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Family: Asteraceae

Scientific name: Bidens pilosa

Authority: L.

Synonym: Bidens leucantha (L.) Willd.

Zulu names: amalenjane, isikhathula, ucadolo, ucucuza, ugamfe, ugamfefe, umalenjane, umesisi, umhlabangubo, ungcugcuza, uqadolo

Other names: blackjack, Spanish needle, hairy beggar ticks, farmer’s friend, cobbler’s pegs, pitchforks

Plant description: B. pilosa is an erect annual herb that grows up to 1.5 m in height. It typically has trifoliate leaves, flowers that are yellow at the centre with white disc florets, black fruits with tips that are barbed bristles that stick to clothes and animal skin. 

In South Africa, B. pilosa is considered an invasive alien species.


  • The leaves are cooked and eaten as a leafy green.
  • The plant has a high nutritive value as it is used as fodder. It is also readily browsed by various types of animals.
  • The whole plant is used to treat inflammation. When mixed with Foeniculum vulgare it is used to treat swollen feet. The plant is also used to treat rheumatism. 
  • The root is used to treat reproductive disorders such as menstrual disorders (e.g., excessive menstruation) and prostate disorders. The roots are boiled for 15 minutes and the liquid taken orally twice a day.
  • The leaves are an ingredient in a mixture used to treat sexually transmitted infection (STIs), such as syphilis and an infection commonly known as cauliflower. The leaves are also used to treat genital sores and warts. 
  • The plant is mixed with the leaves of Dysphania ambrosioides to treat venereal diseases. 
  • Fresh leaves are used to treat wounds and sores.
  • The leaves are used to make poultice that is used to treat ringworms.
  • To treat a “naturally” occurring lice infestation fresh leaves are mixed with those of Kalanchoe pinnata. Alternatively, fresh leaves can also be mixed with Triumfetta pilosa and paraffin to treat lice infestation.
  • To treat lice infestation caused by sorcery, the leaves of B. pilosa are mixed with those of Kalanchoe pilosaLantana camaraNicotiana tabacum, Solanum aculeastrum, Tagetes minuta, and camphor block. 
  • The plant is used to promote conception. The leaves are used to make a tonic that is taken by pregnant women to ease childbirth. The tonic also helps to gradually remove excess water from the womb that may affect the baby during pregnancy.
  • The leaves are used to heal the umbilical cord of a newborn baby.
  • The leaves are used to treat inyoni in newborn babies. The leaves are used to make an infusion that is administered as enema. 
  • This plant is used to help raise the depressed frontal fontanels of a sick baby. The fresh leaves are crushed and mixed with a little bit of water. The resulting solution is then rubbed on the affected area.  
  • The leaves are used to make an infusion that is taken as a tonic to treat fever in infants .
  • The leaves are used to make an infusion that is taken as enema to treat stomach cramps in infants. 
  • The leaves are used to make an infusion that is taken to stop excessive vomiting in infants. 
  • The roots and leaves are used to make an infusion that is taken to treat colic. 
  • The leaves are used to relieve excessive wind in the stomach.
  • The leaves are used as an ingredient in mixtures prepared to treat flu and colds. It is often mixed with Spilanthes mauritiana
  • The leaves are chewed to treat heartburn.
  • The roots are used to treat malaria.
  • The flowers are used in the treatment of ear infections. 
  • The plant has analgesic properties for relieving body pains.
  • The leaves are used to treat nausea. The leaves are mixed with those of Solanum lycopersicum.
  • The plant is used to treat abdominal problems such as stomach complaints, constipation, kidney complaints, and diarrhoea. To treat kidney complaints, the roots are mixed with those of Cynodon dactylon and an Amaranthus species. To treat stomach pains, an infusion is made using the leaves of B. pilosa mixed with those of Lagenaria sphaerica.

Safety precaution:

Using traditional medicine responsibly can enhance your overall health and well-being. Misuse and abuse can lead to complications. You can inquire about the correct use of traditional medicine from a knowledgeable herbalist and practitioner. You can also visit or email: to learn more about traditional medicine

References and further reading: 

  • Akula, U.S. and Odhav, B., 2008. In vitro 5-lipoxygenase inhibition of polyphenolic antioxidants from undomesticated plants of South Africa. Journal of Medicinal Plants Research, 2(9), pp.207-212.
  • Ayensu, E.S., 1978. Medicinal plants of West Africa. Reference Publications, Michigan. 
  • Bryant, A.T., 1966. Zulu medicine and medicine men. C. Struik, Cape Town (originally published in 1909 in the Annals of Natal Museum)
  • De Wet, H., Nkwanyana, M.N. and van Vuuren, S.F., 2010. Medicinal plants used for the treatment of diarrhoea in northern Maputaland, KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa. Journal of ethnopharmacology, 130(2), pp.284-289.
  • De Wet, H., Nzama, V.N. and Van Vuuren, S.F., 2012. Medicinal plants used for the treatment of sexually transmitted infections by lay people in northern Maputaland, KwaZulu–Natal Province, South Africa. South African Journal of Botany, 78, pp.12-20.
  • De Wet, H., Nciki, S. and van Vuuren, S.F., 2013. Medicinal plants used for the treatment of various skin disorders by a rural community in northern Maputaland, South Africa. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, 9(1), pp.1-10.
  • Gurib-Fakim, A., Sewraj, M., Gueho, J. and Dulloo, E., 1993. Medical ethnobotany of some weeds of Mauritius and Rodrigues. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 39(3), pp.175-185.
  • Houghton, P.J. and Osibogun, I.M., 1993. Flowering plants used against snakebite. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 39(1), pp.1-29.
  • Hutchings, A., Scott, A.H., Lewis, G., and Cunningham, A., 1996. Zulu medicinal plants. Natal University Press, Pietermaritzburg. 
  • Iwu, M.M., 1993. Handbook of African medicinal plants. CRC Press, Florida, USA.
  • Kokwaro, J.O., 1976. Medicinal plants of east Africa. East African Literature Bureau, Nairobi. 
  • Latham, P., 2008. Plants visited by bees and other useful plants of Umalila, Southern Highlands Tanzania.
  • Mabogo, D.E.N. 1990. The ethnobotany of the VhaVenda. M.Sc Dissertation. University of Pretoria, Pretoria. 
  • Naidoo, D., Van Vuuren, S.F., Van Zyl, R.L. and De Wet, H., 2013. Plants traditionally used individually and in combination to treat sexually transmitted infections in northern Maputaland, South Africa: antimicrobial activity and cytotoxicity. Journal of ethnopharmacology, 149(3), pp.656-667.
  • Ndhlovu, P.T., Omotayo, A.O., Otang-Mbeng, W. and Aremu, A.O., 2021. Ethnobotanical review of plants used for the management and treatment of childhood diseases and well-being in South Africa. South African Journal of Botany, 137, pp.197-215.
  • Odhav, B., Beekrum, S., Akula, U.S. and Baijnath, H., 2007. Preliminary assessment of nutritional value of traditional leafy vegetables in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, 20(5), pp.430-435. 
  • Pooley, E., 2006. Forest plants in the forest and in the garden: Popular guides to the biomes of South Africa. The Flora Publication Trust, South Africa.
  • SANBI. 2020. Bidens pilosa L. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2020.1. Accessed on 2023/04/28
  • Tene, V., Malagón, O., Finzi, P.V., Vidari, G., Armijos, C. and Zaragoza, T. 2007. An ethnobotanical survey of medicinal plants used in Loja and Zamora-Chinchipe, Ecuador. J. Ethnopharmacol. 111: pp 63-81. 
  • Van Wyk, B.E. and Gericke, N., 2000. People’s plants: A guide to useful plants of Southern Africa. Briza publications, Pretoria. 
  • Walker, J., 1996. Wild flowers of KwaZulu-Natal. W.R. Walker Family Trust, Pinetown. 
  • Watt, J.M., and Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G., 1962. Medicinal and poisonous plants of southern and eastern Africa, second edition. Livingstone, London.

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