Friday, November 2, 2012

Survival Plant Profile: Shepherd's Needle

Never heard of Shepherd's Needle? That probably doesn't stop it from invading your yard, spreading hundreds of seedlings across tilled ground and sending its seeds hitchhiking on your socks.

Horrible weeds! Oh no!
Shepherd's Needle, Latin name "Bidens alba," is an amazing weed that looks like a little daisy. The plants grow 2-4' or so and will spread from springtime until the frosts knock them back to the ground.

However, like many weeds, this plant is a resource in disguise. Even if you can't manage to grow spinach, cauliflower or a bean without holes in it, you can grow this thing (though most people fight to KEEP it from growing) - and the leaves are edible. It's easy to find growing along roadsides, in fields and any place there's a sunny spot and some disturbed ground.

A faux-vintage blurry fake colorized bee!
Behind my house is a three acre lot that gets bush-hogged a couple times a year. There the Shepherd's Needle plants proliferate like... well... weeds. And that's a good thing, since not only are the leaves edible - the blossoms are a solid nectar source for bees for about half the year. They also draw in lots of butterflies, moths and other pollinators. I intentionally leave patches growing in unused areas of my yard, just for the life they bring in.

The parts that like socks.
Though you couldn't subsist on them alone, the leaves are reportedly high in nutrients. They also stir-fry quite well and are good in salads and omelets. By themselves, they're a bit grassy-tasting, but mixed with other greens or sauteed, they're delicious. Just watch your socks when you pick them.

Next time you find some growing in your yard - and provided they're not too near your garden beds - leave a few. The bees will thank you. And your palate might not mind either. In terms of a survival green, it's hard to beat one that's healthy, easy-to-find, prolific and basically unknown.

More here:

And a look at Bidens alba by Green Deane at


2 Spuds

Name: Shepherd's needle
Latin Name: Bidens alba
Type: Herbaceous perennial/annual
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Medicinal: No
Cold-hardy: No
Exposure: Full sun/part shade
Part Used: Leaves
Propagation: Seed
Taste: Good
Method of preparation: Leaves raw, cooked, dried, sauteed. 
Storability: Poor fresh. Easy to dry.
Ease of growing: Way too easy.
Nutrition: Very good
Recognizability: Low
Availability: Very high

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At November 2, 2012 at 3:24 PM , Blogger Ten at Eat Your Sands said...

Wow, we are like, psychic or something, maybe we should meet up?
Bidens alba, best yard weed ever!

At November 2, 2012 at 4:00 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

I'm afraid if we meet in person we'll create a massive Scary Garden Nerd Singularity that will destroy the universe.

Your post is excellent. I haven't personally dried them for future use, though I already do that with various herbs and moringa.

BTW - you are now linked on my new sidebar. Thanks for popping in.

At June 8, 2014 at 8:36 AM , Blogger Phoenix said...

ROFL - I just discovered this site and have already got it bookmarked and added to my RSS feed - but the notation above - Ease of growing: Way too easy - made me laugh too hard not to comment ;-) I was introduced to this plant as "Spanish Needles", and told it was a beast disguised as beauty and to rip it out as fast as it comes up. While I am not a true 'survivalist' I am a practical, environmentally conscious, organic gardener with a cheap streak and an awareness of the value of many weeds/wild herbs, so I study so-called weeds looking for the ones that are blessings in disguise. I can't tell you how many people I turned on to purslane back when I lived up north (still looking for it here in Florida - though I hear it grows well here I haven't found any yet). Looking forward to a long and educational association with your site ;-)

At June 9, 2014 at 10:55 AM , Blogger David The Good said...


Purslane is around - it's shown up in my garden before. It also has a cousin that's bitter and nasty tasting.

If you get tired of looking for it, there are improved varieties you can grow from seed. Very good.

At July 28, 2014 at 4:23 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

We have used this plant in my family for as long as I can remember. My grandfather used to boil the leaves and put them it in a blender with some honey, vitamin c and lemon juice. That has always been the most effective remedy for my sore throat and colds. And my great grandfather lived for 18 years with colon cancer and never treated it but lived chewing shepherd's needle leaves and drinking water/tea from this plant.

At November 1, 2014 at 8:38 PM , Anonymous Robinsons said...

The FRESH leaves of this plant are very medicinal. It is a broad spectrum antibiotic. It is antibacterial, antidiabetic, antimalarial anti-inflammatory, mucous membrane tonic and much more. It is good for systemic infections specifically those associated by problems in the mucous membrane. This plant loses a lot of its potency when dehydrated. The plant's constituents are more soluble in alcohol than water.

At November 1, 2014 at 10:59 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

That's amazing - thank you.

At November 1, 2014 at 11:00 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

Thank you. Good tincture candidate, then.

At November 19, 2014 at 11:15 AM , Blogger Phyllis Franklin said...

I think this is what we've always called "Devil's Pitchforks" because they stick into you or your clothes like a barbed pitchfork.
Now that I know it's useful, I won't fight and curse it anymore. :)

At November 19, 2014 at 2:38 PM , Blogger David The Good said...


At March 27, 2015 at 11:12 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

Shepherd's needle is a medicinal plant. The foliage and flowers are steeped and used for prickly heat, "cooling the blood" and to relieve "sick stomach". It is also given every day for nine days for worms in children.

At May 2, 2015 at 4:25 PM , Blogger laurak/ForestWalkArt :) said...

thanks. very good to know. i have never liked to 'weed' them out because of all the butterflies! and now to find out the leaves are edible. even better!

At May 2, 2015 at 4:25 PM , Blogger laurak/ForestWalkArt :) said...

thanks. very good to know. i have never liked to 'weed' them out because of all the butterflies! and now to find out the leaves are edible. even better!

At May 2, 2015 at 7:41 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

Oh yes.

At May 18, 2015 at 10:19 PM , Blogger CharGC said...

Oh, so great to find others who appreciate Bidens alba! I probably irritate the heck out of my neighbors, but I let this wonderful resource grow all over my yard! How can you not love the flowers, little daisy things that they are, attracting butterflies...and I even snitch a few for a tiny arrangement inside, which also helps keep the "needles" from forming, and keeps the leafy food portion growing bushier! They work great in Indian food, the spices keeps the sometimes strongish flavor tamed nicely. I recently experimented picking tips with flower buds, and they were awesome too. It annoys me no end that people spray poisons on these plants to kill them when they could be eating them instead! Thanks for posting this!


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