The stem of bistort forms a stalk 1 1/2 to 2 3/4 feet (45 to 85 cm.) tall. The leaves, arising from the base of the stem, are elliptical or elongated with rounded or mostly cuneate bases and winged petioles. They are bluish green above with a purplish tint underneath, somewhat long and broad--resembling sourdock leaves.
The flowers, pink with dark anthers, are borne on a dense, cylindrical spike on the top of the stem.
Bistort root is a rhizome, thick and hard, usually contorted or S-shaped, bent upon itself (bistorted), 3 inches (8 cm.) long and 3/4 to 1 inch (2 to 3 cm.) thick. Externally the rhizome appears blackish, but it is reddish brown within. It is depressed or channeled on the upper surface and marked with convex root scars on the under surface. Around the rhizome, a ring of small woody wedges encloses a pith the same thickness as the bark. Rootstalk and leaves spring from the numerous black thready rootlets.
Bistort is circumpolar to circumboreal; it is found in Eurasia and Alaska in alpine meadows and tundra.
The rhizome is the portion used in medicine.
Bistort is one of the most powerful astringents in botanic medicine. It is useful and effective for cleansing canker and morbid matter from the mucous membranes of the alimentary canal and at the same time toning the entire tract. It influences the kidneys, firms up and tones the tissue, both internal and external, and is a versatile styptic agent for hemorrhages.
For sore and ulcerated mouth or gums, nasal problems, and running sores, use a decoction or infusion of bistort rhizome as a rinse or wash. Insect stings and snake bites should be treated externally with a strong decoction; stronger decoctions should be taken internally. For regulating or decreasing the menstrual flow, douching with a diluted decoction has been recommended. For the treatment of leucorrhea, douche with a strong decoction.
For cuts and wounds, apply and powdered root directly to the injured part. It is noted in the Chinese book, A Barefoot Doctor's Manual, that bistort clears fevers, detoxifies, loosens congestion and reduces swelling.
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Copyright © 1987 by Eleanor G. Viereck