Bistort: An Astringent With A Twisted Root

Bistort is native to Europe and parts of Asia but now grows all over the world. You can find it in the Eastern US, especially in the New England region. It is grown mainly as an ornamental plant but was used as medicine and food for much of history.

Bistort is in the buckwheat family, which means that it is also related to sorrel and rhubarb.

The plant gets its name from the fact that its roots are twisted. Bistort comes from the Latin word tortus, which means to twist. Other names for bistort include odorwort and sweet dock.

Bistort has been used as a treatment for various conditions in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It has been used as a food throughout Europe including in Siberia, Iceland, and England. In those countries, it is regarded as a food for times of famine.

Bistort was at one point used as a treatment for intestinal worms in children.

In the 17th century, the herbalist Nicholas Culpeper believed that bistort could drive poison and various diseases out of your system. He also believed that drinking a bistort decoction in wine could stop internal bleeding.

Bistort flavor profile

Bistort leaves are sour while the rhizome is bitter and astringent.

Health benefits of bistort

Bistort has been highly esteemed as a medicinal herb for centuries. Its benefits come from compounds like:

  • Vitamins: Bistort leaves are good sources of vitamins A and C.
  • Tannic acids: Aside from bistort, you also get tannic acids from berries as well as from tea and the oak wood that makes wine barrels. Tannic acid is a compound that is antibacterial in addition to being astringent.
  • Gallic acid: You can find gallic acid in bistort and many other plants. It is a compound that acts as an antioxidant and that also works against viruses and fungi.

Try bistort for preventing or treating problems like these below:

  • Mouth sores: The astringent properties of its tannic acids make bistort effective for healing sores. It has long been used to treat sores in the mouth.
  • Cancer: The gallic acid in bistort has anti-cancer properties and is believed to protect cells from oxidative damage. It is also toxic to cancer cells but not healthy cells.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): Bistort may useful for alleviating symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome because of the tannic acid it contains.
  • Inflammatory diseases: The antioxidant properties of both gallic acid and tannic acid can help with any inflammatory diseases including arthritis.

Health concerns

Bistort does not usually cause health problems when you use it correctly; however, using too much may result in constipation and nausea.

Common uses

You can eat bistort leaves raw, but they are better when cooked as they are for dishes like bistort pudding. Bistort pudding (also called dock pudding) is a traditional English dish that typically combines the herb with oats. It is made in Northern England during Lent. Bistort root is edible as well but you will have to soak it to remove much of the tannin content. After soaking, you can roast or boil it to use like any other starchy tuber.

You can also dry and powder bistort root to create a flour-like powder for making bread. You can consume bistort in tea form, which will provide many of its antioxidant benefits. Bistort tea is typically made by steeping the rhizome of the bistort plant in hot water.