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WILDLIFE OF NORTHERN ENGLAND

Introducing the Bistort,  Persicaria bistorta

The common Bistort is known by many country titles which include Osterick, Oderwort, Snake weed, East mangiant, Adderwort, Twice writhen, Easter ledges, Gentle dock, Poor man's cabbage and Red legs.  Bistort belongs to the Family Polygonaceae and of the Order Caryophyllales. They are placed in the Genus Persicaria.

Description of the common bistort.

The bistort has an S shaped rootstock which gives rise to the plants common name from the Latin bis,meaning twice + torta meaning twisted. From this root stock a number of tuberous roots are produced. from the top side of the rootstock arise relatively large oval leaves which have heart shaped bases.

Bistort flowers

.Courtesy of E64 CC BY-SA 3.0 License.Polygonum bistorta 01.jpg

The foliage is green with , on occasion, a bluish hue on the upper surface while the surface below is lighter almost ash grey, which may be tinged with a purplish sheen. The leaf stalk is about 6 inches long as are the leaf blades. Closer observation will reveal that the upper part of the leaf stalk is winged.The flowering stems produce cylindrical densely packed flower heads at their tips. the flower head consists of many individual flowers. Each of the many individual flowers that form the spike have five coloured sepals, eight stamens and an ovary with 2-3 styles. They may first be encountered in May and June and again from September until October. They are succeeded by fruits which contain 3 seeds. When ripe the seeds are of a brown colour and very small; they are regularly taken by birds. 

Bistort in flower

Photograph by Dal.

Historical medicinal facts

In the "Useful Family Herbal " published in 1755 John Hill states that---" A very beautiful wild plant. It grows in our meadows, and, when in flower in May and June, it is very conspicuous, as well as very elegant in its appearance.It is about a foot and a half high; the leaves are broad and beautiful, and the flowers grow in a spike or ear at the top of the stalks, and are of a bright red colour."

"The root is thick and contorted, blackish on the outside red within.  If we minded our own herbs, we should need fewer medicines from abroad. the root of the bistort is one of the best astringents in the world. Not violent but sure;the time of gathering it is in March, when the leaves begin to shoot. String several of them on a line and let them dry in the shade."

" the powder or decoction of them will stop all fluxes of the belly;and is one of the safest remedies I know for overflowing of the menses. They also good in diabetes.The use of this root may be continued without danger, till it effects a perfect cure"

John Gerard in his book " Of the Historie of Plantes " published in 1597 states  " bistort doth coole and dry in the third degree. The juice of the bistort put into the nose prevaileth much against the disease called polypus and the biting of serpents or any other venomous beast being drunke in wine or the water of Angelica."

" The root boiled in wine and drunke stoppeth the lask and bloddy fux, it stayeth also the over much flowing of womens monethly sicknesses. the root taken as aforesaid stayeth vomiting and healeth the inflammation and soreness of the mouth and throat, it likewise fasteneth loose teeth, being holden in the mouth for a certaine space and at sundry times. 

Bistort flowering at a lake side.

Photograph by Dal

Modern day uses

In the north of England, but, in particular Cumbria bistort foliage was one of the main ingredients of a spring time culinary preparation known as Easter Ledge Pudding. In former times it was considered to be  a wholesome dish, very suitable when ordinary green vegetables used to be scarce. 

It seems that bistort as fell out of favour in modern day herbal medicine. As a gargle for mouth and throat infections or as a poultice for infected wounds an infusion can be produced by putting 2 teaspoonsful in 250 ml of luke warm water leave to stand for five hours before using it.

For the Forager------ Young shoots and leaves can be eaten as a vegetable as can the roasted roots. 

Anyone trying herbal preparations for the first time is well advised to click on the content banner for  Wild Herb Advise at the top of this page.

 

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Nature's pharmacy

Wild Herb Advise.

Plant Basic Biology-1,2,3,4. 

Poisonous plants--1,2,3.

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