Bistort (botanical name Polygonum bistorta) is a tough perennially growing plant, which has thin stems that grow up to a height of 30 inches. All stems of the herb are crowned with an intense cylindrical bunch of minute white or pink color bloom that appears during the period between May and August.
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Long bluish-green hued leaves appear lower downwards the stem. The leaves of bistort resemble the shape of a lance and higher up the stem the leaves are usually smaller in size. Color of the rhizome or underground stem of bistort varies from deep brown to black. The rhizome is bulky, knotted and bend to form an S or double S shape.
When you see thick bunches of minute pink color flowers growing on top of the thin stalks in any forest clearing or in a pasture, you may be sure that it is bistort. In effect, this is a very common spectacle during the summer in the wild all over the Northern Hemisphere where the climatic condition is temperate.
It may be noted that two species that are native to the Old World and New World - Polygonum bistorta and Polygonum bistortoides respectively, are very closely related. The common name of the herb - bistort, has been derived from the Latin term 'elements' denoting 'twice twisted'. In effect, this denoted the knotted and twisted look of the deep brown rhizome or underground stem of this herb.
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In herbal medicine, the traditional use of bistort is wide-ranging. During the times of Shakespeare, the juice extracted from bistort herb was used in the form of a medication to treat nasal polyps. The rhizome or underground stem of bistort was boiled in wine and the solution was employed for curing dysentery and diarrhea.
Earlier, this herb was also reputed for its effective use as a mouthwash that facilitated fastening loose teeth. In effect a common property unites all these uses of bistort, for instance, the high tannin content in bistort that makes the herb astringent and, hence, useful in curbing diarrhea and haemorrhages or bleeding.
Since the rhizomes of bistort enclose plenty of starch, they are useful as food during famines when all other foods are unavailable or scarce. The rhizome of bistort is used in a number of ways - it is consumed roasted, boiled in soup or pulverized to prepare flour. Even the tender leaves of bistort are edible. They are cooked and consumed as spinach.
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Root, rhizome, leaves.
Bistort is known to be among the most potently astringent herbs and is, therefore, employed to constrict tissues as well as to stop bleeding. This herb is also used in the form of an effective gargle and mouthwash to cure spongy gums, sore throats and canker sores.
In addition, bistort is also effective in the form of a wash for minor burn injuries and wounds, for use as douches for treating profuse vaginal discharge as well as in the form of a salve to healing anal fissures and hemorrhoids.
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Bistort may also be used internally to cure ulcerative colitis, peptic ulcers and treat a number of conditions, for instance irritable bowel syndrome that causes diarrhea and dysentery. At times, bistort is employed to treat urinary problems like cystitis, and also upper respiratory congestion. The leaves and roots of this herb were also reputed for their use in treating wounds and stopping hemorrhages.
Since bistort (Polygonum bistorta) is an anti-inflammatory and astringent herb, it is a wonderful natural medication for treating diarrhea, especially in children, in addition to mucus colitis as well as diverticulitis (a condition wherein one or more diverticula are inflamed, especially distinguished by abdominal pain).
The mucilage of this herb comforts the digestive tract. Bistort may be applied to treat mucous colitis and nasal catarrh. As mentioned earlier, this herb can be employed as an effective gargle to treat pharyngitis as well as in the form of a mouthwash to heal the inflamed conditions of the tongue and the mouth.
In addition, bistort may also be used in the form of a douche for healing erosion and inflammation of the vagina and cervix. The powder obtained by pulverizing the dried out herb may be applied directly to any wound to stop bleeding. In fact, Polygonum bistorta is also a safe remedy for diabetes.
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Apart from tannins, bistort also encloses vitamin A and vitamin C. It is also used in the form of a safe and gentle vermifuge (any medication that helps to expel worms and parasitic microorganisms from the body). Bistort is thought to be very useful in diminishing mouth ulcers as well as being beneficial for the gums too.
It may be especially noted that bistort (Polygonum bistorta) is very useful in curing jaundice and also facilitates the treatment of measles, smallpox as well as other infections. Being a potent astringent, bistort is very helpful in treating bedwetting.
The root stock of bistort has a brownish-black color on the outside, while internally its color is red. This herb has rich content of tannic acid and gallic acid that makes it a potent astringent. This particular attribute of bistort has made it useful for tanning leather provided it is available in enough quantity.
The species known as American bistort (botanical name Polygonum bistortoides) is also a significant food source that is used by American Indians inhabiting the mountains on the western region of the continent. The roots of bistort are edible raw or after being roasted over fire.
The flavour of roasted bistort root reminds one of chestnuts. The seeds of this herb are dried out and ground into flour for making bread. In addition, the dry seeds of bistort are also roasted and consumed in the form of cracked grain.
Bistort is indigenous to Europe, North America, and Asia and has a preference for moist conditions. The rhizome of bistort is chunky, knotty and twisted into a S form. Many people grow bistort in their gardens in the form of a deciduous decorative plant as well as a plant for medicinal purpose. One bistort is established in any place, it is extremely problematic to get rid of it. In a number of low lying pastures, bistort is thought to be a noxious weed.
People inhabiting different regions of Japan, northern Europe as well as Siberia cultivate this herb. In addition, bistort is also grown over a wide expanse of land extending from western Asia to the Himalayas.
Bistort has a preference for conditions varying from partial shade to sunny positions and this herb genuinely likes damp and even wet soil. The herb is propagated by its seeds that need to be sown keeping a space of two feet apart between fall and spring. It may be noted that bistort seeds are very sluggish in germinating.
Medicinally, bistort is used in the form of decoction and tincture.
Decoction: To prepare a decoction from bistort add one teaspoonful of the dried out herb to one cup (250 ml) of water and boil the mixture. Seethe it for about 10 to 15 minutes and then strain the liquid. For best results, this decoction should be drunk thrice every day. It can also be used externally in the form of a gargle or mouthwash.
Tincture: The tincture prepared from bistort needs to be taken in dosage of 2 ml to 4 ml thrice every day.
Although bistort is known to be tolerated by most people, taking this herb in excessive doses (often the prescribed dose) is not advisable as the herb encloses very high amount of tannin (about 20 per cent) and prolonged use (two to three weeks consecutively) of any herb has possesses potent astringent properties too is not recommended.
Although very little clinical studies have been undertaken with bistort, there have been complaints of the use of this herb resulting in side effects, such as nausea, stomach disorder and also probable toxicity of the liver owing to its overuse. It is essential for pregnant women to consult their physician prior to using bistort.
Autumn is the ideal time to dig out the rhizomes and roots of bistort from the damp meadows where this herb thrives. As the roots of this herb are comparatively large, they ought to be cut lengthwise or longitudinally and dried out in the sun. The leaves of bistort are collected during the spring.