Northern Gentian (Gentianella amarella)
In Washington’s Mt. Baker area, we stumbled upon this gentian, a less common variety within the pacific northwestfound at high altitudes across the mountainous west and even in the state of Maine. Although it displays the characteristic fused tubular five-petal flower shape of the family, it differs from the more common Explorer’s gentian by its pink color and brownish-red-tinged foliage. Most importantly it is missing the “fold” between the flower petals found in other gentians, instead a fringe of long hairs circle the edge of the flower tube. Its alternate common name, Autumn Dwarf Gentian, highlights that it is not actually in the genus ‘gentiana‘ but in the dwarf genus ‘gentianella‘, and a late bloomer. Indeed, with their long budding season and tendency to close-up in the rain, one is nearly as likely to see a closed gentian bud, as one in flower.
Although the exact recipes are often closely-regarded secrets, the root of another gentian family relative, the european Giant Yellow Gentian (Gentiana lutea)-also known as Bitter Root, is thought to be a common ingredient in Angostura and other cocktail bitters. Moxie, one of the earliest (1876) mass-produced soft drinks in America, also capitalizes on the enticing bitter taste and tonic properties of the gentian root.