the glaciers, water-feeding forests, biodiversity, and human health. The extended forest drought that the country has been experiencing has triggered a rapid decline of the country’s iconic spruce forests, leaving them vulnerable to bark beetle and scientists have begun to forecast their complete
loss. This brings about many interconnected effects, from altering the carbon balance to collapsing the ecosystem due to the loss of the services they provide. This reduces Switzerland’s biodiversity including the medical plants and the role
they play in traditional life. The 2023 summer heat dome brought some of the highest temperatures
measured. Permafrost at the top of the Alps began melting causing massive landslides and visibly retreating glaciers. There are around 400 species of Gentians and all grow in alpine regions. They are very difficult to grow outside their wild habitat. Only a few species have been cultivated.

Alternate Names

Stemless gentian
Yellow gentian
Bitter root
Wild gentian
Gall weed


The Cultural Section, Embassy of Switzerland
Grieve, M. (2016). Gentians.

Robbins, J. “Widespread Tree Die Offs Feared” (2017). The New York Times. 11
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