Quelite : Piojito : Galinsoga parviflora

Researching this herb has been a joy. It has identified a plant I have seen (as a weed) and am now able to identify as a useful quelite. Research has also uncovered several related plants that also fall into the same categories as weed/quelite. This has expanded my knowledge both as a medical herbalist and as a chef. These are the plants I find the most exciting. The weedy species that exist at the edges of human endeavour are (often) powerful and typically overlooked as being useful. This is one of these plants. These derided plants are amongst the most accessible as they can be found in most parts of the World as urban weeds.

Synonyms: Adventina parviflora (Cav.) Raf.; Galinsoga hirsute; Galinsoga laciniata; Galinsoga parviflora var. adenophora Thell; Galinsoga parviflora f. parceglandulosa Thell; Galinsoga parviflora subsp. Parceglandulosa; Galinsoga parviflora f. subeglandulosa Thell; Galinsoga quinqueradiata; Stemmatella sodiroi Hieron; Vigolina acmella (Roth) Poir; Wiborgia acmella Roth; Wiborgia parviflora (Cav.) Kunth

The name Galinsoga was dedicated to Ignacio Mariano Martinez de Galinsoga, who founded the Spanish Real Academia Nacional de Medicina and was director of the Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid.

Parviflora = small flower (parvo – small and flor – flower).

Also called : Estrellita (Little star), amarilla, pakunka, hierba de cuy, burrionera, Killu sisu, guasca (Colombia), Peruvian daisy, pacpa yuyo, paco yuyo and waskha (Peru), burrionera (Ecuador), albahaca silvestre and saetilla (Argentina), mielcilla (Costa Rica), piojito (Oaxaca, Mexico), Cuan ‘béchi (Zapotec), galinsoga (New Zealand), gallant soldier, quickweed (1), and potato weed (United Kingdom, United States), Picão-branco (Brazil)(2), picão-bravo, botão-de-ouro, fazendeiro, kafumba (Uganda),  Ushukeyana (Zulu), smooth galinsoga (there is also a “hairy” one – see further down)

  1. because of its ability to grow and mature quickly and have many generations per growing season. This is why it is considered (in most places) to be a noxious weed of agricultural crops.
  2. Picão-branco is also the name given to Porophyllum ruderale (See Post Quillquina : Porophyllum ruderale) and is also used to describe a group of herbs known as arnica (No relation to Arnica montana – the “true” arnica – see Post : The Pore Leaf in Brazil for more detail on this cross-over of names)

Piojito is one of the wild herbs (or quelites) of the milpa.

The flowers, branches and leaves are edible. The young leaves and stems can be eaten raw or cooked. They are typically blanched before consumption or they are added as an ingredient into soups/stews. In México it is a quelite (1) and in the Central valley of Oaxaca it is cooked in a dish called sopa de guias made with squash vines and other quelites. The squash used grows only in Oaxaca but a zucchini makes an acceptable substitute and any edible squash vines/tendrils can be used. The quelites used in this sopa are chepiche (Porophyllum tagetoides), piojito (Galinsoga parviflora) and chepil (Crotolaria longirostrata) (2).

  1. See Posts : Quelites : Quilitl; Quelites in Old Texts and Quelites y Mole for more info on the group of plants called quelites
  2. See Post : Chepiche/Pipicha : Porophyllum tagetoides for another version of this recipe

The Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad (National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity – CONABIO) is a permanent inter-ministerial commission of the Federal Mexican government, created in 1992. It has the primary purpose of coordinating, supporting and executing activities and projects designed to foment understanding of biodiversity within Mexico and the surrounding region. As a governmental agency, CONABIO produces and collates biodiversity data and assessments across Mexico’s varied ecosystems. It also either administers or guides a range of biological conservation and sustainability projects with the intention of securing benefits to Mexican society as a whole.

Piojito is not a common quelite even in México. Dávila (2021) notes in Mercados y tianguis en el siglo XXI. Repensando sus problemáticas (1) that this herb was only found in the Ocotlán market (2). Like many of the quelites they can be local, regional herbs that might only be available in certain areas and at certain times/seasons or might only be appreciated by a limited group of peoples. Some quelites (and this appears to be one of them) (3) are wild herbs that are so popular that they are grown commercially. It seems that the United States (of A) is the top importer of this herb from Colombia (4).

  1. in the chapter Mercados regionales de Oaxaca como nodos bioculturales complejos
  2. Ocotlán de Morelos is a town and municipality in the state of Oaxaca, about 35 km south of the center of the city of Oaxaca along Highway 175. It is part of the Ocotlán District in the south of the Valles Centrales Region.
  3. such as Romeritos (Suaeda torreyana) and Papalo (Porophyllum macrocephalum). See Posts : Romeritos and Pápaloquelite : Porophyllum macrocephalum for further information on these two quelites.
  4. https://www.volza.com/p/herbs-or-guascas/import/import-in-united-states/coo-colombia/

(As at 10/10/22) In nearby Santa Cruz Xoxocotlan, Oaxaca, a 1kg bag of piojito will cost you $120 (Mexican pesos)

Nutritional content of piojito

The “hairy” one.
Galinsoga quadriradiata is a species of flowering plant in the Asteraceae family which is known by several common names, including shaggy soldier, Peruvian daisy and hairy galinsoga.
Its native home is apparently central Mexico, although it has become naturalized in many other places (North and South America, Europe, Japan, Philippines, Northern India, Nepal)

Piojito is readily available in dried form although you may need to search for it as “guascas”.

Guascas is typically used as a herbal ingredient in soups, stews, vegetables, and meat dishes. It is also sometimes used in herbal tea and beverage blends because of its minty flavour.

It’s a fundamental herb in Colombian cuisine and the most famous use of guascas is in the Colombian soup ajiaco, which is a chicken, potatoes, cream, capers, and cilantro rich soup.

Erica, blogger and author of cookbook “I Can Cook Latin Food” was born in Medellin, Colombia (now living in the U.S.) and it is one of her recipes presented here. This is a simple dish and it has many variations. Check out Ericas Blog (1).

  1. https://www.mycolombianrecipes.com/

Ajiaco Colombiano (Colombian Chicken and Potato Soup)


  • 3 chicken breasts (skin removed)
  • 12 cups water
  • 3 ears fresh corn cut into 2 pieces
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 chicken bouillon cubes
  • 3 scallions (spring onions, green onions)
  • 2 garlic cloves minced
  • 3 tablespoon chopped cilantro
  • 2 cups papa criolla (see**NOTES**)
  • 3 medium white potatoes peeled and sliced
  • 3 medium red potatoes peeled and sliced
  • ⅓ cup guascas


Papa criolla – A small, yellow, creamy type of potato, that’s native to South America and is especially popular in Colombia. You can find frozen ones at markets that specialise in Latino foods. (substitute with small Yukon Golds or maybe a Kipfler)

To Serve

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup capers


  1. In a large pot, place the chicken, corn, chicken bouillon, cilantro, scallions, garlic, salt and pepper. Add the water and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and cook for about 30 to 35 minutes, until chicken is cooked and tender. Remove the chicken and set aside.
  2. Continue cooking the corn for about 15 more minutes. Discard green onion and add red potatoes, white potatoes, and the guascas. Cook for 15 more minutes.
  3. Uncover and add the frozen papa criolla and simmer for 15 minutes, season with salt and pepper.
  4. Shred the chicken breast and return to the pot. Serve the Ajiaco hot with capers and heavy cream on the side.

Piojito as Picão branco

In Brazil, as chá de picão branco (1) (White Picão tea) (2) G.parviflora is a valued medicinal herb. It is used for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antispasmodic, anti-ulcer, antiviral, bactericidal, digestive, diuretic, hepatoprotective, hypoglycaemic, and vermifuge properties. It can be used as a tea or a bath and is safe for use in children. The only warnings against its use are during pregnancy as the herb can be used for menstrual disorders. Any plant that can bring on or regulate menses can be potentially dangerous during pregnancy (particularly in the first trimester) as they may possibly cause spontaneous abortion. At the University of Kwa-Zulu (South Africa), 16 herbs were studied as possible ACE (angiotensin converting enzyme ) inhibitors (Duncan etal 200). ACE inhibitors are also synthesized by pharmaceutical companies to treat high blood pressure, help prevent hypertension and cardiovascular disease. One of the herbs found to contain ACE inhibitors and thus help improve blood flow was G. parviflora .

  1. Also Fazendeiro, Botão-de-ouro, Erva-da-moda, Picão-bravo
  2. Bidens Pilosa is Black Picão

Medicinal use

The plant is used in traditional preparations for wound healing as well as for the treatment of blood coagulation problems, cold, flu, toothache and dermatological (eczema, lichen) and eye diseases. Galinsoga is another remedy (along with plantain and dock) for neutralizing the sting of nettles. It is astringent in its action and can be used to help clot the blood of cuts and wounds.

Medicinal actions : analgesic (flowers) to treat toothache, antibacterial, antifungal, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiscorbutic, nematocidal, cytotoxic, hepatoprotective, hypoglycaemic

The Royal (a cocktail bar in Washington DC) produces a cocktail called La Hierba Mala. It contains guascas-infused gin, blackleaf organic vodka, cocchi americano, genepy, grapefruit, passionfruit, eucalyptus, lavender. This cocktail could very easily be a medicinal drink.

Other plants called piojito

(More than) one author I have read has noted the following…….


  • Tridax procumbens
  • Siesgesbeckia orientalis

I thought I’d better investigate this as there are potential issues with plants that look similar having poisonous look-a-likes. See Post : Verdolagas for an example of a culinary/medicinal herb having a poisonous facsimile. Lets look at these two plants

Tridax procumbens

This plant is considered to be an invasive species in most places and in some it is listed as a noxious weed (much like piojito)

I have found reference to this herb being toxic in more than one Blog so it behooves me to investigate further.

Tridax procumbens L. is a medicinal plant and used as a drink to treat bronchial catarrh, diarrhoea dysentery (Ali M etal 2001), and liver diseases (Kpodar etal 2016).

T. procumbens possesses a wide spectrum of biological activities. The ethyl acetate extract of this plant showed strong allelopathic (1) and larvicidal activities (Andriana etal 2018). In pharmaceutical activities, methanol and ethanol extracts exhibited anti-hyperglycaemic (Pareek etal 2009), anti-fungal (Policegoudra etal 2014), anti-leishmanial (Gamboa-leon etal 2014), and hepatoprotective activities (Ravikumar etal 2005), while ethyl acetate extract exerted anti-inflammatory, anti-cyclooxygenase, and antioxidant activities (Jachak etal 2011). The acetone extract of this herb obtained anticoagulant, anti-herpetic and antibacterial activities (Naqash etal 2011).

  1. Allelopathy is a biological phenomenon by which an organism produces one or more biochemicals that influence the germination, growth, survival, and reproduction of other organisms (neighbouring plants). These biochemicals are known as allelochemicals and can have beneficial or detrimental effects on the target organisms and the community.

All very well and good. Lets look a little deeper.

Further studies into the phytochemicals in this plant have yielded glucoside, amino acids, flavanol, synergic acid, tannin, steroids, polysaccharides, and volatile oils (Ankita & Jain 2012).

The leaves are antiseptic, haemostatic, and parasiticide, and the leaf juices possess insecticidal and parasiticidal properties. Also, various leaf extracts yielded carbohydrates, proteins, tannins, steroids, alkaloids, and purines.

The plant is astringent and considered anti-inflammatory and vulnerary. Studies have shown antibacterial, hypotensive, bradycardic (1), hypoglycaemic, antioxidant, wound healing, hepatoprotective, immunomodulatory, and CNS depressant properties.
T.procumbens has also been proven to be antiviral, anticoagulant, antifungal, insect repellent, antioxidant, and anti-diabetic.

  1. heart rate slowing properties. The opposite (heart rate increasing) would be tachycardic. This (along with the CNS depressant properties) could, under certain conditions (i.e. heavy alcohol or opiate intoxication) be quite dangerous.

In various herbal medicine traditions the herb has shown to be useful in the treatment jaundice, bronchial catarrh, diarrhea, dysentery, inflammation, ulcers, anal fistula, and haemorrhoids. The leaf juice can be used to cure fresh wounds, to stop bleeding and a leaf extract (type not noted) has been used for liver disorders. The plant is also used in the treatment of gastrointestinal and respiratory infections, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

  • In Jamaica it has been used for fever and for the treatment of catarrh.
  • T. procumbens is commonly called as ‘Jayanti-veda’ in Sanskrit, Tikki-kasa/’Ghamra’ in Hindi. In India it has been used as an anticoagulant, antidiarrheal, anti-dysenteric, styptic (stops bleeding), and for liver disorders. In addition it has been used for arthritis, heartburn, and as a hair tonic to promote hair growth. In southern Orissa a paste prepared from the whole plant is taken orally to relieve diarrhoea. A fine paste of the leaves is applied externally to reduce swelling of haemorrhoids by the Urash in southern Bihar. (Prajapti etal 2008)
  • In Guatemala, leaf juice is used for colds, inflammation, vaginitis, stomach pains, diarrhoea. While the whole plant is used for protozoal infections, and for the treatment of chronic ulcers.
  • In Nigeria, the entire plant is used to treat typhoid fever, cough, fever, stomach-ache, backache, diarrhoea, and epilepsy.

Medicinal usage however does not indicate safety. Many herbs (and medicines for that matter) can easily be toxic if not used correctly. Even water can be toxic if misused. One study (Abubakar etal 2012) focused on the toxicity of an ethyl acetate extract of Tridax procumbens and found that (in rats) the LD50 was 2100 mg/kg body weight (2).

  1. lethal dose at which 50% of the test subjects die.
  2. the equivalent of 2.1g/kg (so 168g for an 80kg adult) – but this is of a concentrated extract NOT the living (or dried) herb. Using it culinarily (or even medicinally as an infusion) does not present the same danger.

What LD50 is considered toxic?

LD50 less than 500 mg/kg indicates high toxicity. LD50 500 to 1,000 mg/kg indicates moderate toxicity. LD50 1,000 to 2,000 mg/kg indicates low toxicity.

I think the toxicity of this plant has been overstated. I would however use caution in people who already suffer from liver or kidney damage. This is a similar caution as I would give if eating herbs with high oxalic acid content (sorrel) if you are already prone to kidney stones or gout as the chemistry of the plant can aggravate these conditions.

Sigesbeckia species

The seeds and flowers of this plant are sticky.

Sigesbeckia has a long history of safe use.

Sigesbeckia has been used in the traditional medicines of many countries across the world and was first referenced in China in 659 AD. Its Chinese Pinyin name is Xi Xian Cao.  In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), Sigesbeckia is used to……

  • Dispel Wind Dampness and strengthens the sinews. Benefit joints.
  • Calm the Spirit
  • Clear Heat and pacify the Liver. Opens up Luo passageways, stimulates blood circulation and alleviates pain.
  • Transform Damp Heat.


Using good quality herb which has (many) grey-green leaves and unopened flowers.

  • Decoction of above ground parts of plant : 9-14 g.  (if using only Stem or leaf : 6-15 g).
  • Use raw for clearing Heat and resolving Dampness
  • Treat with wine for Wind Damp painful obstruction.

The aerial parts of Sigesbeckia have been used traditionally to treat rheumatic conditions such as arthritis, pain in the joints and muscles, sciatica, as well as to treat hypertension and some forms of paralysis.

In Ayurvedic medicine the juice of the fresh herb is used as a dressing for wounds, over which, as it dries, it leaves a varnishing coating. A decoction of the leaves and young shoots is used as a lotion for ulcers and parasitic skin diseases.

In Europe, the plant is commonly known as St Paul’s Wort.

Properties : alterative, antiseptic, aperient, depurative, sialagogue, tonic, vulnerary.

Studies have suggested immunosuppressant, antibacterial, antiallergic, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, wound healing, anti-hyperuricemic (1), phytoremediative (2), anti-metastatic (3), neuroprotective properties.

  1. Uremia/uraemia is a clinical syndrome marked by elevated concentrations of urea in the blood and associated with fluid, electrolyte, and hormone imbalances and metabolic abnormalities, which develop in parallel with deterioration of kidney function. The term uraemia, which literally means urine in the blood, was first used to describe the clinical condition associated with kidney failure. Uraemia more commonly develops with chronic kidney disease (especially the later stages) but it also may occur with acute kidney injury if loss of kidney function is rapid. Urea itself has both direct and indirect toxic effects on a range of tissues. Symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, anorexia, weight loss, muscle cramps, pruritus (itchy skin), mental status changes, visual disturbances, increased thirst.
  2. plants used to clean up contaminated environments. This plant has an affinity for drawing selenium out of the soil
  3. helps prevent spread of cancer

There is also a funny story regarding the history of this plant. Alison Downing, Brian Atwell and Kevin Downing from the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University in Sydney Australia have written on the shade that the contemporaries Linnaeus and Siegesbeck threw at each other (back in the day).

  1. Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778), also known after his ennoblement in 1761 as Carl von Linné, was a Swedish botanist, zoologist, taxonomist, and physician who formalised binomial nomenclature, the modern system of naming organisms. He is known as the “father of modern taxonomy”.

Johann Siegesbeck (1686-1755) was a Prussian physician and botanist, and director of the Botanical Gardens of St Petersburg. Initially, he and Linnaeus were good friends and corresponded regularly. When Linnaeus developed his binomial system for naming plants, based on the reproductive organs of plants, many critics found his sexual system unnatural and offensive.
Siegesbeck was outraged, his criticism of Linnaeus moral rather than scientific. He refuted Linnaeus’ sexual system, and referred to it as loathsome harlotry. In his publication, Epicrisis in clar. Linnaei nuperrime evulgatum systema plantarum sexuale, et huic superstructam methodum botanicam, he sarcastically asked whether God would allow 20 men or more (referring to the stamens of a flower) to have one wife (pistil of the flower) in common.
When naming plants, Linnaeus believed that there should be a relationship between the plant and the person after whom it was named. One example, Magnolia, a plant with handsome leaves and flowers, was named by Linnaeus after French Botanist, Pierre Magnol, a botanist whose work he thought outstanding. Linnaeus had a wicked sense of humour, and for revenge, named Sigesbeckia, a relatively uninteresting and uninspiring little plant, after Siegesbeck. The hostility between the two men continued in publications, and in another delicious incident which did nothing to diffuse the tension and animosity between the two men, seeds of Siegesbeckia orientalis, labelled Cuculus ingratus (‘ungrateful cuckoo’) by Linnaeus were accidentally sent back to Siegesbeck who grew the seeds only to find out what they really were! He was furious


Short answer. Not poisonous. This also goes to demonstrate how useful plants can be mistaken for something less than useful if you don’t do your research. It also seems that both of these look-a-likes also have more use as a medicinal plant than piojito does (although less culinary use).

Research, people, research.


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