By Janelle Eklund
If you can get above tree line to the tundra in the Copper Basin you are in for a real treat during the summer when all the high alpine flowers are blooming. As we got up above tree line overlooking the spectacular view of the Wrangell Mountains and sweeping landscape we were greeted by a kaleidoscope of colors. The land changed from trees to low bush shrubs to hummocky mounds dotted with flowers of many hues that took our breath away. One of these take-your-breath-away hues stood like stately bright pink torches lighting up the tundra. These Bistort torches delighted my spirit and brought back memories of young adult years roaming sacred alpine recesses. Being in communion with these sacred places brings a certain and special peace to the body and soul. They are places everyone should go, especially when the world seems like it is falling apart around you. They talk with you in silent moments. Your senses become attuned to the message conveyed - slow down - enjoy the beauty - be silent - take care - be happy - give thanks.
When I went on an adventure with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) in 1973 it brought me to heights that shaped and formed where I am today. During that five week time spent in the Teton Mountains of Wyoming I was introduced to Bistort. One of the lessons was to learn as many of the edible plants as we could on our journey. Bistort was one of them. The leaves and roots were used in salads and soups or in a stir fry.
Bistort is derived from Latin. ‘Bis’ means twice and ‘tort’ means twisted. If you were to dig up the root of this plant your eyes would rest on a twisted creeping blackish root. Removing this outer layer of bark will reveal an inner reddish color that is rich in tannic and gallic acids. Gallic acid is found in plants or combined in tannins and used in dyes and writing ink. This plant is safe to use but, having high tannic acid, if used in large amounts over a long period of time can cause some digestive and kidney problems.
Bistort root is a very strong astringent medicine. It is able to stop bleeding both externally and internally, including nose bleeds, bleeding hemorrhoids, and hemorrhages from the lungs and stomach. It also helps with diarrhea, dysentery, cholera and many bowel problems. Powder the root and put a teaspoon in a cup of boiling water to drink, as needed internally. Use the dried powdered root externally to stop bleeding. Making a distilled water from the leaves and roots can be used to wash bee stings or any other venomous bite including sores and ulcers. The distilled water can also be used in the mouth to help firm up gums or as gargle for sore throat.
There are many uses of this plant that brings brightness to the tundra. Check out 'A Modern Herbal' by Mrs. M. Grieve for more insight into the good qualities of this lovely plant. If harvesting remember to only pick where the plant is abundant and leave some to continue the propagation.
Enter the alpine world and feast your spirit in its depths.
From my light to yours-
References: A Modern Herbal by Mrs. M. Grieve; Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary.
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.