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DISCLAIMER: These pages are presented solely as a source of INFORMATION and ENTERTAINMENT and to provide stern warnings against use where appropriate. No claims are made for the efficacy of any herb nor for any historical herbal treatment. In no way can the information provided here take the place of the standard, legal, medical practice of any country. Additionally, some of these plants are extremely toxic and should be used only by licensed professionals who have the means to process them properly into appropriate pharmaceuticals. One final note: many plants were used for a wide range of illnesses in the past, but be aware that many of the historical uses have proven to be ineffective for the problems to which they were applied.

aka Adderwort, Dragonwort, Easter Giant, English serpentary, Fleece Flower, Knotweed, Oderwort, Osterick,
Patience Dock, Red Legs, Smartweed, Snakeweed, Sweet Dock, Twice Writhen

(Polygonum bistorta syn Persicaria bistorta)
[quan shen]
Also see: FO-TI

PLANT = 82.6% water, 3% protein, 0.8% fat, 3.2% fiber, 7.9% carbohydrates, 2.4% ash, caffeic-chlorogenic-, and protocatechic acids.
ROOTS = 15 to 35% tannins, catechol, phloroglucinol, ascorbic acid, gallic acid, phlobaphene, methylanthraquinone, 1.1% calcium oxylate, 30% starch, 10% albumin, traces of emodin, sinapic acid, fructose, saccharose, and 0.45% glucose.
LEAVES = 5 to 10% tannins, 722 mg ascorbic acid.
FLOWERS = 747 mg ascorbic acid.

An unbranched perennial native to Europe, growing to 3 feet in damp meadows and pastures with acid soil which is native to Europe. In North America it is usually found at the higher elevations west of the Rockies in moist meadows or mountain pastures. In Britain, it is more restricted to Northern England and Scotland. Also found growing in Asia. Basal leaves are arrow-shaped, blue-green, long petioled; the few upper leaves are laceolate to linear, short-petioled to sessile with a dry leaf sheath at the base. Stems arise directly from the rootstalk which is thick, knobby and twisted into an 'S' or double-S shape upto 3 feet long and ringed with old leaf scars; root is black skinned and red inside. Flowers appear in a dense, spike-like raceme. Once called 'serpentaria' due to the appearance of the root which is serpentine in shape. The name bistort literally means twice (bis) twisted (torta) in reference to the rootstock.

PROPAGATION: By seed in spring or autumn.
NEEDS: Grown as an ornamental (the variety P.b. 'Superbum' used for decorative herb gardens); requires rich, moist soil in sun or part shade.
HARVEST: Roots in autumn, then dried for decoctions, infusions, liquid extracts, powders, and tinctures.
FLOWERS: July-August
AMERICAN BISTORT (P. bistortoides) image: The Cheyenne and Blackfoot Indians used the roots in soups and stews. The leaves are longer and narrower than P. bistorta.
CHINESE INDIGO (P. tinctorium) image: Anti-inflammatory, antiphlogistic, antipyretic. Stems, leaves and fruits have been used as a poisoning antidote. Fruit has been used for fever. The plant has been used for asthma, coughs, fevers, ulcerations, itch, ringworm and tremors. The plant is a source of a greenish-yellow dye. See how to for dye information.
CHINESE SMARTWEED (P. chinense) image: In the Chinese medicine the root has been used as a vermifuge and the plant has been used in decoction form for insect bites, abscesses, dysentary, dyspepsia, flux, hepatitis, sore throat, traumatic injuries and weeping sores.
JAPANESE KNOTWEED (P. cuspidatum) image: Root is diuretic, emmenagogue, stomachic and has been used in oriental medicine in decoction form for gonorrhea (in combination with Lobelia) and gout; also combined with wine for rheumatoid arthritis; also used for amenorrhea, childbirth, dysmenorrhea, eccymoses (bruise), pleurisy, and swellings; has also been used a preventative during epidemics. The leaves and root have been used in decoction for abscess, appendicitis, boils, bruises, burns, dysmenorrhea, hepatitis, snakebite and traumatic injuries. The plant is used for bronchitis. Contains emodin, a known antitumor agent.
KNOTWEED (P. aviculare) image: Seeds were once used by North American Indians of California for pinole.
PRINCE'S FEATHER (P. orientale) image: The flower has been used to thin the blood, remove obstructions, and ease pain. The leafy branch with stem has been used to treat hernia. The ripe fruit has been used in decoction for hepatitis, sloughing ulcers, tympanites (distended abdomen due to gas), and cancer. The seed has been used for fever and to relieve thirst; also for inflammation of the eye to to clean the breath. The whole plant has been used for arthritis, cancer, hepatonoma (malignant tumor of the liver most noticed in children). Plant contains beta-sitosterol, flavone glucosides (orientoside, orientin); root contains oxymethylanthraquinone; stem contains tannic acid, phenolic compounds, and saponins. SMARTWEED or WATER PEPPER (P. hydropiper) image: Used mainly for amenorrhea. The seed is carminative, diuretic, and stimulant. A decoction of the whole plant has been used for cancer, diarrhea, dyspepsia, dysentary, enteritis, heat stroke, itching skin, rheumatism, hemorrhage, hemorrhoids, hemaptysis, and jaundice. Used in homeopathy for amenorrhea, choldera, colic, and strangury. The plant contains Carvone (a CNS stimulant in mice), as well as several flavones, quercetin, quercitrin, kaempferol, rutin, hyperoside, rhamnacin, and persicarin.
VIETNAMESE CORIANDER [rau ram] (P. odoratum) image: An herb of southeast Asia used for medicinal and culinary purposes. Has a lemon-coriander aroma.
P. DOUGLASII image: The seeds were parched, then ground into meal by the Indians of Montana and Oregon.


Alterative, anti-inflammatory, anti-diarrhea, astringent, demulcent, diuretic, febrifuge, hemostatic, laxative, promotes healing.
The whole plant has been used to improve blood circulation; also for ague, amenorrhea, cancer, colitis, congestion, diverticulitis, fever, gingivitis, hemorrhage, malaria, and menorrhagia.
Combined with Cranesbill, Agrimony, or Oak, it has been used internally for diarrhea (including bloody diarrhea); also used for infant diarrhea, cholera, cystitis, dysentary, excess mucous, excessive menstruation, mucous colitis.
A decoction of the stems and leaves has been used in Oriental medicine for diseases of the cervical lymph glands (including scrofula), congestion, epilepsy, fever, insect bites, snakebite, spasms of the extremities, swollen glands, swellings, and tetanus. A decoction of the root has been used specifically for ague, amenorrhea, catarrh, dropsy, dystentary, flux, hemorrhage, leucorrhea (also in douche form to regulate menstrual flow), tumors, and wounds (also, the powdered root applied directly to the cut or wound to stop bleeding as well as used in poultice form).
Has been combined with equal parts of red raspberries for internal ulcers.
Has been used much like its relative, the oriental FO-TI for smallpox, measles, skin eruptions, jaundice, ruptures and to expel worms.
Combined with plantain has been used for gonorrhea.
Has been used externally for anal fissure, gum disease, hemorrhoids, leucorrhea, mouth ulcers, pharyngitis, purulent wounds.
Distilled water of the roots and leaves were used to relieve sore gums, inflammation of the mouth, and toothache.
An old remedy for piles was to add a bit of dried powdered root to a little red wine; the same remedy was at one time used for jaundice.

!All others buy commercial preparations and follow directions carefully!
POWDERED ROOT = 0.5 to 2 grams taken 3 times daily, or 2 tbsp 2 times daily.
DECOCTION = 2 tsp powdered root with 1 cup water; boil 5 to 10 minutes; 1 cup taken daily.
ENEMA = 10 to 15 grains of powdered root is added to 1 pint water.
MOUTHWASH = make a decoction; or, add 5 ml of tincture to a glass of water; antibacterial herbs such as rosemary or selfheal can be added.

The leaves once used in northern England as the main ingredient for 'Easter Ledges', an Easter pudding. The leaves were also combined with the early leaves of nettle, parsley and black currant and mixed with barley, oatmeal, egg and butter to make a dish which is high in iron. Young leaves have also been shredded and added to salads. The dried leaves were also used in stuffings.
Due to high starch content of root, has been used as food or ground for baking flour.
The young shoots were cooked in water and added to meats with the cooking liquid added to soups for their mineral content.
Also see: Cooking with Herbs and Wild Foods

Seeds provide food for birds.
In times of famine, the roots have been roasted and eaten.

©2000 & 2003 by Ernestina Parziale, CH