Bistort Identification

Bistort / Spring / Summer / Autumn / Edible

Bistort is a common, herbaceous perennial member of the dock family. It loves damp environments and was traditionally used to make pudding in Lent. 

Common Names

Bistort, Snake-root, Snakeweed, Easter-ledges, Common bistort, European bistort,

Botanical Name

Bistorta officinalis

Scientific Classification

Kingdom – Plantae

Order – Caryophyllales

Family – Polygonaceae

Physical Characteristics for Bistort 


The leaves are large, oval shaped, with heart-shaped bases. They are a bluish-green colour on the upper side and grey, tinged with purple, underneath. The leaf-stalks and blades are about 12-15 cm long. They look similar to Dock leaves but the upper part of the leafstalk is winged on Bistort.

Bistort, shot of the leaves-Krzysztof Golik, CC BY-SA 4.0


The flower spike can be up to 10 cm tall, the spikes look a little like bottle brushes and contain up to 150 individual flowers. The flowers themselves are bell-shaped, pink, have 5 petals and 8 stamen. 

Bistort, close up of the flower spike-Uoaei1, CC BY-SA 3.0


The roots are thick and twisted and produce numerous tubers, this is probably where the snake root name came from.


It’s quite a common plant in the UK and is normally found in damp environments such as wetlands, edges of ponds and swamps and damp woodlands.

Known Hazards

None known. 

Could be Confused with…

It’s quite a distinctive plant, there’s not too much that you could confuse it with really.

When in flower the only thing that would look similar is Amphibious bistort (persicaria amphibia) and this edible.

Without the flowers it does look like Dock, which is also edible, however Dock lacks the ‘wings’ on the leaf stalks.

Edible Uses

All parts of the plant are edible, cooked or raw. 

It was traditionally used in Northern England to make Dock or Ledge pudding.  The leaves were mixed together with oatmeal, nettles, onion, and seasoning to taste, formed into patties and fried with bacon. It was traditionally served in Lent or at Easter time.

The roots were traditionally eaten in Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe as a starchy alternative to potatoes.

Notes on Herbal Uses

Bistort root is one of the strongest astringent medicines in the vegetable kingdom and can be used to treat external or internal wounds.

It can also be used to treat diarrhoea, dysentery, and all bowel complaints. 

It is also supposedly great for treating haemorrhoids.

Bistort, shot of a young plant -Alpsdake, CC BY-SA 4.0

Extra notes from the Foragers

Each year in the Yorkshire town of Mytholmroyd, the World Dock Pudding Championships are held. Competitors have to enter a full cooked breakfast featuring Dock pudding.

The name Bistort comes again from its roots, bis meaning twice and tort meaning twisted.


More from the wildlife trust

more from calderdale on this species and the world dock championships

Identification is key!

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