Herb: American Bistort

Latin name: Polygonum bistortoides

Synonyms: Bistorta bistortoides

Family: Polygonaceae (Buckwheat Family)

Medicinal use of American Bistort:

The root is astringent. A poultice has been used in treating sores and boils.

Description of the plant:


45 cm
(1 foot)

July to

Habitat of the herb:

Moist or wet meadows and swamps, seldom below 2500 metres.

Edible parts of American Bistort:

Leaves - raw or cooked. A pleasant acid flavour, they are used as a potherb. Root - raw or cooked. Starchy and rather pleasant, the root can be baked or added to soups, stews etc. It was often dried before being used. The raw root is slightly astringent, it becomes sweeter when boiled but is best when baked. Seed - raw or cooked. It is rather small and fiddly to utilize.

Propagation of the herb:

Seed - sow spring in a cold frame. Germination is usually free and easy. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and plant them out in the summer if they have reached sufficient size. If not, overwinter them in a cold frame and plant them out the following spring after the last expected frosts. Division in spring or autumn. Very easy, larger divisions can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. We have found that it is better to pot up the smaller divisions and grow them on in light shade in a cold frame until they are well established before planting them out in late spring or early summer.

Cultivation of American Bistort:

Moist or wet meadows and swamps, seldom below 2500 metres.

Known hazards of Polygonum bistortoides:

Although no specific mention has been made for this species, there have been reports that some members of this genus can cause photosensitivity in susceptible people. Many species also contain oxalic acid (the distinctive lemony flavour of sorrel) - whilst not toxic this substance can bind up other minerals making them unavailable to the body and leading to mineral deficiency. Having said that, a number of common foods such as sorrel and rhubarb contain oxalic acid and the leaves of most members of this genus are nutritious and beneficial to eat in moderate quantities. Cooking the leaves will reduce their content of oxalic acid. People with a tendency to rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney stones or hyperacidity should take especial caution if including this plant in their diet since it can aggravate their condition.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.