May Plant of the Month – Bidens
Latin name: Bidens alba – Asteraceae
Common name: Spanish needle, beggarticks, shepherd’s needle, butterfly needle, pitchfork weed, ottrancedi, xian feng cao, gui zhen cao
Usage: There are approximately 250 species within the genus Bidens, all occurring within the tropical and warm temperate regions of the world, roughly 7 or 8 of which grow in Florida. The all-star of thegenus- Bidens alba– is one of our greatest allies when it comes to working with medicinal herbs within our Central Florida bioregion. The aerial parts of the plant are utilized, in particular the fresh young leaves. The plant contains saponins, so older leaves may be unpleasant to the taste and the tummy. It is best to utilize young tender leaves. Bidens alba is utilized as food and medicine everywhere that it grows, thus the list of actions is seemingly endless. A quick list of actions provided by Stephen Buhner: “ 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). Bidens is a nutrient dense wild plant, boasting a similar nutrient profile to kale – high in fiber and proteins, carotenes, folate & magnesium. Bidens is a broad spectrum antimicrobial, effective against infections, particularly those that are inflammatory to the mucous membranes (respiratory infection, UTI, GI ulcers, etc). A poultice of bidens leaves can be used topically to treat MRSA and other infections of the skin. Research has shown that the antimicrobial properties are best accessed through the fresh plant or alcohol tinctures of the fresh plant (Buhner p. 134). Lucky for us in Central Florida, bidens is almost always available fresh throughout the year. Not only is bidens a medicinal powerhouse for us two-leggeds, the flowers provide a nectar source for pollinators year round. In fact, bidens is one of the top sources for honey-bee nectar (runner up to citrus and saw palmetto).
*You may find Bidens alba referenced as being identical to Bidens pilosa. Morphological and genetic differences have confirmed that B. alba and B. pilosa are in fact separate species. Regardless of confirmed speciation, B. alba and B. pilosa are considered medicinally and nutritionally equivalent.
Growth/Habitat:Bidens alba is native to southern 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 5 – 8 white petalled flower, atop a square stem with pinnately compound leaves arranged oppositely. Bidens is prolific and thrives where ever it is planted. Its lightweight, two -toothed (Bi – dens) seed spreads readily via animals, our socks and shoes, farm machinery and wind & water flow.Bidens 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 bidens growing in your yards and gardens – instead of pulling it or spraying herbicides, utilize it! Be sure to note that B. alba is excellent at drawing up-toxins from the soil in which it grows. Always pay close attention to where you harvest your medicinal herbs and be sure they are growing in good, clean soils free from pesticides and runoff.
Recipes: Include young fresh leaves of Bidens alba in your next stir fry or soup. Dress up your salad with bidens flowers.
Sources: “Bidens.” Herbal Antibiotics, by Stephen Harrod. Buhner, Storey Pub., 2012, pp. 127–140.
Deane. “Spanish Needles, Pitchfork Weed.” Eat The Weeds and Other Things, Too, 9 Sept. 2017, www.eattheweeds.com/spanish-needles-pitchfork-weed/.
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, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24649847