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Early Gentian

Gentianella anglica

Please keep in mind that it is illegal to uproot a plant without the landowner's consent and care should be taken at all times not to damage wild plants. Wild plants should never be picked for pleasure and some plants are protected by law.
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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Gentianaceae (Gentian)
Life Cycle:
Annual or Biennial
Maximum Size:
40 centimetres tall
Cliffs, grassland, heathland, meadows, rocky places, wetland.

Purple, 4 petals
Pale purple or whitish-purple flowers. Unlike most other Gentians this species has just 4 petals and not 5. Flowers measure up to 2cm in size.
The fruit is a capsule.
An annual or biennial flower small, opposite leaves. The leaves are lance-shaped and pointed. Most often seen on chalk grassland.
Other Names:
English Gentian.
Frequency (UK):

Other Information


Gentianella anglica, commonly known as the English gentian, is a species of flowering plant in the gentian family. It is native to the British Isles, including England, Wales, and Scotland. It grows in a variety of habitats, including heaths, grasslands, and wet meadows.

It is a small, herbaceous perennial plant, growing up to 20-40 cm tall. The leaves are opposite, lance-shaped, and often have a toothed margin. The flowers are typically a deep blue color, with fringed petals. They appear in late summer and early autumn. It is protected in UK and it's illegal to pick, uproot or disturb wild plants without permission from the landowner.


Gentianella anglica, also known as Early Gentian, is a small herbaceous plant that belongs to the Gentianaceae family. This wildflower is native to Europe and can be found growing in grasslands, meadows, and heathlands.

Description and Habitat Early Gentian is a perennial plant that grows up to 40cm tall. Its stem is thin and delicate, with small oval-shaped leaves growing in pairs. The plant blooms from May to August, producing striking blue-violet flowers that grow in clusters at the top of the stem. Each flower has five petals that form a tube-like shape, with white stripes running down the middle.

Early Gentian prefers to grow in nutrient-poor soils, such as chalk or limestone, and thrives in open areas with plenty of sunlight. It can be found in a variety of habitats, including coastal cliffs, upland meadows, and chalk downs.

Cultural Significance Early Gentian has long been valued for its medicinal properties. Its bitter-tasting roots were traditionally used to treat digestive problems, including indigestion and stomach ulcers. In addition, the plant was believed to have anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties.

Today, Early Gentian is mostly appreciated for its beauty and the important role it plays in the ecosystem. As a wildflower, it provides food and habitat for insects such as bees and butterflies. Its presence in grasslands and meadows also helps to support biodiversity and prevent soil erosion.

Conservation Status Early Gentian is considered to be a rare and declining species in the UK, and is listed as a priority species under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. The plant faces a number of threats, including habitat loss due to agricultural intensification and urbanization, as well as overgrazing and the use of fertilizers and herbicides.

Conservation efforts are currently underway to protect and restore Early Gentian populations, including the creation of wildflower meadows and the use of sustainable farming practices. In addition, it is important to raise public awareness about the importance of preserving these delicate wildflowers and their habitats.

Facts about Early Gentian

Here are some additional information and facts about Early Gentian:

  • Early Gentian is also commonly known as Felwort or Field Gentian.

  • The plant is pollinated by a range of insects, including bumblebees, honeybees, hoverflies, and butterflies.

  • The name Gentianella comes from the Latin word "gentiana", which refers to the genus Gentiana, to which Early Gentian is closely related.

  • Early Gentian is known for its intensely bitter taste, which is due to the presence of bitter compounds called iridoids in its roots.

  • In traditional medicine, Early Gentian was also used to treat fever, liver problems, and rheumatism.

  • The plant has a long history of use in herbal liqueurs and bitters, including the Italian digestif "Amaro".

  • Early Gentian is sometimes used as a natural dye, producing a blue-violet color.

  • The conservation status of Early Gentian varies across its range in Europe. In some countries, such as France and Germany, it is considered to be a common species, while in the UK it is rare and declining.

  • Early Gentian is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 in the UK, making it illegal to uproot or disturb the plant without permission.

  • The plant is also listed as a protected species under the European Union's Habitats Directive.

  • In addition to its ecological and cultural importance, Early Gentian has also been the subject of scientific research. Studies have investigated the plant's chemical composition, its potential therapeutic uses, and its interactions with pollinators and other insects.

Distribution and Range

Early Gentian is native to Europe and can be found in many countries across the continent, including the UK, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy. It is a cold-loving plant that thrives in cool and damp conditions, and can be found growing in a variety of habitats, from alpine meadows to coastal cliffs. In the UK, Early Gentian is mostly found in the south and southeast, and is particularly associated with chalk and limestone grasslands.

Ecological Importance

Early Gentian is an important plant for supporting biodiversity and ecosystem health. As a wildflower, it provides food and habitat for a range of insects, including bees, butterflies, and hoverflies. These insects, in turn, play a vital role in pollinating other plants and supporting food webs. Early Gentian also helps to prevent soil erosion and contributes to the overall beauty and diversity of grasslands and meadows.

Conservation Efforts

Early Gentian is listed as a priority species under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and is protected by law in many countries across Europe. Conservation efforts are focused on protecting and restoring the plant's natural habitat, as well as raising public awareness about its importance. One approach is to create wildflower meadows and restore degraded grasslands to provide suitable habitats for Early Gentian and other wildflowers. Another approach is to work with farmers to promote sustainable farming practices that minimize the use of fertilizers and pesticides and preserve natural habitats.

Cultural Significance

Early Gentian has a long history of use in traditional medicine and herbal remedies. The plant's roots are known for their intensely bitter taste, which is thought to stimulate digestive function and improve overall health. In addition, Early Gentian has been used to treat fever, liver problems, and rheumatism. The plant is also valued for its beauty and has been a popular subject for artists and poets throughout history.

Taxonomy and Description

Early Gentian is classified as Gentianella anglica and belongs to the family Gentianaceae. It is a perennial herb that typically grows to a height of around 10-30 cm. The plant has a basal rosette of leaves that are oval-shaped and arranged in a spiral pattern. The flowers are tubular and range in color from deep blue to purple. Each flower has five petals that are fused together at the base to form a corolla. The plant blooms from July to September.

Uses in Cuisine and Beverages

Early Gentian is also known for its culinary and beverage uses. In some regions of Europe, the plant is used as a flavoring for liqueurs and bitters. Its intensely bitter taste is thought to aid digestion and stimulate appetite. One well-known example is the Italian digestif Amaro, which contains a blend of herbs and botanicals, including Early Gentian. The plant is also used to flavor traditional dishes, such as the German potato salad "kartoffelsalat."

Threats and Challenges

Despite its ecological and cultural significance, Early Gentian faces a range of threats and challenges. Habitat loss and fragmentation, caused by agricultural intensification, urbanization, and climate change, are major factors that have contributed to the decline of the species. In addition, over-harvesting of the plant's roots for medicinal and culinary purposes has also had an impact. Conservation efforts, including habitat restoration and legal protection, are important for preserving Early Gentian and other wildflower species for future generations.


Early Gentian is a fascinating and valuable plant that has played an important role in ecology, culture, and science. From its traditional uses in medicine and cuisine to its contributions to biodiversity and ecosystem health, Early Gentian is a testament to the interconnectedness of nature and human society. With continued conservation efforts and public awareness, we can work together to protect and preserve this remarkable species for generations to come.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

Click to open an Interactive Map