Great Bistort, or Snakeweed ; the Polygonum bistorta, L. a native species of knot-grass, most plentiful on meadows and pastures, in the northern counties of England : it has a thick oblique root, about the size of a finger, blackish brown without, and reddish within ; a simple round, slender stem, nearly two feet high; oval leaves, and the stalk terminates in thick short spikes, of whitish red flowers, which appear in July, and are productive of seeds in August. - See Withering, 382 ; and Engl. Bot. 5Q9.
As this indigenous plant is subservient to many Useful purposes, we have been more particular in its description, than the limits, of our work will permit on future occasions.
Cattle and sheep are exceedingly partial to the herbage of the Great
Bistort ; but horses will not eat it.
The young leaves'are excellent for culinary use; and a small quantity of cf the root, reduced to powder, and added to the dough in baking, communicates an agreeable taste to the bread, and improves its salubrity.
The Great Bistort has likewise been usefully employed in the arts of dyeing and tanning. According to Gleditsch and Bautsch, two creditable authors, the herb with its blossom has, by tanners on the Continent, been found to be a proper substitute for oak-bark; and Dambourney assures us, that from the root of this plant he obtained a decoction of a mordore' shade, in which he dyed wool of a real beaver colour, after having previously immersed it in a ley, saturated with a solution of bismuth.
All the parts of this plant have a rough, austere taste : the root, in particular, is one of the strongest vegetable astringents produced in this climate ; and therefore justly recommended in intermittent fevers, immoderate hemorrhages, and other fluxes, both internally and externally, where the constitution of the patient requires such a medicine. According to a late popular writer, it has often, and especially in agues, been given in larger doses than those commonly administered : he has prescribed it both, alone, and together with gentian, to the amount of three drams in one day. It is allowed to be a very powerful styptic, and consequently possessed of antiseptic properties ; but we.doubt, whether it is sufficiently efficacious to supersede the use of the Peruvian bark, or even that of the white willow.