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Bistort, an Easter Herb


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Astrology - The Date of Easter


Bistort, an Easter Herb


Beautiful Eggs for Easter


An Easter Bouquet


Easter Dinner


A Dozen Pace (Peace) Eggs


Pace Egging Song


Easter Bunny Maze











Find out about Bistort or Passion Dock, a valuable medicinal herb with strong connections to Easter, and the main ingredient in Dock Pudding which is traditionally eaten at Easter time.

Bistort (Persicaria bistorta or Polygonum bistorta) is a hardy perennial which is fairly common in the Northern hemisphere. Its dense clusters of tiny pink or white flowers are arranged in spikes atop slender, unbranched stalks, 12 to 18 inches high, grouped in twos. The flowers are produced in May and June and then again in September and October. The ripe seeds, small, brown and shiny, are much enjoyed by birds. The tuberous roots, rich in starch, tannic and gallic acids, are sometimes used in tanning leather.   

Once established, Bistort is difficult to get rid of due to its creeping root-stock. But, far from being just a weed, Bistort has both medicinal and nutritional value. In Russia, Siberia and Iceland the roots were steeped in water and then roasted and eaten in lean times. Bread can be made of the root-flour. The long-stemmed, heart-shaped leaves may be eaten as a spring vegetable.

Bistort root is a strong astringent medicine and being highly styptic is useful for all mucous discharges and bleeding - external or internal - haemorrhages from the lungs and stomach, and for nose bleeds It is also excellent for diarrhoea, dysentery, cholera and other bowel complaints and useful in dealing with haemorrhoids. 1 tsp of powdered root, in a cupful of boiling water, may be drunk freely as required. A decoction made from the bruised root is given for passive bleeding and for simple diarrhoea. The root was also employed externally as a poultice. The powdered leaves were employed to kill worms in children. Given in conjunction with other tonics, bistort is considered valuable for diabetes.

The name Bistort (Latin bis ‘twice’, torta ‘twisted’) refers to the S-shaped root stock. One old local name, 'Twice-Writhen,' is a literal translation of the Latin. Its twisted, creeping nature has also earned it the names  Snakeroot, Adderwort and Snakeweed. It was at one time called Serpentaria, Columbrina, Dracunculus and Serpentary Dragonwort..

Bistort has other names too, and many of them refer to Easter: Easter giant, Easter Ledger Easter ledge, Easter magiant, Easter man-giant, Gentle dock, Osterick, Oysterloit, Passion Dock, Patient Dock, Pink pokers, Pudding grass, Pudding dock, Red legs and Water ledges. The names  'Easter man-giant,' and 'Easter Giant' are corruptions of mangeant, -  a plant to be eaten at Easter.

In Northern England the plant was grown for both medicinal and culinary use. The leaves and young shoots can be cooked and eaten like spinach, and are still used as the main ingredient in a bitter herb dish called Dock Pudding (aka. Easter-Ledge Pudding), which is eaten at Easter time when the new dock leaves are fresh and tender. The 40 day period before Easter is called Lent, and is a time of fasting. People avoided eating meat, eggs and other rich foods and confined themselves to bread, vegetables and water. (That’s why on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent begins, thrifty people made pancakes to use up the last of the perishable foods like eggs and milk.) For Christians, Lent is a time of sorrow because of the approaching crucifixion. But it is also a time to reflect on our values. Dock pudding was entirely suitable for Lent.

In many cultures, there is a time honoured tradition that in the spring, people would seek out and consume herbs with purifying tonic properties - to get sluggish blood in shape and invigorate the system in preparation for increased activity levels after a long sedentary winter. How wonderful it must have been to see the first green shoots after a winter diet of salted meats and beans.

Dock pudding is not made with the plant commonly known as dock, but with bistort, which is also called Passion dock because it emerges and is eaten around Passion Week (from Palm Sunday to Easter Day in the Christian Calendar), and its dock-like leaf. The pudding is often served as a side vegetable with lamb at the Easter festival, but traditionally it is eaten with bacon and eggs for breakfast. The ingredients and method of cooking vary, but it usually contains bistort, nettles, oatmeal or barley and onions or wild garlic. Some add butter and eggs. Some people boil the pudding in a cloth, others fry it. The taste may be a little bitter for modern palates. The small town of Mytholmroyd in the Calder Valley hosts the World Dock Pudding Championships every April or May.

Recipe for Dock (Bistort) Pudding
2lb fresh dock leaves - bistort, not the common dock (substitute spinach if unavailable),
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 bunches of spring onions, chopped
½ lb young nettle tops (Urtica dioica), wash and cleaned
A handful of oatmeal or pearl barley (soaked in water overnight)
A knob of butter or bacon drippings
Salt and pepper to taste
Wash and clean the dock-leaves and remove the stalks. Mix with the nettles, and cover with water. Let stand for 24 hours then drain and rinse well with cold water. Mince leaves and the onions. Put into a pan, cover with water, bring to the boil then simmer for about half an hour until water evaporates. Add the oatmeal or barley and season with salt and pepper. Add enough of the water to prevent sticking and make a wet mixture, Cook over a medium heat for 20 minutes, adding more water if the mixture becomes too dry and starts to stick. The cooked mixture should be moist, but not wet. Strain off excess liquid.
Heat the butter or bacon fat in the frying pan. Add the dock pudding mixture to the pan and stir to coat in the fat. Spread the mixture in an even layer over the base of the pan, and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring to prevent it from sticking or burning. Slice into wedges, and serve with the bacon and bread and butter. The pudding may be stored in a sealed container.

Some modern cooks fry the leaves in butter without pre boiling, (though historically they were more likely to have been boiled with the onion).  

Variation:  Easter Ledge Pudding Tie up chopped vegetables, grain and ½ tsp salt; in a muslin bag and boil for one and a half to two hours. Beat it up in a dish with an egg and some butter or bacon drippings and season well with salt and pepper. Heat some butter in a frying pan, and fry the pudding in pats for a couple of minutes on each side.
By Sylvia Richards 27th March 2011


Sylvia Richards is the founder and owner of Your Spiritual Haven web site.  NOTE: The writer is not a medical professional. The information in this article and on the www.yourspiritualhaven.com web-site is NOT medical advice. Consult a trained doctor or aromatherapist before attempting any treatment. We are not responsible for any misuse of information posted on this site. Please check back often!


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