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Chap. 076. Bistort English.

Bistort, English. Bistort, Great. Bistort, Small or Snake-weed. I. The Names. This is a Plant that I cannot perceive the Greeks knew anything of, no Greek name being yet assigned it: it is called in Latin, Bistorta, (by most Authors) a convolutis & intortis radicibus (says Ray) by Tragus, Lonicerus, and others, Colubrina, and the Root Radix Colubrina; Fracastorius, Bulapathum, as well as Bistorta: and we in English call it Bistort and Snake-weed. Some will have it to be Behen Rubrum others Molybdaena Plinis; others again Dracunculus Plinis: Some again, as Gesner, Limonium: Lobel and Clusius say, that it is the Brittanica of Dioscorides and Pliny; but in all these they are mistaken, as those who please to Examine those several Plants in their proper Chapters, and compare them with the Descriptions here, may easily perceive.

II. The Kinds. What we shall discourse of here, are principally two,

  • 1. Bistorta major, as Gerard, and the Bauhins call it: major vulgaris, as Parkinson: Radice minus intorta, as the Bauhins; major rugosioribus foliis, as J. Bauhin: and we, The greater Bistort, or Snake-root. (Bistorta major. -Henriette.)
  • 2. Bistorta minor, as Gerard; minor nostras, as Parkinson; Colubrina minor, as Tragus; Alpina media, as C. Bauhin: and we, The lesser Bistort, or Snake-weed. (Bistorta vivipara. -Henriette.)

But besides these, Authors make mention of four Kinds more, as,

  • 3. Bistorta Latifolia, Broad leav'd Bistort.
  • 4. Bistorta Alpina major, and Alpina maxima. The Greater or Greatest Mountain Bistort.
  • 5. Bistorta Alpina, Alpina media, & Alpina minor, The lesser Alpine Bistort.
  • 6. Bistorta Alpina pumila foliis variis, Low Variable leav’d Bistort; of all which we shall say nothing in this Work.

III. The Description. The Greater Common Bistort has a thick, short, Tuberous or knobbed Root, blackish without, and something reddish within, a little crooked or writhed together, and of an harsh or astringent Taste, with divers blackish Fibres or Threads growing thereat; From whence spring up every Year, several Leaves standing upon long Foot-stalks, being somewhat long and broad, not much unlike to a Dock Leaf, and a little pointed at the ends, but that it is crumpled, of a blewish green color on the upper side, and of an Ash colored grey, and a little purplish underneath, having several veins running therein: from among which, rise several small and slender Stalks about half a Yard high, almost naked, and without Leaves, or with very few narrow ones, bearing a spiky bush of pale, fresh colored Flowers; which being past, there is found a small, brown, cornered Seed, not much unlike to Sorrel Seed, but greater.

IV. The Lesser English Bistort has a Tuberous Root, small in proportion, but something crooked or turned like the former, being of a blackish color without, and somewhat whitish within, of the same austere, styptick, or binding taste, with the former: This Root sends forth 3 or 4 small narrow Leaves, scarcely an Inch broad, and near four Inches long, green above, and grey underneath: The Stalks are slender, and with but one or two Leaves set thereon; at the tops whereof stand long, round, spiky heads of white Flowers, with several small green Leaves among them; after which comes a reddish Seed, almost round, which being dry, becomes blackish, and is bigger than that of the former, about the bigness (says Gerard) of a Tare.

V. The Places. The first grows at the Foot of Hills, and in shadowy moist Woods near to them, in many places of Germany; and in England in like places, but is chiefly with us nourished up in Gardens. The other grows in the North of England, as in Lancashire, Yorkshire, and Cumberland, in several places; also in Westmorland, at Crosby, Ravenswaith, at the head of a Park formerly belonging to one Mr. Pickering, from whence it has been brought, and dispersed into Gardens. The First is also said to grow in a Meadow, about a Stones cast above the Abby Mill at St. Albans, about an Acres breadth or more from the River side, where it is laid to grow in great plenty.

VI. The Times. They both flower about the end of May, and the Seed is ripe about the beginning of July.

VII. The Qualities. They are cold and dry in the third Degree; Astringent, Stvptick, and Vulnerary; Cordial, Hysterick, Alterative, and Alexipharmick.

VIII. The Specification. It is famous for the resisting and expelling Poyson, as also to stop the Flux of Blood in Wounds, or any other bleeding, whether inwards or outwards.

IX. The Preparations.

  • 1. A liquid Juice of the whole Plant.
  • 2. A distilled Water of the Roots and Leaves.
  • 3. A Pouder of the Leaves.
  • 4. A Pouder of the Root.
  • 5. A Pouder of the Root compound.
  • 6. A Decoction of the Root in Wine or Water.
  • 7. A Decoction compound of the Root.
  • 8. The Diet Drink made of the Roots, Leaves, and Seeds.
  • 9. The Spirituous Tincture.
  • 10. The Acid Tincture.
  • 11. The Oily Tincture.
  • 12. The Saline Tincture.
  • 13. The Fixed Salt.
  • 14. The Essence.

The Virtues.

X. The liquid Juice. Taken inwardly 3, 4, or 6 Spoonfuls at a time in a Glass of Red Florence, or other Styptick Wine, it presently stops any internal Flux of Blood, resists the Poison of Vipers, or any other Serpent, and the bitings of any other Beast whatsoever; and is very powerful against the Plague, and all other Malign and Pestilential Fevers.

XI. The Distilled Water. It is a Singular remedy to wash any place bitten or stung by any Poisonous Creatures, as Spiders, Toads, Serpents, Vipers, Rattlesnakes, or the like, and has the Virtues of the Juice, but not with equal power or force. It is good also to wash Sores or Cankers which happen in the Nose, or any other part; more especially if the pouder of the Root be applied thereto afterwards.

XII. The Pouder of the Leaves. Taken to a dram, it is good to kill Worms in Children: prevails against a Diabetes, and helps such as cannot keep their Water, but are apt to piss a Bed, and this more especially if given with Juice of Plantane.

XIII. The Pouder of the Root. Being given to a dram, more or less, in Wine, or other fit Vehicle, it prevails against the Malignity of the Purples, Measles, and Small Pox, and expels the Poison of the Plague or Pestilence, or of any other infectious Disease, driving it forth by Sweating. It stops also all manner of inward Bleeding, as Dysentery, Spitting, Vomiting, or pissing Blood, and is profitable against Ruptures in Children, or Elder Persons; it is good also for any Contusion, or Bruise caused by Blows or Falls, dissolving the congealed Blood, discussing the aggregated Humors, and easing the Pain. Given to one dram in the Distilled Water, in which some red hot Iron has been quenched, it is laid to help or cure a Gonorrhaea, or Running of the Reins, Universals being first premised. And being strewed upon any Cut, or Wound of a Vein, &c. where there is a great Flux of Blood, it presently stops it.

XIV. The Pouder of the Root compound. It is made of equal quantities of Bistort Root, Root of Pellitory of Spain, and of Burnt Allum. This Pouder being made into a Paste with a little Honey, and some of it put into an hollow Tooth, or held between the Teeth, if there is no hollowness in them, eases their Pain, and stops the defluxion of Rheum upon the Part, cleanses the Head and Brain, and causes an evacuation of abundance of Rheumatick Matter.

XV. The Decoction of the Root. If it is made with Water, with the addition of some Pomegranate Peels and Flowers, it makes a most admirable Injection for the Womb, cleanses it of any filth lodged there, stops the overflowing of the Terms in Women, and cures a long, continued Flux of the Whites, drys up Ulcers in that part, and strengthens the Ligaments of the Womb, being relaxed, wherein' the Womb seems to press or fall down. If the Decoction is made with Wine, it stops all manner of Inward Bleeding, as Spitting of Blood, Vomiting Blood, and all Fluxes of the Bowels, whether in Man or Woman, is available against Ruptures in Old or Young, dissolves congealed Blood, and discusses Contusions to admiration. It is said to cure the Jaundice, and being inwardly given, and outwardly applied, it is eminently good against the biting of Vipers, or any other poisonous Serpent, and the bitings and stinging of any Venomous Creature whatsoever. Given to Women with Child, it prevents Abortion, or Miscarriage, and helps such as cannot hold their Water; and used as a Gargarism in the Mouth, it allays Inflammations, heals Ulcers, and fastens loose Teeth.

XVL. The Decoction of the Root compound. Bistort Roots six ounces: Angelica Roots, Zedoary, of each four ounces: Virginea Snake-root three ounces: Clove-bark an ounce and half: Winters Cinnamon one ounce: all being Bruised, infuse in Red Port Wine, or Canary, five quarts, for six hours: Then giving it two or three boils, take it from the Fire, and strain out the Wine from the Ingredients; which let settle: then decant the Clear from the Faeces, and sweeten it with Syrup of Limons, or Syrup of Vinegar. It is a noble Medicament against the Measles, Small Pox, Purples, Calenture, Spotted Fever, and even the Plague it self being given either preventionally, as two or three Spoonfuls of it Morning, Noon, and Night: or Curatively, in which four or six ounces of it may be given to sweet upon, and to be repeated as need requires. It is an excellent thing against the biting of Mad Dogs, Vipers, Rattle-Snakes, or the bitings or stingings of any other Venomous Creatures. It also prevails against any Vegetable Poison, which is taken inwardly, if timely given.

XVIL The Diet Drink. It is made of the Roots, Leaves, and Seeds, boiled in halt Wine, half Water. It is an excellent Traumatick, cures all curable Inward Wounds, and Ulcers, and fluxes of Blood, of what kind soever, and also being regularly drank, contributes very much to the cure of Wounds, and old Ulcers in the External parts.

XVIII. The Spirituous Tincture. It defends the Heart against Poison, whether Inward or Outward, whether a Vegetable or Animal Poison, or the Malignity of the Plague, or of any other infectious Disease. Dose, one or two drams at a time, two or three times a day, in a glass of Wine, or other Vehicle.

XIX. The Acid Tincture. This is more peculiar against the Plague, and other Malign Fevers, and infectious Distempers than the former. It allays the Inflammation of the Jaws, Almonds of the Ears, and Throat, being often taken inwardly, and also used as a Gargle, by mixing it with the Decoction in Water or Wine aforegoing. It also heals Cankers and Sores of the Mouth and Throat, if often wash'd therewith; and being swallowed, cuts tough Phlegm, and clears the Throat.

XX. The Oily Tincture. It is good against Punctures, and Wounds of the Nerves, eases their Pain and cures them, being bathed thereon, and applied thereto: and represses the flux of Humors attending them.

XXI. The Saline Tincture. Outwardly used, it penetrates, and contributes to the curing of Ruptures. Old Ulcers being washed therewith, it cleanses them, and disposes them to healing: and Phlegmons or Inflammations being bathed therewith, it abates the heat. Inwardly given, it cleanses the Reins, Ureters and Bladder, after the use of it, for some time; if there be any Ulcers in those parts, they are cured by giving Inwardly the Decoction in Wine, Juice, or Essence, and continuing it for some time. This Saline Tincture is also prevalent against the Jaundice. Dose from half a dram to a dram and half, in any convenient Vehicle.

XXII. The Fixed Salt. It is good against Poison, and all malignity of the Plague, opens Obstructions, resists Putrefaction, and defends the Vitals against any kind of Infection, or the malignity of Evil Airs. It provokes Urine, and cleanses the Urinary Passages, carrying off the Recrements of the Humors by those Passages, by which it has been found good against the Jaundice and Dropsie. Dose from ten grains to a scruple in Ale, Beer, Cider, Mead, or Wine.

XXIII. The Essence. It resists Poison, Plague, or Pestilence, and all sorts of malign Fevers, stops all Fluxes of the Belly, as Diarrhaea, Dysenteria, Lienteria, and the Hepatick Flux, as also all Hemorrhagies whatsoever, whether inward or outward, the overflowing of the Terms in Women, and the preternatural flux of the Whites: but in these last Cases, Universals ought to be premised. In a Word, the Essence has all the Virtues of the Liquid Juice, the Pouder of the Root, and the Decoction in Wine at Sect. 10,13, and 15 aforegoing. But it peculiarly stops the afflux of Humors to any part, being applied to the same outwardly, and also taken inwardly. Dose is from two to six ounces in Wine, or any other Vehicle, proper against the Disease for which it is given. Note, The Root of this Plant is that which is chiefly used, as having most Virtue in it.


Botanologia, or The English Herbal, was written by William Salmon, M.D., in 1710.
This chapter has been proofread by Nick Jones.



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