Common Name(s): Spanish Needles, Beggarticks, Black Jack, Devil’s Needles, Cobbler’s Pegs, Broom Stick, Pitchforks, Farmers’ Friends, Needle Grass
Scientific Name: Bidens pilosa
Medicinal Uses: None locally but the folkloric use of B. pilosa has been recorded around the world, from North and South America to Africa, Asia, and Oceania.
Most often dismissed as a roadside weed – or cursed as an annoyance when its seeds catch on your socks or clothes – the zoochorous Spanish Needles is a master of resiliency, an important nectar source for bees and butterflies, and a rich source of food and medicine for humans and animals.
And yet, after all this, as Green Deane says on his blog Eat The Weeds: “the Bidens still gets no respect.”
To me, one of the most astonishing facts in Deane’s blog post highlighting this overlooked plant is that it is the third most important source of nectar for bees in Florida. In a world where honey bees are disappearing, that alone should earn our respect!
According to this article, there are approximately 230 to 240 known Bidens species. In Flora of the Cayman Islands, Proctor describes two species in the Cayman Islands (Bidens cynaphiifolia syn. Bidens bipinnata and Bidens alba var. radiata syn. Bidens pilosa var. radiata), both of which are known as Spanish Needles locally.
In her book, Caribbean Wild Plants and Their Uses, Honychurch says that juice squeezed from the leaves of the plants was used by the Caribs to treat eye irritations, in Africa as an astringent for cuts, as a potherb, and to treat earache, and in Martinique as a bush tea for colds and urinary hesitancy.
The article linked to above, which summarises the phytochemistry, pharmacology, and toxicology of Spanish Needles from existing literature, reports that some or all of the plant is used the folkloric treatment of more than 40 health conditions. Although the article concludes that there is much more to learn about this “weed”, scientific studies of B. pilosa extracts and compounds have demonstrated anti-tumour, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic and anti-hypoglycemic, antioxidant, immunomodulatory, antimalarial, antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-hypertensive, vasodilatory, and anti-ulcerative activities.
Proctor, G. (2012). Flora of the Cayman Islands. London: Kew Publishing.
Honychurch, P. (1986). Caribbean Wild Plants and Their Uses. Oxford: Macmillan Publishers Limited.