Botanical: Polygonum bistorta
Family: Polygonaceae (buckwheat)
Other common names: Adderwort, Patience Dock, Snakeweed, Dragonwort, Easter Giant, Red Legs, Sweet Dock, English Serpentary, Twice Writhen, Easter Mangiant, Knotweed, Snake Root
Bistort is an old remedy that has been used as a strong herbal astringent to control internal and external bleeding, including excessive menstrual flow, hemorrhaging from the lungs and stomach; and its high astringency also helps to relieve diarrhea (including bloody diarrhea), hemorrhoids, bedwetting, colitis, spongy gums and vomiting.
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Bistort is a hardy mountain perennial that is said to be native to northern Europe and Eurasia, but may also be found (perhaps introduced) to parts of North America and Asia, where it grows wild (as an escapee from gardens) in damp fields, wet meadows and by stream banks. It is also cultivated in gardens as a deciduous ornamental and medicinal plant with slender stems, bearing lower, long, bluish-green, lance-shaped leaves and smaller leaves above that are topped by a dense, cylindrical cluster of tiny white or pinkish flowers. The plant thrives in moist soil in partial shade and grows to a height of three feet. The underground stem is a long, thick, dark brown-to-black, knobby rhizome with a red interior that is twisted into an "S" or "double-S" shape, and although cultivated in gardens, Bistort is said to be difficult to eradicate when established and is frequently considered a noxious weed in low-lying pastures. The plant's botanical specific, bistorta, is a derivation of Latin word elements that mean "twice-twisted," an obvious reference to the gnarled shape of the underground rhizomes, which are usually lifted in autumn, dried and used in herbal medicines. The roots were once used to tan leather, and the young leaves and shoots were often boiled as a nutritious, spinach-like green vegetable, particularly in times of famine, and it is still included in "herb pudding" in England. Some of the constituents included in Bistort are a large amount of starch, an exceptionally high tannin content, gum, gallic acid and vitamins A and C.
Bistort is one of the strongest astringents in the herbal kingdom, and because of its high tannin content, the herb has been a reliable treatment for diarrhea (even bloody diarrhea), dysentery, bedwetting, hemorrhoids, colitis and vomiting.
Further supporting its role as an astringent, Bistort also acts as a hemostatic and styptic, substances that control or stop blood flow. As such, it has been used to control bleeding when used internally and externally (cuts). When used internally, it is said to treat bleeding ulcers, decrease and regulate excessive menstrual bleeding, and stanch nosebleeds and hemorrhaging from the lungs and stomach.
Bistort is considered a fine herbal diaphoretic that promotes heavy sweating, which not only cools the body and reduces fever, but also helps to drive out poisons from the body through the skin. As an herbal diuretic, Bistort further helps to clear toxins and infection from the system by promoting urine flow, and Bistort's antiseptic qualities additionally help to drive out infection in the increased urine. This has been especially useful in cases of cystitis, vaginal discharge and other urinary tract infections.
Further supporting Bistort's natural antiseptic, antifungal and antibacterial reputation when used both internally and externally, the herb has also been used to alleviate other infectious diseases like cholera, smallpox, measles, skin eruptions, canker sores and mouth infections.
Bistort is believed to be an "alterative," or agent that helps to gradually and favorably alter the course of an ailment or condition, often by cleansing and stimulating the efficient removal of waste products from the body, and as such, it is believed to purify the system (primarily the alimentary canal) and cleanse the blood.
Bistort has been used in mouthwashes to ease inflammation of the mouth. Its astringency and anti-inflammatory qualities are said to treat spongy gums, loose teeth, laryngitis, pharyngitis and ulcerated tonsils. The herb is also thought to soothe the inflammation of running sores and insect bites.
Excessive use of Bistort Herbal Supplement (many times the recommended dosage) is not recommended because of the herb's high tannin content (20%), and longterm use of highly astringent herbs (two-three weeks at a time) is not recommended. There has been little clinical research into Bistort, but there have been reports of nausea and stomach upset and possible liver toxicity with overuse. Pregnant women should ask their physicians before using Bistort.