Herb to Know: Bistort

Get acquainted with unusual, versatile plants.

| August/September 2005

  • Bistort brings color to the garden but can also be useful medicinally and in cooking.
    Jerry Pavia

Genus: Polygonum bistorta ‘Superbum’ (also sold as ‘Superba’)

• Hardy to Zone 3

An Old World herb, bistort has Latin and common names based on the plant’s peculiar, twice-twisted rhizomatous roots. These give rise to a mound of huge, puckered and tapering foliage that diminishes in size as it ascends slender, stiff-jointed stems. The foliage is attractive all season and in the fall turns burnished red, but the plant’s real draw is its prolific production of tightly packed tiny pink flowers in dense 3-inch spikes in early summer (repeat bloom in fall is possible, too). The massed flower heads with their protruding stamens look like fluffy pokers. A mature plant in bloom is a showstopping 2 to 3 feet tall and nearly as wide.

Plants are easily established from rhizomes in early spring or early fall in moisture-retentive soil, in sun or light shade. Where summers are very hot, some shade will prolong bloom, which should last a month or more. One of bistort’s most endearing traits for a gardener afflicted with the “move-its” is its ability to resettle comfortably after transplanting, at almost any state of its growth. It does not mind wet feet, so you can plant this admirable herb even in a bog.

Bistort owes its history of curative powers to its astringent tannin-packed roots, once used to tan leather. Many bistort-root preparations also were used to dry up mouth and gum sores and to cure diarrhea. The young shoots were eaten as a vegetable, especially in Bistort Pudding, a traditional dish served as a spring restorative at Easter.

I like to cut the tall, strong stems for bouquets, fresh and dried. The sweetly hawthorn-scented flower heads can be dried and added to potpourri.

Subscribe today and save 58%

Get the latest on Healthy Living and Natural Beauty!

Mother Earth LivingRedefine beauty and embrace holistic living with Mother Earth Living by your side. Each issue  provides you with easy, hands-on ways to connect your life with the natural world -- from eating seasonally to culinary and medicinal uses of herbs; from aromatherapy and DIY cosmetics to yoga and beyond. Start your journey to holistic living today and you’ll discover all the best and latest information you want on choosing natural remedies and practicing preventive medicine; cooking with a nutritious and whole-food focus; creating a nontoxic home; and gardening for food, wellness and enjoyment. Subscribe to Mother Earth Living today to get inspired on the art of living wisely and living well.

Save Money & a Few Trees!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You’ll save an additional $5 and get six issues of Mother Earth Living for just $19.95! (Offer valid only in the U.S.)

Or, choose Bill Me and pay just $24.95.

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter