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updated: 01/19/11 

Swertia in Nepalese Himalaya
(Gentianaceae: Gentianeae: Swertiinae: Swertia)

by Shankar Pant

Swertia images
Plants named after Swertia
Gentian species used in folk medicine
Ethnobotany of gentians
Endangered gentians

Taxonomy, Molecular Differentiation, Biogeography and Ethnobotany of Swertia L. (Gentianaceae) of Nepal Himalaya


Exploration of the local flora is yet to be done in many places in Nepal. There is still a high probability to come across new species of Swertia. The actual number of Swertia species in Nepal, thus, is a subject of uncertainty. A total of 29 species are so far reported from Nepal. Among them, Swertia graciliescens is endemic to Nepal.

Marshes, grassland, swamp meadows, open and shady places.

Subtropical (1000 m) to alpine zone (5600 m) throughout western, central and eastern regions of Nepal. Swertia is reported from more than 40 districts out of 75. The maximum number of Swertia species are reported from the central region.

Conservation status:
Swertia chirayita falls under the IUCN threat category "vulnerable plant". Over-harvesting and improper and unscientific collection of S. chirayita has been taking place in Nepal for commercialization. It has contributed to rapid depletion of S. chirayita from natural habitast.
       His Majesty Government of Nepal (HMG/N) has proclaimed a regulation act for the proper harvesting of S. chirayita, which is suffering from immature collection. This rule forbids both collection and trade from May to September. If the rule is found to be breached, both the buyer and seller can be jailed or fined or both (Forest Rule, 1995).

Practices for cultivation are recently initiated in S. chirayita within community forest and marginal land of eastern hilly districts of Nepal. The nursery practices start from March to April. Since seeds are very small, they are mixed with sand before sowing in the bed. It takes nearly two years for the plants to mature.

Some 104 non-timber forest products (NTFPs) items are commonly traded in Nepal. Among the high value NTFPs, Swertia species occupy one of the major positions in the trade. A total of nine species of Swertia are being traded in Nepal. These are:

  1. Swertia chirayita (Roxb. ex Fleming) H. Karst.

  2. Swertia angustifolia Buch.-Ham. ex D. Don

  3. Swertia tetragona Edgew

  4. Swertia racemosa (Griseb.) C.B. Clarke

  5. Swertia ciliata (D.Don ex G. Don) B.L. Burtt

  6. Swertia dilatata C.B. Clarke

  7. Swertia multicaulis D.Don

  8. Swertia alata (Royale ex D. Don) C.B. Clarke

  9. Swertia nervosa (G.Don) C.B. Clarke

Among these S. chirayita plays a dominant role in trade covering about 80% of total traded volume of Chiretta (Swertia spp.), and is superior in quality to other species. Most of the Chiretta (80-90%) are exported as a crude drug to India, occasionally to China, Malaysia, Singapore, Germany, Italy, France, Switzerland, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, or USA. Nepal trades about 50 percent of the world’s total volume of Chiretta.

Trade of Chiretta (kg) in five developmental regions of Nepal (in Kg)

Fiscal Year

Developmental Regions

Total Trade


































Source: Hamro Ban (2001, 2002), Department of Forestry, HMG/Nepal.


Market Price:

The market price of Chiretta bears a frequent fluctuation as seen in the comparison of current (NRs* 80-150/Kg) and previous prices (NRs 400/Kg, in 2000)

*[1 US dollar= 74.64 Nepalese currency (NRs), 2004]

Royalty Rate: NRs 3.00/Kg for entire plant (Forest Rules, 1995).



Economic importance of Swertia species (Chiretta)


Swertia species have broad spectrum Ayurvedic and Allopathic values. Of the 29 species of Swertia identified in Nepal, Swertia chirayita is powerful/effective non-toxic cure for various diseases. Its whole plant is used in crude form and to manufacture different Ayurvedic/Allopathic medicines. Several other species of Swertia are also used as substitute of S. chirayita, but considered as inferior in quality.

      Chiretta is used to cure bronchial asthma, cold cough, diabetes, urinary disorder, febrifuge, gastritis, gastric ulcer, inflammation, burning sensation, jaundice, leucorrhoea, obesity, skin diseases, wounds, hepatitis, typhoid fever, vomiting in pregnancy. Chiretta is appetizer, bitter tonic, anathematic and used in alcoholic preparation as bitter flavoring agent. It is used for treatment of cancer.



Genetic diversity in seven Swertia species of Nepal

(M. Sc. Dissertation by S. R. Pant, supervised by H. P. Bimb)


We examined the genetic diversity of seven Swertia species, encompassing eastern, central and western regions of Nepal through morphology and isozyme analysis.  The species under investigation were S. angustifolia, S. bimaculata, S. ciliata, S. dilatata, S. nervosa and S. species(?). Analysis of morphological data showed significant diversity between and within Swertia species. Four enzyme systems namely; Peroxidase (Prx), Malate dehydrogenase (Mdh), Acid phosphotase (Acp) and Esterase (Est) were chosen to assess the isozyme variability using horizontal starch gel electrophoresis. The enzyme systems revealed 13 putative loci and 41 phenotypes. The allele Prx-Sc in cathodal side was found  common in all the populations (27).  Mdh was identified as highly polymorphic that exhibited maximum number of phenotypes i.e. 12 (29.3%) followed by 11, 10 and 8 for Prx, Est and Acp respectively. Prx showed both anodal and cathodal electrophoretic mobility, unlike Mdh, Acp and Est, which showed anodal mobility. The result revealed low level of genetic variation that ranged from 0 to 14.5 per cent, which emphasizes their potential value for conservation. Minimum isozyme diversity was detected in Swertia chirayita and maximum in Swertia bimaculata. Therefore, we strongly recommend for the immediate need of appropriate conservation and management practices for S. chirayita which is under high pressure of commercial exploitation in Nepal.



Species descriptions


Swertia angustifolia  Buch.-Ham ex D. Don var. angustifolia

Common names: chiretta (English), chiraito, bhale chiraito (Nepali), khalu (Newari), khupli (Rai), leketite (Doteli).
Morphology: Annual herb, 10–41 cm tall. Roots yellowish, fibrous. Stems erect, quadrangular, narrowly winged on the angles, 0.15 cm in diameter. Internodes 0.5-2.8 cm. Leaves sessile, lanceolate, 1.5-4.2 x 0.25-1.1 cm, veins 1-3. Calyx longer than corolla, 0.9–1.5 x 0.15–0.2 mm. Corolla 0.6–0.7x 0.17–0.25 cm, white to pale yellow with brown stripes, apex obtuse. Nectaries 1 per corolla lobe, pocket shaped with orbicular scale and many minutely hairy short fimbriate at the apex of pocket. Filaments 3.3-4.2 mm. Stigma lobes capitate. Capsule ovoid. Seeds numerous per capsule, brown.
Flowering period: July to November.

Fruiting period: September to December

Habitat:  Open grass land.

Places of collection:  Nagarjun; 1820m. Chauvar; 1500 (Kathmandu). Nagarkot;  2200 m (Bhaktapur). Godawari, 1400m (Lalitpur). Deymandu; 2000m (Baitadi).


Swertia angustifolia

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Swertia bimaculata (Sieb & Zucc.) C.B. Clarke

Common names: chiretta (English), chiraito, bhale chiraito, (Nepali), simme (eastern Nepal), khalu (Newari), khupli (Rai).

Morphology: An annual herb, 45–58 cm tall. Roots yellow fibrous. Stems erect, branched, quadrangular or subquadrangular, 0.25 cm in diameter. Internodes 4.15–5.65 cm long. Stems leaves sessile or short petiolate. Leaves broadly elliptic or ovate, 2.4-12 x 1-5 cm, acute, veins 3-5. Inflorescences panicles of cymes, spreading branches. Flowers 45(6)-merous. Pedicels erect, 1.05–1.9 cm. Calyx 0.25–0.3 (0.4) x 0.1–0.15 cm, narrowly oblanceolate, base narrowed, margin slightly revolute. Corolla yellowish white with purple spots in their upper half, oblong to elliptic, 0.6-1cm x 0.3-0.5 cm, two yellow green nectaries in the middle, naked. Capsules narrowly ovoid, 0.7-0.9 cm in length. Seeds numerous, brown or reddish brown.

Flowering period: July-November.

Fruiting period: October–December.

Habitat:      Swamp, meadows.

Places of collection: Lasune; 2400 m, Terhathum.




Swertia chirayita (Roxb. ex Fleming) Karstrn


Common names: chiretta (English), chiraito, pothi chiraito, (Nepali), khalu (Newari), khupli (Rai), lektite (Doteli), Kiratatikta (Sanskrit),Tenko (Gurung), Sungkhinwa (Limbu).

Morphology: A biennial herb, 24-150cm tall. Roots yellowish. Stems cylindrical (dark bluish) below and quadrangular or terete upwards, 0.58 cm in diameter. Internodes 2.65–7.25 cm in length. Leaves opposite united at the base by transverse stipular line, sessile, large, ovate, elliptic, entire, acute, 5-nerved, 4.75–8 x 2.25-3.1 cm. Inflorescence a panicle, many-flowered, inflorescence leaves smaller. Pedicels 0.15–2.1 cm long, fascicled at the axis of inflorescence leaves. Flowers 4-merous. Calyx lobes 4, deeply partite, united at the base, linear or linear-lanceolate, 0.5- 0.6 cm long and 0.1–0.2 cm broad, smaller than corolla lobe. Corolla lobes 4, 0.3–0.4 cm long acuminate, two glandular depression at the base with long hairs. Stamens 4,opposite the corolla lobe. Capsules, globose, 2-valved. Seeds numerous, very small, dark brownish in colour.

Flowering period: August to November

Fruiting period: September to December

Places of collections: Charikot; 2000 m (Dolkha). Nagarjun; 2100 m (Kathmandu). Dhulikhel; 1500 m (Kabhre). Kagate; 1800 m (Dhankuta). Kalika; 2150 m (Sankhuwasava). Panchpokhari to Basantpur; 2500 m (Terhathum).


Swertia chirayita, leaves

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Swertia chirayita, plants

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Swertia ciliata  (D.Don ex G. Don) B.L. Burtt.


Common names: chiretta (English), chiraito, bhale chiraito(Nepali), khalu (Newari), khupli (Rai), leketite (Doteli).

Morphology: Annual, 20-51cm tall. Roots yellow, fibrous. Stems erect, sub-quadrangular, branched, 0.4 cm in diameter. Internodes 0.95–2.05 cm. Leaves sessile, opposite, lanceolate to ovate-lanceolate, 1.2–2.35 x 0.3–0.65 cm, apex acute, veins 3-5 cm. Inflorescences panicle of cymes, inflorescence leaves smaller. Pedicels arise in axils of inflorescence leaves. Pedicels 0.6–0.85 cm long. Flowers 5-merous. Calyx lobes 5, linear 0.2–0.3 cm in length. Corolla lobes 5, whitish, single gland at the base of each corolla lobe. Capsules 0.5– 0.6 cm long, ovoid. Seeds 2-3 in each capsule.

Flowering period: September to November

Fruiting period: October to December

Habitat: Shady and moist places

Places of collection: Panchpokhari, 3300m, Terhathum.



Swertia dilatata C.B. Clarke


Common names: chiretta (English), chiraito, bhale chiraito, sirlinge (Nepali), khalu (Newari), khupli (Rai), lektite (Doteli),

Morphology: An annual herb, 15–72 cm in length. Roots yellow, fibrous. Stems erect, terete or 4-lineolate, 0.58 cm in diameter. Internodes 0.7–4.5 cm long. Leaves opposite united at the base by a transverse line, linear lanceolate, 1-3 nerved, ciliated at the base 1.35–5.75 x 0.25–0.6 cm. Inflorescences panicles. Pedicel 0.25–1.5 cm in length, fascicled at the axils of inflorescence leaves. Flowers 5-merous. Calyx lobes 5, deeply partite, elliptic, acute, 0.15 cm. Corolla lobes 5, purplish white, 0.5–0.6 x 0.2–0.3 cm, spreading horse-shoe shaped pit on each corolla lobe. Stamens 5. Seeds numerous.

Flowering period: September–November.

Fruiting period: November–December.

Habitat: Open Meadows or partial shady place.

Places of collection:  Charikot; 2000 m (Dolkha). Nagarkot; 2250 m (Bhaktapur). Kalika; 2150 m (Sankhuwasava). Hille to Basantpur; 2200 m (Dhankuta).


Swertia dilatata, flowers

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Swertia nervosa (G.Don) C.B. Clarke


Common names: chiretta (English), chiraito, bhale chiraito (Nepali), khalu (Newari), khupli (Rai), lektite (Doteli).

Morphology: An annual herb, 33–63 cm tall. Roots yellow–brown, fibrous. Stems quadrangular, narrowly winged on angles, branched, 0.35 cm in diameter. Internodes 1.5-3.9 cm. Leaves opposite, sessile or sub-sessile, elliptic or elliptic lanceolate, narrowed at the base, entire 1.7–5.3 x 0.45–1.5 cm, veins 1–3. Inflorescences panicles of cymes. Flowers 4-merous. Pedicels erect, 0.25–1.1 cm long. Calyx lobes 0.6–1 cm, linear lanceolate. Corolla lobes yellow-green, with purple stripes, 0.6–0.8 x 0.3–0.4 cm, ovate, oblong-acuminate, one large pocket-shaped gland with a scale in each corolla lobe near the base. Capsules ovoid, 0.7–0.8 cm. Seeds numerous, dark brown, ellipsoid.

Flowering period: September–November.

Fruiting period: November-December.

Habitat: Shady and moist places.

Places of collection: Hille; 1900 m (Dhankuta). Godawari; 1400 m (Lalitpur). Champadevi; 1850 m (Kathmandu). Nagarkot; 2250 m (Bhaktapur). Lasune; 2200 m (Terhathum). Basantapur; 2100 m (Terhathum). Bhagwati; 1800m, Chhapari; 1550 m, (Darchula). Deymandu; 2000 m (Baitadi).


Swertia nervosa, plant

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Swertia nervosa, flowers

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Swertia species (?)


Common names: chiretta (English), chiraito, bhale chiraito (Nepali), khalu (Newari), khupli (Rai), leketite (Doteli).

Morphology: An annual herb, 48-71 cm tall. Roots fibrous. Stems erect, 0.44 cm in diameter. Internodes 1.25–2 cm long. Leaves sessile, opposite, decussate, ovate-obtuse, 3–5-nerved. 3.6–4.6 x 1.2–1.8 cm, margin entire. Flowers bluish white, racemose, tetramerous. Calyx lobes 4, linear, slightly acute 0.5–0.6 cm. Corolla lobes 4, lanceolate with one round depression at the base.

Flowering period: October-November

Habitat: Shady and moist places.

Places of collection: Panchphokhari, 2800 m, (Terhathum).

Swertia sp.?, plant

click here for larger photo


Contacts for this article:
Dr. Hari Prasad Bimb, Head and Senior Scientist, Biotechnology Unit, Nepal Agriculture Research Council, P.O. Box: 1135, Lalitpur, Nepal

Shankar Raj Pant, Research Assistant, Biotechnology Unit, Nepal Agriculture Research Council, P.O. Box: 1135, Lalitpur, Nepal

Photo credits: M. R. Shrestha, S. K. Rai, & S. Pahari.

References and publications

See Swertia.

Note:  The GENTIAN RESEARCH NETWORK does not endorse or encourage the use of gentians or gentian-derived products for any medicinal purposes or as a cure for specific diseases and ailments.  The information is listed here for educational purposes only. The health value and safety of any of these plants and products has not been evaluated by us and we do not recommend any of them for medicinal use.

© Shankar Pant, 2005


© Gentian Research Network, 2002-2011.
For corrections and additions, contact Lena Struwe at