Bistort P. bistorta is native to many parts of Europe and Western Asia. P. bistortoides, the American native version is very similar.
The leaves are ovate and basal, narrow at the base. The flower stalks can reach two feet in height and bear pink racemes that look somewhat like catkins. Different varieties may have different colored flowers, and some domesticated varieties have much showier flowers. The European variety has much less showy flowers and clasping, heart-shaped leaves on an upright stem.
The rhizomatic rootstock is twisted blackish or purplish on the outside and reddish on the inside.
Other Names Osterick, Oderwort, Snakeweed, Snakeroot, Easter Mangiant, Adderwort, Twice Writhen, Serpentaria, Columbrina, Dracunculus, Serpentary Dragonwort, Patience dock, Red Legs, Easter Giant, Passions, English Serpentary, Dragon’s Scales, Snake
Bistort, a herbaceous perennial plant, has a rich history dating back to ancient times, with mentions in Greek and Roman texts.
The plant can be easily propagated through division, making it a popular choice for gardeners.
Bistort’s rhizomes and leaves are harvested for various purposes, including medicinal and culinary uses, and can be stored for extended periods.
This versatile plant finds its way into household cleaning products due to its astringent and antiseptic properties, while its roots have been employed for their healing qualities in traditional medicine.
History and Folklore
The name Bistort comes from Latin meaning “twice-twisted”, referring to the shape of the root.
Bistort prefers a moist, shady area and is great for a woodland or bog garden or it looks nice planted around an ornamental pond. Divide the rootstock in early autumn or spring.
Harvesting & Storage
Harvest and dry the rootstock in the spring when the leaves first begin or in autumn. Cut lengthwise to dry in the sun.
Bistort is used for psychic powers, especially burned in combination with frankincense. It is also a useful addition to money and fertility sachets, or carry it with you if you want to conceive. It can also be added to the holy water or fumigation mixture that is used during exorcisms. An infusion of bistort root is said to help chase away spirits of the earthbound dead.
Bistort can be used to cure leather, but you need large quantities.
Bistort root has a high concentration of tannin so it is an astringent. It is commonly used as a poultice for boils and festering sores.
It is also styptic and is useful for internal and external bleeding, as well as for diarrhea, dysentery and cholera. Keep the powder on hand to use for external bleeding or mix a half teaspoon into a cupful of warm water for internal bleeding and bowel problems. (NOTE: Please go to the emergency room for internal bleeding!)
A decoction has been used for heavy menstruation and as a gargle for ulcers of the mouth and for bleeding gums. It can also be added to lotions for use on sores with discharge and it can be used as a douche to stanch excess discharge.
The powdered leaves were once used to help expel worms from children.
Leaves and young shoots can be used as raw or cooked vegetables. They have a tangy acidic taste.
The roots are very starchy and can be roasted, baked or boiled with baking and roasting being the tastier of the three options. They can also be dried and pounded, the resulting powder used like flour.
The seeds can also be eaten raw and cooked, but they are very small.
Bistort is an ingredient in Herb Pudding, traditionally eaten during Ostara.
Excessive use of bistort may cause photo sensitivity.
Bistort contains oxalic acid which can bind to other minerals impeding their absorption and so should not be ingested in large quantities.
People with gout, kidney stones, rheumatism, and arthritis should avoid foods containing oxalic acid. Cooking reduces the effect of oxalic acid. Other plants containing oxalic acid are sorrel, rhubarb and spinach.