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Friday, March 23, 2012


Bistort is a close relative of water smartweed and arssmart, and the synonym for the botanical name is Persicaria bistorta while in English it is also known as Adderwort and snakeweed, which refers to the twining nature of its roots. To the older herbalists this was known as Serpentary Dragonwort, (a truly wonderful name I think!) again because of the twining or writhing nature of its roots. It was also called Dracunculus and Serpentaria among other names. Bistorta comes from the Latin words which means twice twisted, while the genus name Polygonum is from the Greek meaning to have many joints (or knees!).
  Bistort is native to Northern Europe and Siberia through to Japan and the Himalayas. It is a member of the Polygonaceae family of plants or the buckwheat family, making it a relative of such plants as sorrel, rhubarb, arrowleaf dock, common dock, red dock and yellow dock as well as to the water pepper (Polygonum hydropiper) among others.
  Its leaves are edible and the plant has been cultivated for its medicinal properties, with the roots being particularly prized, as well as for culinary purposes. The young leaves are a bit chewy, but may be eaten raw, although they are best when cooked and eaten as you would spinach. The leaves contain vitamins A and C so were useful additions to diets in earlier times as was scurvy-grass.
  The leaves are added to a pudding traditionally eaten at Lent in northern England called Easter ledger pudding. However the roots contain starch and tannin,so when the root has been soaked well and then roasted to remove the tannin in them they are said to taste quite good. These have been used as famine food in Siberia, Iceland and doubtless other cold countries.
  In Chinese traditional medicine the bistort root has been used for epilepsy, fever, tetanus, cramps and scrofula as well as for a number of other ailments including diabetes.
  Bistort plants have been used to treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome, peptic ulcers, and excessive menstruation as well as catarrh, chronic cystitis and other illnesses.
 If you add 1 teaspoon of the powdered root to a pint of boiling water and boil this down to a half a pint, then a tablespoon every two hours is useful for diarrhoea. This decoction is also a good gargle and mouth wash for mouth ulcers as well as a vaginal douche. It makes a good lotion for pus-filled ulcers too.
  The tannin content of the root means that it has been employed in past times for tanning leather, and this also makes it a good wound healer, and stops internal and external bleeding.
  The powdered leaves were once used to get rid of children’s intestinal worms.
  Writing in the 17th century the English herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper had this to say of bistort:-
Government and virtues. It belongs to Saturn, and is an operation cold and dry; both the leaves and roots have a powerful faculty to resist all poison. The root in powder taken in drink expelleth the venom of the plague, the small pox, measels, purples, or any other infectious disease, driving it out by sweating. The root in powder, the decoction thereof in wine being drank stayeth all manner of inward bleeding, or spitting of blood, and any fluxes in the body of either man or woman, or vomiting. It is also very availing against ruptures, or bursting, or all bruises or falls, dissolving the congealed blood, and easing the pains that happen thereupon; it also helpeth the jaundice.
  The water distilled from both leaves and roots, is a singular remedy to wash any place bitten or stung by any venomous creature; as also for any of the purposes before spoken of and is very good to wash any running sores or ulcers. The decoction of the root in wine being drank, hindereth abortion or miscarriage in child-bearing. The leaves also kill the worms in children, and is a great help to them that cannot keep their water; if the juice of plaintain be added thereto, and outwardly applied, much helpeth the gonorrhea, or running of the reins. A drachm of the powder of the root taken in water thereof, wherein some red hot iron or steel hath been quenched, is also an admirable help thereto, so as the body be first prepared and purged from the offensive humours. The leaves, seed, or roots, are all very good in decoctions, drinks, or lotions, for inward or outward wounds, or other sores. And the powders strewed upon any cut or wound in a vein, stayeth the immoderate bleeding thereof. The decoction of the root in water, whereunto some pomegranate peels and flowers are added, injected into the matrix, stayeth the immoderate flux of the courses. The root thereof with pelitory of Spain, and burnt alum, of each a little quantity, beaten small and made into paste, with some honey, and a little piece thereof put into a hollow tooth, or held between the teeth, if there be no hollowness in them, stayeth the defluction of rheum upon them which cause the pains, and helps to cleanse the head, and void much offensive water. The distilled water is very effectual to wash sores or cancers in the nose, or any other parts; if the powder of the root be applied thereunto afterwards. It is good also to fasten the gums and to take away the heat and inflammations that happen in the jaws, almonds of the throat, or mouth, if the decoction of the leaves, roots, or seeds bruised, or the juice of them be applied; but the roots are most effectual to the purposes aforesaid.”                                                                       
  Modern clinical trials have found that extracts of bistort have antioxidant properties as well as reducing fever (antipyretic), and it also has antioxidant properties and anti-inflammatory ones. Once again, the old herbalists seem to have known what they were doing with plants.

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