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Botanical Name :Polygonum bistorta or Persicaria bistorta
Species: P. bistorta
Synonyms: Persicaria bistorta (L.) Samp., Polygonum ampliusculum Gand., Polygonum bistorta L., Polygonum bourdinii Gand., Polygonum carthusianorum Gand., Polygonum ellipticum Willd. ex Spreng., Polygonum pilatense Gand.
Common Name : Bistort or Common Bistort, Meadow bistort, Snakeweed
Numerous other vernacular names have been recorded for the species in historical texts, though none is used to any extent. Many of the following refer to the plant’s use in making puddings: Adderwort, Dragonwort, Easter giant, Easter ledger, Easter ledges, Easter magiant, Easter man-giant, Gentle dock, Great bistort, Osterick, Oysterloit, Passion dock, Patience dock (this name is also used for Rumex patientia), Patient dock, Pink pokers, Pudding grass, Pudding dock, Red legs, Snakeweed, Twice-writhen, Water ledges.
Habitat : Polygonum bistorta is native to northern and central Europe, including Britain, mountains of S. Europe, western and central Asia. It grows in damp meadows and by water, especially on acid soils.
Polygonum bistorta is a perennial plant, growing to 0.5 m (1ft 8in) by 0.5 m (1ft 8in) at a fast rate. It blooms late spring into mid summer, producing tall stems ending in single terminal racemes that are club-like spikes of pink-rose colored flowers. The seeds ripen from Aug to October. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects. The racemes are about 2 cm thick and 5-9 cm long and end 1 meter tall,upright growing stems. Plants grow in moist soils and under dry conditions go dormant, losing their foliage until adequate moisture exists again. This species is grown as an ornamental garden plant, especially the form ‘Superba’ which has larger, more showy flowers. Typically alpine plants growing from short, thick rhizomes that branch. The foliage is normally basal with a few smaller leaves produced near the lower end of the flowering stems. The leaves are oblong-ovate or triangular-ovate in shape and narrow at the base. The petioles are broadly winged.
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The Latin name “bistorta” refers to the twisted appearance of the root. In Northern England the plant was used to make a bitter pudding in Lent from a combination of the plant’s leaves, oatmeal, egg and other herbs. It is the principal ingredient of dock pudding or Easter-Ledge Pudding. The root of Bistort can be used to produce an astringent that was used in medicine.
Landscape Uses: Container, Ground cover. 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. Bistort was formerly cultivated as a medicinal and edible plant, though it has now fallen into virtual disuse. Plants are somewhat spreading, forming quite extensive colonies especially in low-lying pastures. They seem to be immune to the predations of rabbits. Special Features: Attractive foliage, Edible, Not North American native, Invasive, Suitable for cut flowers, Suitable for dried flowers.
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.
Edible Uses::…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 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. Seed – raw or cooked. The seed is very small and rather fiddly to utilize. 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;
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 gathered in early spring when the leaves are just beginning to shoot, and then dried. It is much used, both internally and externally, in the treatment of internal and external bleeding, diarrhoea, dysentery, cholera etc. It 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. 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 . Considered useful in diabetes.
Roots and leaves were used to counteract poisons and to treat malaria and intermittent fevers. Dried and powdered it was applied to cuts and wounds to staunch bleeding, and a decoction in wine was taken for internal bleeding and diarrhea (especially in babies). It was also given to cause sweating and drive out the plague, smallpox, measles and other infectious diseases. Bistort is rich in tannins and one of the best astringents. Taken internally, it is excellent for bleeding, such as from nosebleeds, heavy periods and wounds, and for diarrhea and dysentery. Since it reduces inflammation and mucous secretions it makes a good remedy for colitis and for catarrhal congestion. It was originally recommended in 1917 as a treatment for debility with a tendency towards tuberculosis. It has also been used externally for pharyngitis, stomatitis, vaginal discharge, anal fissure, purulent wounds, hemorrhoids, mouth ulcers and gum disease. Comes well with Geranium maculatum.
Other Uses:......Tannin.……The roots contain up to 21% tannin
Known Hazards: 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.
The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.