Spanish Needle

in news/town square

Chances are you’ve seen this amazing plant, hiding in plain sight along roadsides, in parks, at the beach, or in your own yard. Those small, cheerful, daisy-like flowers that give way to annoying barbed seeds that stick stronger than Velcro to socks, paws, and anything that may brush by. What we refer to around here as Spanish Needles, bidens pilosa (or alba) spring up in dense clumps practically overnight, happily thriving no matter how poor the soil or conditions. In fact, bidens has a notorious reputation as an invasive and troublesome weed in more than 40 countries.1 But take heed: this botanical problem child has many redeeming qualities, not the least of which is that it just may save your life.

Also known as beggar’s ticks, farmer’s friend, pitchfork weed, or tickseed sunflowers, bidens reportedly originated in South America and has spread around the globe, even thriving in the desert. Today there are some 230 known bidens species (in the aster family of plants), many of which are well documented as an important source of both food and medicine among indigenous peoples.2  Frankly, I’m fascinated with bidens and the emerging research which supports its use for everything from killing MRSA to controlling toxic algae blooms.

Yep. I said MRSA, a drug resistant staph bacteria that has — and continues to– claim thousands of American lives. But MRSA appears to have met its match. A study published in the US National Library of Medicine found that bidens kicks the pants off MRSA.4 I’ll say it again: a little weed that people hate more than love kills a bacteria that has decimated families and frustrated medical science for decades. Bidens offers potent, pharmacologically active antibacterial properties, clinically studied and often quite remarkable in practical use.  But that’s just the beginning.3

Not only is it proving a powerful antibacterial/antimicrobial, studies show bidens effectively treats viruses, microbes, protozoans, wounds, gout, gastrointestinal diseases, fever, fungal infection, liver disorders, diabetes, edema, abscess, inflammation, malaria, snake bite, hypertension, and cardiovascular diseases.4  One study even points to its value as an anti-cancer treatment.5 And that’s the short list. In my research I was pleasantly surprised to learn that bidens extract was found to control toxic algae blooms.6    

If you’d like to use bidens for home health, a few words of advice.  The available science points to a fresh plant, alcohol-based tincture as the most effective for antibacterial purposes. However, I’ve successfully used a simple infusion for mouth ulcer’s, wounds, and a few minor infections. I purposefully grow bidens and harvest it from my yard. Avoid picking itfrom along roadways or where pesticides or chemicals are used because of the risk of contamination. Identifying bidens when it’s not in bloom or gone to seed could be tricky, so make certain you’re harvesting the right plant. Always, always, do your own research, and work with a professional if you have a serious or chronic medical condition. 

Personally, I find bidens an enormously promising plant. It’s a prolific producer, doesn’t need controlled conditions for growing and is –pretty much everywhere anyway.  In fact, I think it’s so abundant because Nature wants to make certain we notice her marvelous medicines for the common man.

This information is provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any illness or disease. It should not be considered medical advice, nor is it intended to replace the expert care of a qualified medical practitioner.

If you want to know more about infusions, decoctions, or how to make your own tincture visit: 

1   Journal of Basic and Environmental Sciences, 6 (2019) 33-44

2 , 4   Bartolome AP, Villaseñor IM, Yang WC. Bidens pilosa L. (Asteraceae): Botanical Properties, Traditional Uses, Phytochemistry, and Pharmacology. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:340215. doi:10.1155/2013/340215

3  Kourtis AP, Hatfield K, Baggs J, et al. Vital Signs: Epidemiology and Recent Trends in Methicillin-Resistant and in Methicillin-Susceptible Staphylococcus aureus Bloodstream Infections — United States. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2019;68:214–219. DOI:

5   Department of Pharmacy, Annamalai University, Annamalainagar – 608002, India. Studies of anticancer and antipyretic activity of Bidens pilosa whole plant. imalakrishnan Sundararajan, Akalanka Dey, Anton Smith, Arul Gana Doss, Manavalan Rajappan, and Sridhar Natarajan Afr Health Sci. 2006 Mar; 6(1): 27–30.

6  Inhibitory Effects of Bidens pilosa Plant Extracts on the Growth of the Bloom-Forming Alga Microcystis aeruginosa  Van Nguyen, Q., Tran, T.H., Pham, T.N. et al. Water Air Soil Pollut (2019) 230: 24.

Julie opened Bailey's Naturals Herbal Apothecary in beautiful downtown Safety Harbor in 2005, and since then has assisted countless clients reach their health goals with her passion for natural medicine. She is a writer and in-demand lecturer, dedicated to empowering others toward lifestyle choices that result in glowing good health. Julie is also committed to preserving and promoting ethnobotanical medicine and she "can't think of anything more exciting or wonderful than sharing the remarkable healing power of plants with the world"..... or anyone who will listen.