- Toothache Plant
Toothache plant, scientific name Spilanthes acmella, is a flowering plant belonging to the family Asteraceae. While the precise origin of this herb is not known, it is believed that the herb has been developed from a Brazilian species named Acmella. In Brazil, people call the plant jambu. The toothache plant is grown in the form of an ornamental as well as medicinal plant in various regions across the globe. Jambu or the toothache plant is a low-growing, erect herb that has a rapid growth and produces red and gold inflorescences. It is a perennial herb when grown in warmer climatic conditions, but cannot endure frost.
Leaves, flowers, roots.
Toothache plant has a number of therapeutic uses. An infusion or decoction prepared from the toothache plant leaves and flowers has been traditionally used to treat toothache, stammering as well as inflammation of the mouth (stomatitis).
Scientists have undertaken experiments with an extract from toothache plant against a variety of bacteria and yeasts, but it was found to be inactive. On the other hand, it has been found that the extract has potent diuretic action in rats.
This bush plant is employed for treating toothaches, owing to the numbing and analgesic actions of spilanthol contained by its leaves and flowers. In fact, spilanthol is a proven effective sialogogue, which promotes secretion of saliva. Spilanthol is soaked up by the skin as well as the buccal mucosa. This substance possesses the potential to stimulate TRPA1 – a particular TRP or transient receptor potential ion channel present in our oral cavity.
Apart from containing capsaicin, cinnamaldehyde and allyl isothiocyante (AITC), it is also believed that spilanthol also has an effect on the catecholamine nerve pathways found in the oral cavity. These pathways are responsible for encouraging saliva secretion and thereby induce a mouth-watering feeling when the leaves and flowers of jambu or toothache plant are used in the form of a flavoring agent. In addition, spilanthol is also responsible for causing a tingling feeling on the tongue and causing a flavoring sense in some people.
While toothache plant has several therapeutic uses, it is most commonly as well as extensively used for treating toothaches and infections of the throat and gums. People across the world use the toothache plant flower heads fresh or dried as well as in their powdered form. Many people also use the leaves and roots of this herb for therapeutic purposes. This plant is also used to treat rheumatism and dysentery as well as to boost the immune system. As chewing the leaves of this herb stimulates saliva production, it is useful for treating fevers, particularly during summers. In addition, therapeutic preparations from different parts of jambu are used to eliminate parasite organisms, particularly while treating malaria – both as a preventive (prophylactic) means and also to cure the disease. When used internally, jambu shows immuno-modulator attributes and stimulates leukocytes as well as antiviral interferon production. At the same time, internal use of the herb also encourages phagocytosis. The leaves of toothache plant are also employed to cure bacterial as well as fungal skin afflictions. This herb also promotes healing of wounds and protects people from common colds and flu.
The flower heads of toothache plant are chewed to get respite from toothache as well as other problems related to the mouth; therefore, one common name of the herb is toothache plant. The leaves of this herb are taken internally for treating various problems related to the skin. A decoction prepared from the roots of toothache plant is used in the form of a purgative, while the decoction prepared from the leaves is considered to be an effective diuretic and lithotriptic agent. The entire toothache plant is used for treating dysentery.
The taste as well as properties of the plant’s bronze-green leaves as well as the additionally potent yellow flowers that come in the shape of cones are said to be akin to that of coneflower (scientific name Echinacea purpurea).
As discussed above, toothache plant or jambu promotes saliva secretion, thereby cleansing the mouth, toning the gums and also improving the functioning of the immune system. In addition, toothache plant works to augment digestion, relieve flatulence, enhance appetite and also aids in curing vomiting and nausea, as it invigorates the salivary glands to secrete more saliva.
It is believed that the extract of toothache plant helps to alleviate muscle strain when it is applied externally on the affected area. It is also reported to diminish wrinkles and facial lines, which are sometimes caused by contracted or tense facial muscles. Applying the Acmella extract is said to cause the facial muscles to relax and thereby reduce the noticeable wrinkles, “crow’s feet”, ageing lines as well as other related problems. In fact, some people even compare the Acmella extract to Botox. However, unlike Botox, application of this plant extract does not cause any toxic effects. Most importantly, you do not require injecting this extract into your skin like Botox, but simply apply it over your face. It is also very cheap compared to Botox and, hence, can be used as a substitute for the latter.
Apart from its therapeutic uses, toothache plant is also used for culinary purposes. It is said that adding the shredded toothache plant leaves to salads in small amounts enhances their flavour. However, when cooked, the leaves lose their potent flavour. They can, nevertheless, be used in the form of a leafy green vegetable. In Brazil, particularly in Para, people use fresh as well as cooked toothache leaves in various types of dishes. They blend toothache or jambu leaves with garlic and chilis to add essence as well as vitamins to different foods.
The taste of toothache plant flower buds is somewhat grassy and it causes a powerful tingling or numbness in the mouth. Usually, consumption of too many leaves causes a cooling sensation inside the throat. The flowering buds of this plant are known by various names, such as “”zechuan buttons”, “buzz buttons”, “electric buttons”, and “sansho buttons”. In India, people use these leaves in the form of flavourings in chewing tobacco.
In several countries across the world, people use a strong extract obtained from the Spilanthes plant in the form of a flavoring agent.
The odour of jambu extract, which is used to add flavour to foods, is described differently by different people. While many claim that the extract has an odour similar to that of citrus fruits, there are others who describe the smell as herbal. The aroma of the extract is also said to be tropical or musty. Irrespective of these descriptions, the flavour of this extract actually induces a mouth-watering feeling inside the oral cavity and triggers saliva secretion. This action of jambu leaf extract is attributed to a chemical called spilanthol, the main constituent of the extract. This chemical works as a sialogogue and is responsible for both the mouth-watering sensation and also promoting saliva secretion.
Habitat and cultivation
Jambu or toothache plant has a preference for a properly drained soil containing elevated amounts of organic materials. If you want to directly start growing the plants outdoors, you should never expose the seeds to cold weather. Hence it is advisable that you sow the seeds after the last expected frost in your area has passed. In addition, ensure that you lightly cover the seeds with soil and keep the soil moist till the seeds germinate. Toothache plant likes to grow in areas having partial shade to full sunlight and with enough water supplies. It has been found that these plants have a rapid growth filling up the pots quickly. Hence, they grow best when planted outdoors.
Chemical analysis of toothache or jambu plants has revealed that they enclose amides, sterols, flavanoids, sesquiterpene lactones and, most importantly, spilanthol, which has an anesthetic or numbing action. In fact, chewing only one jambu leaf is sufficient to cause a tingling feeling on the tongue and insensate the mouth. Compared to the jambu leaves, the flowers of this plant cause more numbing. It is worth mentioning here that apart from causing the human oral cavity to become numb, spilanthol is also a very strong insecticide. This plant chemical possesses the ability to eliminate larvae of mosquitoes when used in an intensification of 1/100,000.
Jambu leaves and flowers also enclose a vital taste-active molecules that are basically fatty acid amides like spilanthol. This chemical is responsible for the trigeminal sensation on the tongue and also promoting saliva secretion. In addition to these, this plant also encloses stigmasterol-3-O-b-D-glucopyranoside (a steroid saponin) as well as several triterpenes.