Gentiane is a mountain flower famous for its blue colour, although the gentian root used as a flavouring or medicine is the yellow variety, the gentiane jaune or grande gentiane. In France, it grows in the Alps, Vosges, Pyrenees, Jura and Massif Centrale.
A plant that can live up to fifty years, gentian has accrued a number of names, notably for its healing virtues: bananier des Alpes, jansonna, gentiane officinale, jouvansanne, quinquina d'Europe, quinquina indigène, quinquina des pauvres and the curious lève-toi-et-marche (‘get up and walk’).
Its roots have been known since ancient times as an appetite stimulant and aid to digestion, but it doesn’t come easy. It takes ten years before the gentian is ready to harvest, a labour intensive job done between May and October with a fourche du diable (devil’s pitchfork)—which is also the name of one brand of gentian liqueur. The roots are macerated in alcohol for a year before the juice is extracted and distilled.
Images by B.navez, Christian, camp to camp, Passionaperitf, Unknown 1900s