Polygonum bistorta- Bistort
Other names: Osterick, Oderwort, Snakeweed, Easter Mangiant, Adderwort, Twice Writhen, Persicaria bistorta, Bistorta officinalis
Habitat: Northern and central Europe, including Britain, mountains of S. Europe, western and central Asia. Damp meadows and by water, especially on acid soils.
Although no specific mention has been made for this species, there have been reports that some members of this genus can cause photosensitivity in susceptible people. Many species also contain oxalic acid (the distinctive lemony flavour of sorrel) – whilst not toxic this substance can bind up other minerals making them unavailable to the body and leading to mineral deficiency. Having said that, a number of common foods such as sorrel and rhubarb contain oxalic acid and the leaves of most members of this genus are nutritious and beneficial to eat in moderate quantities. Cooking the leaves will reduce their content of oxalic acid. People with a tendency to rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney stones or hyperacidity should take especial caution if including this plant in their diet since it can aggravate their condition.
Bistort was formerly cultivated as a medicinal and edible herb, though it has now fallen into virtual disuse. It has gained a reputation as one of the most effective herbs to staunch bleeding. Bistort is used both externally and internally plant parts having differing uses. It has been investigated for anti tumour activity but results where inconclusive. The root is used in the treatment of internal and external bleeding, diarrhoea, dysentery, cholera etc; Internally it is taken for catarrh, cystitis, irritable bowel syndrome, peptic ulcers, ulcerative colitis and excessive menstruation. Externally, it makes a good wash for small burns and wounds, and is used to treat pharyngitis, stomatitis, vaginal discharge, anal fissure etc. A mouth wash or gargle is used to treat spongy gums, mouth ulcers and sore throats. The leaves are astringent and have a great reputation in the treatment of wounds. In Chinese medicine the rhizome is used for: epilepsy, fever, tetanus, carbuncles, snake and mosquito bites, scrofula and cramps in hands and feet .
Description of Bistort:
Polygonum bistorta; Bistort is a PERENNIAL growing to 0.5 m (1ft 8in) by 0.5 m (1ft 8in).
It is hardy to zone 4. It is in flower from Jun to September, and the seeds ripen from Aug to October. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in very acid soils.
It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist or wet soil.
Cultivation of Bistort:
Succeeds in an ordinary garden soil but prefers a moisture retentive not too fertile soil in sun or part shade. The plant repays generous treatment . A very cold-hardy plant, tolerating temperatures down to at least -25°c. Plants are somewhat spreading, forming quite extensive colonies especially in low-lying pastures. They seem to be immune to the predations of rabbits.
Propagation of Bistort:
Seed – sow spring in a cold frame. Germination is usually free and easy. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and plant them out in the summer if they have reached sufficient size. If not, overwinter them in a cold frame and plant them out the following spring after the last expected frosts. Division in spring or autumn. Very easy, larger divisions can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. We have found that it is better to pot up the smaller divisions and grow them on in light shade in a cold frame until they are well established before planting them out in late spring or early summer.
Collection: It is gathered in early spring when the leaves are just beginning to shoot, and then dried. As the root is large it is cut longitudinally and then dried in the sun.
Culinary uses of Bistort:
Edible Parts: Leaves; Root; Seed.
Leaves – raw or cooked. One report says that they are rather bitter, but we have found them to have a fairly mild flavour, especially when the leaves are young, though the texture is somewhat chewy when they are eaten raw. They make an excellent substitute for spinach. In Northern England; especially in the Lake district, the leaves are an ingredient of a bitter Lenten pudding, called Easter ledger pudding, that is eaten at Lent. The leaves are available from late winter in most years and can be eaten until the early autumn though they become much tougher as the season progresses. The leaves are a good source of vitamins A and C, a nutritional analysis is available below. Seed – raw or cooked. The seed is very small and rather fiddly to utilize but can be added to breads etc. Root – raw or cooked. Rich in starch and tannin, it is steeped in water and then roasted in order to reduce the tannin content. It is then said to be a tasty and nutritious food. The root has also been boiled or used in soups and stews and can be dried then ground into a powder and used in making bread. The root contains 30% starch, 1% calcium oxalate and 15 – 36% tannin.
Figures in grams (g) or miligrams (mg) per 100g of food.
Leaves (Fresh weight)
- 0 Calories per 100g
- Water : 82.6%
- Protein: 3g; Fat: 0.8g; Carbohydrate: 7.9g; Fibre: 3.2g; Ash: 2.4g;
- Minerals – Calcium: 0mg; Phosphorus: 0mg; Iron: 0mg; Magnesium: 0mg; Sodium: 0mg; Potassium: 0mg; Zinc: 0mg;
- Vitamins – A: 0mg; Thiamine (B1): 0mg; Riboflavin (B2): 0mg; Niacin: 0mg; B6: 0mg; C: 0mg;
Antidiarrhoeal, Astringent, Demulcent, Diuretic, Febrifuge, Laxative, Styptic.
Bistort is one of the most strongly astringent of all herbs and it is used to contract tissues and staunch blood flow. The root is powerfully astringent, demulcent, diuretic, febrifuge, laxative and strongly styptic. It is much used, both internally and externally, in the treatment of internal and external bleeding, diarrhoea, dysentery, cholera etc. The herb is also taken internally in the treatment of a wide range of complaints including catarrh, cystitis, irritable bowel syndrome, peptic ulcers, ulcerative colitis and excessive menstruation. It is considered a specific for childhood diarrhea and dysentery. Externally, it makes a good wash for small burns and wounds, and is used to treat pharyngitis, stomatitis, vaginal discharge, anal fissure etc. A mouth wash or gargle is used to treat spongy gums, mouth ulcers and sore throats. The leaves are astringent and have a great reputation in the treatment of wounds. In Chinese medicine the rhizome is used for: epilepsy, fever, tetanus, carbuncles, snake and mosquito bites, scrofula and cramps in hands and feet .
Green (Universal Herbal, 1832) cites its frequent use in intermittent fever, both alone and with gentian, 3 drachms daily being administered.
It was used, dried, and powdered on cuts and wounds to stop bleeding. The decoction in wine, made from the powder, was drunk freely ‘to stay internal bleedings and fluxes,’ and was considered ‘available against ruptures, burstings and bluises from falls and blows’- also to ‘help jaundice, expel the venom of the plague, smallpox, measles or other infectious disease, driving it out by sweating.’ A distilled water of the leaves and roots was used to wash any part stung or bitten by a venomous creature, or to wash running sores or ulcers; also as a gargle in sore throat and to harden spongy gums, attended with looseness of teeth and soreness of the mouth. Gerard stated that the root would have this effect, ‘being holden in the mouth for a certaine space and at sundry times.’ He also states that ‘the juice of Bistort put into the nose prevaileth much against the disease called Polybus.’
Dosage and preparation of Bistort:
Decoction: Pour cup of water onto one teaspoon of dried herb bring to the boil and leave covered for 10-15 mins before drinking. This should be drunk three times daily. This mixture is effective as a mouth wash and can be used as an active ingredient in an ointment for haemorrhoids and anal fissures.
Tincture: 2-4ml of the tincture three times daily
Other uses of Bistort:
The roots contain up to 21% tannin and is used in dying many things.
Esoteric uses of Bistort:
Fertility, divination, clairvoyance, psychic powers. Carry in a sachet for fertility and conception. Add to any herbal mixture to boost divination. Burn with frankincense during divination or to enhance psychic powers. Carry in a yellow flannel bag to attract wealth & good fortune. Sprinkle an infusion of the herb around the home to drive out poltergeists.
The root contains about 20% tannins which account for its high astringent action. But the chemicals listed have also been isolated from the plant.
cycloartane-3,24-dione , 24-methylenecycloartanone , gamma-sitosterol, beta-sitosterol , beta-sitosterone , friedelin and 3beta-friedelinol . Although with 24(E)-ethylidenecycloartan-3alpha-ol and 24(E)-ethylidenecycloartanone.