Beggarticks – Bidens SPP.: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Burr Marigolds of Wild Plants

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Beggarsticks (bidens spp.) may look like flowers to choke on, but they are more edible and medicinal than they appear.

We currently have around half a dozen species of beggarticks (bidens spp.) in Haliburton county, Ontario. But the only one I’ve noticed is devil’s beggarticks (bidens frondosa). It’s fairly common in waste areas, sand flats and wet hollows. I find it in wet ditches along trails and roadsides. Strangely, I haven’t seen the at least equally common Nodding beggar’s-ticks (b. cernua), whose flowers look more like a sunflower. It likes low marshy or sandy edges in wet areas like lakes, streams and ditches.

Another sunflower looking bidens is water marigold/beggarsticks (b. beckii). It appears to be rare here along with purplestem (b. connata) and swamp (b. discoidea) bidens. These might be found at random on mossy logs at shore edge. It’s possible to find others as around 17 species have been noted on iNat for Ontario at present.

When Haliburton Flora was compiled, three-parted (b. tripartita) was uncommon on shores and swampy woods, and tall (b. vulgata) was a rare sight. Small beggarsticks (b. discoidea) is also noted as rare in Haliburton Flora. These species don’t have current sightings in our area on iNat.

While there are a couple nonnative bidens spp. present in Ontario, all the above are native.

Beggarticks – Bidens SPP.
Beggarticks – Bidens SPP.

Edible Uses of Beggarticks

The young leaves and shoots of some beggarticks are edible raw (in moderation due to saponins) or cooked to reduce the saponins. That includes devil’s beggarticks (bidens frondosa). Although, Spanish needles (b. alba syn. b. pilosa) is the most popular bidens for cuisine. As a potherb, it’s perhaps tastier and more pleasantly textured than spinach, and it doesn’t shrink to nothing when cooked.

Its tangy flowers are edible too.

High in iodine.

Medicinal Uses of Beggarticks

Beggarticks is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Immune
  • Urinary

Medicinal tags include Antibacterial, Antimicrobial, Antiseptic, Astringent, Diaphoretic, and Diuretic. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes astringent uses similar to agrimony. It is sometimes referred to as agrimony as a folk name. It has seen little use as an agrimony substitute in modern times. However, bidens is featured in Buhner’s Herbal Antibiotics. Mainly b. pilosa, but b. frondosa, b. tripartitus, and a few others can be substituted. The fresh uncooked leaves and juice are antimicrobial. Drying or heating destroys this action. It’s active against different microbes including systemic staph.

Various species have varied uses. For instance, the dried leaves of bidens alba also make a tobacco substitute, and not as emetic as “Indian tobacco” (lobelia spp.)

Alternative Uses of Burr Marigolds

The flowers yield a yellow to vivid orange dye. A brown dye is also possible.

When the dried herb is burnt the flower heads give off a cedar-like scent that acts as an insect repellant.

Beggarticks – Bidens SPP.
Beggarticks – Bidens SPP.

Growing Bidens SPP.

Bidens are cultivatable and both nodding (b. cernua) and hairy (b. pilosa) have been used as honey plants. Some moth and butterfly caterpillars use bidens as a host plant including the painted lady (vanessa cardui). Plant in full sun preferably in a wet sandy spot like a ditch or natural pond. Perhaps paired with purplestem aster? They will flower together in gold and bluish purple.


And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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A Modern Herbal (Volume 1, A-H): The Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic Properties, Cultivation and Folk-Lore of Herbs, Grasses, Fungi, Shrubs & Trees with Their Modern Scientific Uses

Planting the Future: Saving Our Medicinal Herbs

Indian Herbalogy of North America: The Definitive Guide to Native Medicinal Plants and Their Uses

The Green Pharmacy: The Ultimate Compendium Of Natural Remedies From The World’s Foremost Authority On Healing Herbs

The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal: A Safe and Practical Guide to Making and Using Herbal Remedies

Herbal Antibiotics, 2nd Edition: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-resistant Bacteria

Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: 550 Herbs and Remedies for Common Ailments

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