Spanish needles

Spanish needles

Latin name: Bidens alba – Asteraceae
Common name: Spanish needle, beggarticks, shepherd’s needle, butterfly needle, pitchfork weed, ottrancedi, xian feng cao, gui zhen cao

Uses: There are approximately 250 species within the genus Bidens. All occur within tropical and warm, temperate climates — roughly 7-8 of which grow in Florida. All-star of the genus — Bidens alba — is one of our greatest Central Florida plant allies. We use the plant’s aerial parts, but the plant’s older leaves contain saponins and are unpleasant in taste and for the tummy. Therefore, the plant’s young tender leaves are ideal for medicinal and nutritional uses.

The list of actions for B. alba is vast. Stephen Buhner provides a quick list of properties in Herbal Antibiotics: Natural Alternatives For Treating Drug-Resistant Bacteria:

“antibacterial, antidiabetic antidysenteric, anti-inflammatory, antimalarial, antimicrobial, antiseptic, astringent, blood tonic, carminative, galactagogue, hepatoprotective, hypoglycemic, hypotensive, immunomodulant, mucous membrane tonic, neuroprotectant, prostaglandin synthesis inhibitor, styptic, vulnerary (p 130).”

B. alba is a nutrient-dense wild plant, boasting a similar nutrient profile to kale — high in fiber and proteins, carotenes, folate, and magnesium. It is a broad-spectrum antimicrobial, effective against infections, particularly those that are inflammatory to the mucous membranes — respiratory infection, urinary tract infection, gastrointestinal ulcers, etc. A poultice of the leaves can topically treat Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and other skin infections. Research shows that the antimicrobial properties are most substantial with the fresh plant or alcohol tinctures made from the fresh plant (Buhner, 134).

Central Floridians are lucky that Bidens is freshly available most of the year. Not only is Bidens a medicinal powerhouse, but the flowers provide a nectar source for pollinators year-round. B. alba is one of the top sources for honey-bee nectar, behind only citrus and saw palmetto, and is also greatly used by our native bees like sweat bees and leaf-cutter bees.

*You may find Bidens alba referenced as identical to Bidens pilosa. Morphological and genetic differences confirm that B. alba and B. pilosa are separate species. However, they are medicinally and nutritionally equal.

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Photo by Audra Locicero

Growth/Habitat: B. alba is native to south Florida, Central & South America, and the Caribbean. This plant has spread throughout the southeastern US, Asia, the Pacific Islands, and Africa. A member of the Asteraceae family, this daisy-like flower has both disc and ray flowers – yellow disc flowers in the center and white ray florets surrounding. B. alba, generally, has a five to eight, white petaled flower atop a square stem with pinnate compound leaves arranged oppositely. B. alba is prolific and thrives anywhere planted. Its lightweight, two-toothed (Bi – dens) seed spreads readily via animals, our socks and shoesfarm machinery, and wind and water flow. B. alba is considered a generalist, growing in just about any soil but prefers relatively dry soil and full sun. It is one of the first plants to colonize newly disturbed soil. You will probably find B. alba growing in your yard and garden, so instead of pulling it or spraying herbicides, harvest it! Be sure to note that B. alba is excellent at drawing up toxins from the soil where it grows. Always pay close attention to where you harvest your medicinal herbs and be sure they are growing in clean soil free from pesticides and runoff. 

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Bidens photo By Bob Peterson from North Palm Beach, Florida, Planet Earth! – Bidens alba (Spanish needle). Uploaded by Jacopo Werther, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Recipes:  Include young fresh leaves of Bidens alba in your next stir fry or soup, or dress up your salad with its flowers. 


“Bidens.” Herbal Antibiotics: Natural Alternatives For Treating Drug-Resistant Bacteria, by Buhner, Stephen H. Storey Pub., 2012, pp. 127–140.

Deane. “Spanish Needles, Pitchfork Weed.” Eat The Weeds and Other Things, Too, 9 Sept. 2017,

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