Put Blackjacks to good use

Many of us regard Bidens pilosa L. or the Blackjack as a weed and a pretty bothersome one at that.
However we could embrace it as a source of food or medicine or as an insecticide. Indeed, the department of agriculture has even published a brochure on the cultivation of Blackjacks. And there we were exclaiming over how difficult it is to eradicate from our pastures and gardens.
The plant originated in South America and the legend goes that it was introduced by the British through the imported feed that they used for their horses during the Boer War. It is regarded as a naturalised alien because it reproduces consistently and sustains populations over many life cycles without direct intervention by humans.
It grows throughout southern and eastern Africa, as well as in many countries all over the world.
The Blackjack is an annual, erect herb up to 100 cm tall, with slender, stiff and 4-angled stems and spreading, grooved branches. The leaves are serrated. The fruit of the blackjack is unpleasant, hairy and able to penetrate rapidly through several layers of clothing. What makes the plant so universally detested however is the seed, which has barbed bristles of 2–4 mm long.
If you are plagued by whitefly, aphids, caterpillars, cutworms or termites, try using Blackjacks as an antidote: boil a cupful of seeds in water for ten minutes. Add a litre of soapy water and spray.
But it can also be regarded as a food source: Blackjack is an edible vegetable, and is also used in medicine, fodder, herbal tea and as a spice. Apparently Blackjack contains many essential nutrients, including a high level of vitamin A, vitamin C, iron and protein.
The tender leaves, shoots or whole young plants are eaten. Leaves may also be parboiled and then dried in the sun for later use.
The leaves are also used to prepare blackjack tea and juice.
As a medicinal plant it has traditionally been used for dietary anaemia, helping blood flow, prevention of malaria, alleviating toothache, improving eye health and in treatment of wounds. Roots, leaves and seed have also been reported to possess antibacterial, anti-dysenteric, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antimalarial, diuretic and hypotensive activities.
For those of you who find the thought of eating Blackjack leaves rather distasteful, we have found a recipe for you:
Sautéed blackjack
2 ½ bunches blackjack leaves
2 onions
1 carrot
1½ tablespoons cooking oil
¼ teaspoon salt
Wash leaves thoroughly and trim off any unwanted parts. Peel, wash and dice carrots and onions. Heat oil in a saucepan and fry onions until soft. Add salt and the blackjack, stirring continuously. Add carrots and continue to stir the mixture on the heat until all ingredients are soft and cooked through. This dish can be served with stiff porridge, rice or yams.
(Cooking with Traditional Leafy Vegetables, pub Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity.)

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