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Bistort

Bistorta officinalis

  • Latin synonym: Polygonum bistorta, Persicaria officinalis, Persicaria bistorta
  • Name also: Meadow Bistort, Common Bistort, Snakeroot, Snake-root, Snakeweed, Easter-ledges
  • Family: Dock Family – Polygonaceae
  • Growing form: Perennial herb, rootstock contorted.
  • Height: 20–80 cm (8–30 in.). Stem erect, unbranched, glabrous.
  • Flower: Regular, ca. 4–5 mm (0.16–0.2 in.) long. Perianth consists of 5, pinkish, basally united segments. Stamens 8. Pistil formed from 3 fused carpels. Free styles 3. Inflorescence a spike.
  • Leaves: Alternate, usu. hairless. Stalk of lowermost leaves long and winged, blade 5–20 cm (2–8 in.) long, ovate, with rounded or heart-like base and blunt tip. Upper leaves stalkless and amplexicaul (stem-clasping), blade narrow-triangular, tapered. Stipules fused into a stem-enclosing sheath (an ochrea).
  • Fruit: Black, somewhat flattened, 4–5 mm (0.16–0.2 in.), and glossy nut.
  • Habitat: Parks, yards, moist meadows, lush wooded swamps.
  • Flowering time: June–July.

Bistort is a perennial, today frequently used as an ornamental. It may be an archaeophyte in Loimaa (Mainland Finland), where it is protected. Also in Ruissalo, Turku there is a relatively old occurrence. It is not known how the plant arrived in Finland. In most places it probably is a naturalized garden escape. However, pollen of this species has been found in Southern Finland from clay layers formed in the end of the Ice Age.

As the scientific name Bistorta (bis ‘twice’, torta ‘twisted’) suggests this plant has a twisted rootstock as in the letter S. This also explains the name snakeroot. Bistort has been cultivated as a vegetable and also for medicinal use. Its roots, leaves and young shoots have been used as vegetable. Roots (blackish outside, reddish inside, rich in tannic and gallic acids) and leaves also have been used as a remedy for wounds.

Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family

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