Perennial growing to 12 in (30 cm). Has long basal leaves, dense spikes of small pink flowers, and dark nutlets.
Habitat & Cultivation
Native to Europe, Asia, and North America, bistort prefers damp conditions. The leaves are gathered in spring, the rhizome in autumn.
Bistort contains polyphenols (including ellagic acid), tannins (15–20%), phlobaphenes, flavonoids, and a trace of the anthraquinone emodin.
History & Folklore
Bistort rhizomes have long been employed for their astringency. As the rhizomes also contain large amounts of starch, they have been steeped in water, roasted, and eaten as a vegetable in Russia and North America. In addition, the young, tender leaves of bistort may be used in salads or, alternatively, cooked in the same way as spinach (Spinacia oleracea).
Medicinal Actions & Uses
One of the most strongly astringent of all herbs, bistort is used to contract tissues and staunch blood flow. It makes a valuable mouthwash and gargle for treating spongy gums, mouth ulcers, and sore throats, and is also useful as a wash for small burns and wounds, a douche for excessive vaginal discharge, and an ointment for hemorrhoids and anal fissures. Internally, bistort may be taken to treat peptic ulcers, ulcerative colitis, and conditions such as dysentery and irritable bowel that give rise to diarrhea.
P. hydropiper, which is native to Europe, may be used to relieve heavy menstrual bleeding. See also knotgrass (P. aviculare).
Use bistort internally for no more than 3–4 weeks at a time.