Herb: Alpine Bistort

Latin name: Polygonum viviparum

Synonyms: Bistorta vivipara

Family: Polygonaceae (Buckwheat Family)

Medicinal use of Alpine Bistort:

The root is astringent and styptic. It is used in the treatment of abscesses, as a gargle to treat sore throats and spongy gums, and as a lotion for ulcers.

Description of the plant:


30 cm
(11 3/4 inch)

June to

Habitat of the herb:

Mountain grassland and wet rocks.

Edible parts of Alpine Bistort:

Leaves - raw or cooked. They have a pleasant tart taste when cooked. Seed - raw or cooked. The seed is not often produced and even when it is, it is rather small and fiddly to utilize. It is rich in starch. It is pickled in Nepal. Root - raw or cooked. Starchy and pleasant but rather small. Sweet, nutty and wholesome. They taste best when roasted. Bulbils from lower part of flowering stem - raw.

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 Alpine Bistort:

Mountain grassland and wet rocks.

Known hazards of Polygonum viviparum:

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.