Spanish Needles (Bidens spp.)

Common Name: Spanish Needles, Beggar’s Ticks

Botanical NameBidens spp.

Energetics: Cool, moist

Taste: Bland, aromatic, astringent

Under the light of the full moon I harvest the season’s last herbs. A hard frost will surely hit us soon, and the plants have already begun to whither from cool nights and the days’ chill winds. In the tall grasses near the river I carefully cut bundles of a sweet smelling flower who’s seeds stick tenaciously into my cotton skirt. As I pluck the wild rice shaped pods I wonder at the cleverness of the plants transportation system as well as the wisdom of its medicine.

Sometimes called Spanish Needles because of it’s sharp, clinging black seeds, this humble weed has an amazing capacity for healing. Lovely, vaguely fragrant and common, what sets Bidens apart from many other plants is the fact that it’s a very effective mucus membrane tonic. Good herbs of that class are notoriously hard to come by. The most well known plant with that title is Goldenseal, the over used and much abused poster child of industrial herbal commerce. Yerba Mansa is another, and somewhat less known plant, that is very effective for clearing infection and tonifying the mucus membranes. Unfortunately, both of these plants exist within a limited bioregion that could, and has been, upset by unethical harvesting and gross habitat destruction. Bidens, on the other hand, is blissfully common and frequents much of the US and at least parts of Europe.

Well known Southwestern herbalist Michael Moore says that Bidens has “the ability to tighten, shrink and tonify the structural cells of the mucus membranes thereby preventing congestion and edema, while simultaneously increasing circulation, metabolism, and healing energy of the functional cells of those tissues.” What this can mean for the bladder is that it’s an excellent addition to any UTI formula, and also works amazingly well to clear up residual irritation, pain and congestion after the initial acute infection has been eradicated. So, if you eradicate an acute, painful urinary tract infection with antibiotics or herbs, but still have a lingering sense of discomfort, or the infection comes back again in two weeks, over and over, then a nice tea or tincture of Bidens can tighten up and heal the tissue. This can help prevent that nasty cycle of never-ending bladder infections some women are so prone to.

Just this one profound use would be enough to captivate me, but there’s so much more. Bidens is also capable of clearing infections, like staph, all on its own. Astringent, anti-inflammatory and anti-infective, this plant can heal any number of irritations and infections externally and internally, especially those of the tender and vulnerable mucus membranes. It works very well on the lungs, the sinuses, the digestive tract, prostate, urinary tract, uterus and GI. From personal experience, I can say it’s quite nice on the gut, fairly neutral in temperature and very healing, and it also has an excellent reputation for resolving ulcers. Another amazing use is for benign prostatic hypertrophy, and is often combined with herbs such as Saw Palmetto and White Sage for this all too common ailment. Bidens consistently heals wounds, lowers blood pressure, improves general blood flow, and acts as a prompt expectorant as well as a fine nerve tonic.

You probably won’t be able to find this herb in your local health food store or medicine supplier, so you may want to track it down locally or contact a regional herbalist or wildcrafter to purchase it from. If you decide to gather your own, you can harvest the flowering tops to either dry or tincture. It has a lovely smell and a pleasant, mild taste. The most common way of using it is a simple tea of the dried plant. This tea works wonderfully internally, or externally as a wash for wounds, sore eyes or as a nasal spray.

As the clouds begin to move over the moon, I gently place the bundled plants into my wool bag to head home. All around me the night is fragrant with the season’s last flowering. I breathe deeply and brace myself against Winter. Back in my cozy cabin, I brew a tea of freshly picked Bee Balm leaves, Bidens flowers and Wild Rose hips for a fragrant and sweet tea to warm me after my walk. Gazing into the steaming cup I treasure the memories and medicine the plants will bring me all through the cold season.

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