Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Bistort (Polygonum bistorta)

Bistort (Polygonum bistorta) is a hardy perennial within the Polygonaceae family. Also known as bistort, common bistort, meadow bistort, pink pokers, knotweed, adderwort and snakeweed. It is found in northern and central Europe including Britain, mountains of southern Europe, western and central Asia. It grows in acidic soil in damp meadows, bog gardens and cultivated beds.

Bistort growing in a polytunnel amongst the squash

Growing methods

Sow seeds in spring under cover and then pot on as the seedlings grow, planting out to their final position when big enough. Seeds germinate easily. It is a good addition to a cottage garden. Alternatively propagate by division in spring or autumn. It is generally free of pests and diseases. It is a sprawling leggy plant growing up to 0.5m by 0.5m. The pink flowers develop from June to September. The seeds ripen from August to October. It will grow in semi-shade or no shade preferring damp or wet soil.

Other uses

Bistort is very astringent and has many herbal medicinal uses.

Raw edible parts

The leaves, seed and roots are edible raw. The leaves are best used raw in salads. They do become a little chewy as they age. This plant grows alongside chickweed in and around our tomato and squash plants our polytunnel, coming up as and when it pleases. The seeds are tiny and we don't bother with them except to save them in case we want to sow them. They can be dried, ground down into a powder and added to bread. Although it is a perennial plant, we have treated it as an annual for salad leaves and seed. We do the same with chickweed seed, which are also very tiny. We don't think you would really want to be eating the root raw since the thinner younger roots are stringy and the older roots are very woody. If you treat the plant as a perennial, then you will have more roots, and it might be worth it. As a point of interest, the root contains tannin.

Bistort root

As another point of interest, the leaves can be cooked and eaten like spinach; the root can be soaked (to reduce the tannin level) in water and then roasted; and the seeds can be cooked.

The form 'Superba' is a larger plant and grown as a garden ornamental. We can't say whether the nutritional content varies or whether it is safe to eat. As far as we know this plant was bred for its visual rather than nutritional qualities. Do, however, remember that conventional plant production occasionally generates plants with undesirable traits, some of which are potentially hazardous to human health. Most crops naturally produce allergens, toxins, or other anti-nutritional substances. Standard practice among plant breeders includes monitoring the levels of potentially hazardous anti-nutritional substances relevant to the crop.

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