Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Edible Weed Roundup: Bidens alba, Spanish Needles or Common Beggarticks

The best kind of Roundup is a harvest of edible greens...even if they're  the sort, like this plant, also touted by some folks as being one of the worst annual weeds.  I guess beauty (and worth??) is in the eye of the beholder!  The Bidens alba, and its nearly identical brother, the Bidens pilosa, are some of the hardiest naturally-occurring forbs...yes, WEEDS to some.  But I prefer to think of them as the superheroes of the natural world!

We walked past these for years in our area, unaware of their edible benefits.  The Bidens alba/Spanish Needle is a modest wildflower with small white flowers, and quite the bee and butterfly attractor.  The only precautions I can find as far as edibility are  photosensitivity (don't eat it if you're going to have skin exposed to the sun soon after) and to avoid eating it if you're in an area where opals are mined....the video (below) from Green Dean's site explains why.  It goes by other names, most of which indicate the brittle seeds that stick to the coats of animals (like my dog) or pant legs, like so many little needles.

It grows right alongside our cultivated plants and most any  place its friendly presence so desires, but doesn't seem to be a drain on its neighbors' fertility.  It is unobtrusive and in our philosophy of "benign neglect" we've allowed them to flourish side-by-side with anything else we've planted.  We love a diversity of plants, and this one, though hardy, is hardly invasive.  We feel a natural mix of plants ensures a diversity of pollinators, insect "trap" plants, soil enhancers, and so on.

I recently learned that this plant is higly edible, very nutritious, wonderful as a nectar plant for bees, and prolific enough to even be grown as a crop, if one so desired.  As it is, we have so many everywhere throughout our property, I think we have enough to harvest as a potherb during warm weather.  This is welcome news!  We LOVE edible greens, especially the carefree sort!

Here's where I first learned of the Biden alba, at one of my favorite sites, Green Dean's Eat The Weeds

And here is his short video on identification and information about the Spanish Needles plants:

This plant like to tuck itself along the edges of our porch and just about anywhere, and it's easy to identify.
I harvested the leaves by clipping off "branches" of it and stripping the leaves to cook in a pot of mixed greens.

We like our garden spiders to deal with the insect population, rather than spraying chemicals.

Here's a closeup of the blooms.  Later, the little needlelike seeds enjoy hitching a ride with anything that comes along brushing up against them.

Closeup of the garden spider.  Even though I like garden spiders, I prefer them at a distance ;-)

Harvest of mixed greens.  Bidens alba leaves are at the bottom left corner.  (The loquat leaves on top arent for the pot but are for tea)

Pot of freshly-harvested mixed greens...Bidens alba, Gynura procumbens, Okinawan spinach, Stingless chaya, moringa oleifera.  Since the chaya has to be cooked at least 20 minutes, these will boil then simmer with some chopped onion and a little olive oil  and sea salt in enough water to cover.  Not only is it packed with nutrition (off the charts!) but includes some blood-sugar-regulating properties, too.  YAY!

Have you ever tried eating a Bidens?   This will be our first batch to taste...I'll report back to tell you how palatable they are.

What "weeds" do you love to eat?


broadcasting from a knitting parlour said...

So...what did you think of Bidens alba? I'd love to know what you thought of it as a green. Thanks!

chrissy bauman said...

What did you end up deciding about eating Bidens alba as a green?
My bunnies love it! they go for Bidens before they eat the grass or those boring pellets.

Robbyn said...

Chrissy, we love them cooked! We have not had the photosensitivity problem some sites say are a possible side effect (we keep our skin cover in really intense sun anyway), and we use them mixed with other greens, cooked. We see them as a natural bounty right at our doorsteps! Have you tried eating them and what do you think? We are happy to know chickens love them! We just got land after all these years and can't wait to see that for ourselves, too :)

Robbyn said...

Chrissy, oops...thought you said chickens. Good to know the bunnies love them :)

MIMI ORTIZ said...

Loved it!!! We have the Biden Alba all over Puerto Rico and it grown all year long. Explora is our outdoors company and our main purpose is education. We have our leadership institute and our staff is going through plants subject now. This has been very helpful. If you come to PR call us! :) 787 406 1982