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Uses of Bidens alba

Image of Bidens alba

Common Name: Bidens, Butterfly Needles, Romerillo, Shepherds Needles

Bidens spp. are abundant “pest weeds” in Florida and indeed all over the world. There are more than 40 native species in the United States alone and over 230 worldwide.

These weedy plants thrive in warm climates and have traditions of medicinal and edible use wherever they are found. The botanical name, which describes the shape of the fruit (seed) comes from the Latin bis meaning two and dens meaning tooth. The bane of any hiker, Bidens is zoochorous, that is, it evolved to hitchhike on the fur of animals (and our socks). Some of its common names, such as Spanish needles and beggarticks, reflect this characteristic.

The dried leaves of various species have been used as a tobacco substitute, called “Fakahatchee Gold,” according to Daniel Austin in Florida Ethnobotany. Medicinal uses included treatment for colds and flu, hepatitis, bacterial infections, inflammation, and urinary tract infections. The Cherokee people used Bidens bipinnata to expel worms and chewed on the leaves to soothe a sore throat. In Florida the Seminole people used Bidens species, probably B. mitis according to Austin, for a variety of complaints including headaches, high fever, and diarrhea. B. pilosa, which is not native but is often confused (and in some texts synonymous) with Bidens alba, reportedly has constituents that can depress the central nervous system and lower blood sugar. Because Bidens species seem to contain an amazing number of chemicals with biological activity, various species are the subjects of ongoing research, including use as an antimalarial drug (B. pilosa). Bidens species contain some powerful chemical constituents and should not be used medicinally without the advice of a skilled herbalist or traditional healer.

However, occasional snacking is fine. The flowers and tender young leaves and of Bidens alba can be added to salads, and the more mature leaves can be boiled or steamed as a pot herb. A mild tea can be made from the flowers, which purportedly also make an interesting wine.

Antineoplasics phytotherapeutical composition based on Bidens alba, has properties that inhibit the growth of neoplasia.The presence of those properties in the extract and also in the fractions of plant have extreme importance in cancer treatment, with the possibility to obtain drugs with less collateral effects and less resistance development of the carcinogenic cells.