Polygonum bistorta 'Superba', formerly known as Persicaria bistorta and commonly known as Bistort is a semi-evergreen perennial produces clusters of small, light pink flowers throughout summer and into autumn. The flowers are clustered in a cylinder shape on the top of tall flower spikes. The leaves are quite large, broad and bright green. This plant is ideal for creating groundcover, it is also a useful plant for soils that are poorly drained.
It likes a moist but well drained soil in sun or partial shade. It will tolerate drier soils but will not flower nearly so well: dry conditions slow it down dramatically. You may not wish to plant too close to a pond or water, as it can become invasive on very damp soil.
A mass of these plants, covered in spikes of flowers in varying shades of pink, is classic as a host of golden daffodils in spring, while in September the mid-green, oblong, shiny leaves make good dense ground cover. The flowers are highly attractive to bees and butterflies. The photograph is taken at the RHS gardens in Wisley where they are planted en masse, and at Wakehurst Place in Sussex, Persicaria are grown on a bumpy slope.
Bistort is a was formerly cultivated as a culinary and medicinal plant. As a herb, it is strongly astringent and used internally and externally for a large number of complaints, treatment for wounds and bleeding. The leaves, roots and seeds are used as a culinary ingredient. It is a key ingredient in Easter ledger pudding.
Sowing: Sow in late summer/autumn and late winter/late spring.
Sow seeds at temperatures of around 18 to 22°C (64 to 71°F), covering them with a thin layer of compost. The compost should be kept moist but not wet at all times. Germination should start to occur between 21 and 60 days
If germination is slow, you may wish to use the method of stratification to mimic the seed going through the seasons: Place the tray into a fridge for 4 weeks (Fridges are usually set at 4°C, the ideal 'Winter' temperature, then bring out and place in an area that mimics spring: at 5 to 2°C (41 to 53°F)
Prick out each seedling as it becomes large enough to handle, transplant into 7.5cm (3in) pots or trays. After the last expected frosts, gradually acclimatise to outdoor conditions for 10 to15 days before planting out into their permanent positions, space at least 30cm (12in) apart.
Grow in moist soil that does not dry out, in full sun or partial shade. You may not wish to plant too close to a pond or water, as it can become invasive on very damp soil. Propagate by division in spring or autumn.
Cottage/Informal Garden, Flowers Borders and Beds, Garden Edging, Ground Cover or Rock Garden.
Bistort is one of the strongest vegetable astringents among our native plants and used internally and externally for a large number of complaints.
It makes a valuable mouthwash and gargle for sore throats, in Shakespeare’s’ time, it had a reputation that it would fasten loose teeth. The roots and leaves had also a great reputation for the treatment for wounds and bleeding.
Externally, the root-stock is brown-black, but internally is coloured red and is rich in tannic and gallic acids, which makes it a powerful astringent and has enabled it to be used in tanning leather, when procurable in sufficient quantity.
The species Polygonum bistorta is native to parts of Northern Europe, Siberia, Japan and Western Asia to the Himalayas. Formerly cultivated as a culinary and medicinal plant in the UK and Ireland, it was considered a declining species by the early 20th century. It can be found in areas of northern Ireland, the northern England to the south of Scotland.
Persicaria is the medieval name given to Bistort. It is taken from the Latin persica meaning 'peach', alluding to the shape of the leaves. In ancient times a peach was called persike or persica meaning 'Persian apple'. A fruit that reached Europe from China by way of Persia.
The root-stock of bistort as it appears in commerce, is dark brown and about 5cm (2in) long and 1cm (3/5in) broad. It is twice bent, as in the letter ‘S’.
The name bistort comes from Latin word elements bis meaning 'twice' and torta meaning 'twisted', so 'twice-twisted'.
An old local name, 'Twice-Writhen,' being a literal translation of the Latin. Its twisted nature is also the origin of the names Snakeroot, Adderwort and Snakeweed.
It was at one time called Serpentaria, Columbrina, Dracunculus and Serpentary Dragonwort, and has been thought to be the Oxylanathum Britannicum and Limonium of the ancients.
An Ancient Crop:
The leaves, roots and seeds are all used as a culinary ingredient. Roots are roasted, boiled in soup, or ground to make flour to make bread. Young leaves may be cooked and eaten like spinach. Roots and rhizomes of bistort are dug up in the autumn. The large roots should be cut longitudinally and dried in the sun.
Because the rhizomes are starchy, they served as famine food. They have been largely consumed in Russia, Siberia and Iceland in time of scarcity and are said to be nutritious and a useful article of food.
In the north of England it is still used a key ingredient in Easter ledger pudding. It can also be found under the name of 'Easter-mangiant,' (the latter word a corruption of mangeant,) i.e. a plant to be eaten at Easter, 'Easter Giant' and 'Easter Ledges' being variations of this name.
In Lancashire and Cumberland the leaves and young shoots were eaten as a green vegetable under the name of Patience Dock and Passions.
Easter Ledger Pudding:
This is a traditional recipe in he north of England usually made around Easter time (hence one name for it, Easter Ledge Pudding though it is also known as Bisort Pudding and Dock Pudding.
The recipes for this pudding are many and varied and what's presented here is probably one of the most 'primitive' versions.
60g each of finely chopped bisort, nettle and dandelion leaves
6 large blackcurrant leaves, finely chopped
1 leek finely chopped (or about 12 ramson leaves)
100g whole barley
1 tsp salt
butter or bacon fat to fry
Blackcurrant leaves used to be used quite extensively in ancient cookery as they have the same flavour as the blackcurrrant fruit.
Wash the herbs, dry them and chop very finely. Chop the leeks (or ramson leaves) equally small and add to a bowl along with the oatmeal, barley and salt. Add enough water to the bowl so that the ingredients are entirely covered then leave drape a cloth over the top and leave over night.
The following morning, tip off the excess water, transfer the pudding to a greased dish and bake slowly in an oven for about 1.5 hours. At this time bring the mixture from the oven, add and egg and mix thoroughly. Return to the oven for about five minutes then serve.
Alternatively add the egg to the mixture as soon as you've poured off any excess water and fry gently in bacon fat.
Serve with bacon.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 215 mg Average Seed Count 30 Seeds Common Name Herb Bistort, Easter Giant. Aka Persicaria bistorta
Wildflower of Britain and Ireland
Other Common Names Dragonwort, English Serpentary, Snakeroot, Snakeweed Other Language Names IR. Stóinse Family Polygonaceae Genus Polygonum Species bistorta Synonym Bistorta officinalis, Polygonum bistorta., Persicaria bistorta Hardiness Hardy Perennial Flowers Pink flowers are clustered in a cylinder shape on the top of tall flower spikes. Natural Flower Time May to August Foliage Semi-evergreen. Bronze in Autumn. Height 60-90cm (24-36in) Spread 60-90cm (24-36in) Position Full sun or light shade Aspect All aspects. Exposed or Sheltered. Soil Nutritious and moist ideal, but does tolerate dry soils. Time to Sow Late winter/late spring or late summer/autumn. Germination 21 to 60 days