Recent research has shown this herb has the potential to treat the early stages of conditions such as malaria, and diabetes.
Also known as pitchforks and beggar's ticks, cobbler's pegs is naturalized in the tropical and warmer temperate areas of the world. It grows in many areas of Australia and I have seen it growing in both temperate and tropical parts of Queensland including the Atherton Tableland and southeast Queensland. In fact it is growing on the property where my husband and I now live and it also grew on a property we had on the Atherton Tablelands. On the tableland property we bred sheep for wool and the seeds that give the plant its name became attached to their wool, which made it difficult when combing it for spinning. Apart from wool and animal fur the seeds become attached to clothing and socks, and can be a real nuisance.
Looking at the structure of the seeds it's easy to understand why they are so adept at attaching themselves. The tiny seeds are dark grey with two paler grey prongs that have tiny barbs. Cobbler's pegs is an annual herb that grows to about one metre and has spreading branches. The thin, hairy, and soft leaves are in opposite pairs and the tiny white flowers with orange centres appear at the end of all branches and branchlets from summer to autumn.
Found in the cracks of walls and pavements, roadsides, and any waste or disturbed ground, the herb is thought to have originated in the Americas from where it has spread to other continents possibly preceding European exploration.
Cobbler's pegs' culinary uses are minimal. The young shoots are edible and are sometimes used as a green vegetable, however, the volatile oils create such a strong flavour that most people tend to find the plant more agreeable as a medicinal herb.
Medicinal Properties and Uses
The herb doesn't have any notable aromatic oils but an infusion of the plant, sometimes using the flower heads only, has been used as a tonic and stimulant in domestic medicine as well as for conditions including coughs, diarrhoea and dysentery. In some countries the flowers, roots, or shoots were chewed for toothache, young shoots were chewed to treat rheumatism, the juice of the leaves were dropped in to the eyes as a treatment for conjunctivitis and to treat earache, and a strong decoction of the leaves was taken to treat any type of inflammation.
B. pilosa has also been used traditionally to treat other conditions including wounds, flu, colds, fever, neuralgia, smallpox, snake bite, pain, aneamia, rectal prolapse, hepatitis, jaundice, and colic.
Recent Research: There are several varieties of B. pilosa and one of them, B. pilosa Linn var. radiata, found in Japan and tropical America, has been analyzed. The results have shown that it contains active constituents including phenylpropanoids, flavonoids, flavone glycosides, polyacetylenes, aurones, and chalcones as well as beta-carotene, iron, zinc, and calcium.
There are a number of research papers that have observed significant health benefits of B. pilosa as a herbal medicine. While there is still much research to be done the health potential of this herb is certainly very promising.
Research on this herb first began to substantiate its traditional uses but in doing so it was discovered that it has the potential to treat the early stages of malaria, inflammation, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and allergies; it also has antimicrobial action.
Note: Before locating and making use of this plant as a medicine it's important to note that B. pilosa takes up cadmium. A study has shown that the herb is very useful in helping to remedy the environment of cadmium pollution but has no known chelation effect on humans. Because of this it would be very wise to know the area when harvesting the plant for medicinal use.
Although cobbler's pegs can be a nuisance because its seeds attach themselves to clothing and wool, it is harmless to grazing animals apart from possibly tainting the taste of milk, most probably because of the volatile oil. These are minor details though when the herb provides humans and animals with a valuable medicine for a wide range of ailments.