Spilanthes; the Toothache Plant

Spilanthes; the Toothache Plant
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Spilanthes is a member of the Asteraceae family with over 60 species occurring in this genus. Spilanthes acmella is also known as the toothache plant. The bronze-green leaves and the more potent yellow and red cone shaped flowers have a taste and properties similar to coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). As a sialagogue it stimulates the flow of salvia which cleanses the mouth, tones the gums, and enhances immune function. Spilanthes also improves digestion, eases flatulence, improves the appetite, and helps to overcome nausea and vomiting by its stimulating effect on the salivary glands.
It is called the toothache plant because when you chew on the leaves or flowers it produces a numbing effect to the tongue and gums. Spilanthes can be used in this manner to help ease the pain of a toothache.

Growth Habit

Spilanthes is a native of the tropics of Africa and South America. It grows well in full sun to partial shade reaching a height of 12 to 15 inches with a spread of 24 to 30 inches. It has bronze-green foliage with yellow petaless flowers with a red eye on top of long stems. To promote bushy growth wait until the fourth set of true leaves appear then pinch back the plant to the second set of true leaves.

Spilanthes has no serious disease problems although it may occasionally suffer from spider mite damage. In my zone 10 sub-tropical garden it behaves as a perennial. It is a perennial in USDA zones 10-12. It can be grown as a perennial indoors in cooler climates or treat it as an annual and sow fresh seeds in your garden every year. It is easily started from seeds directly sown in the garden or indoors sown in seed flats. You can also propagate spilanthes from stem cuttings. It needs regular watering, do not allow the plant to dry out. It thrives in high humidity in well-drained soils.

Spilanthes Salad

The leaves, especially of the milder tasting Spilanthes oleracea AKA paracress; when used in moderation make a great addition to fresh green salads. The leaves have a slight peppery taste.

1/4 cup spilanthes leaves (Spilanthes oleracea)

1/2 cup New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioides)

2 cups Swiss chard leaves (Beta vulgaris var. cicla)

2 cups lettuce leaves (romaine, leaf or iceberg)

1 tablespoon chopped salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor)

2 tablespoons chopped garlic chives (Allium tuberosum)

Rinse all the ingredients to remove any dirt or insects that may be present. Towel dry or use a salad spinner to thoroughly dry all ingredients. Tear the larger leaves into bite size pieces then add all the ingredients to a large bowl and toss well.

Salad Dressing

2 cloves garlic minced

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese

salt and pepper to taste

Whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl. Prior to serving the salad drizzle the dressing over the top and toss to evenly coat all the leaves. Offer additional dressing on the side if desired.


The leaves and flower buds may be harvested on an ongoing basis for fresh use. The flower buds may be dried and stored in an airtight glass container for up to one year. I harvest my plants in one of two ways. I eat the fresh leaves in salads or I harvest a few and eat them immediately while I am out working in the garden. I also pick the flower heads and dry them in my oven on the lowest setting (~175 degrees) to store them for future use. I use the dried flower buds in my herbal tea blends.

An infusion can be made from the leaves and flowers. When cooled this infusion can be used as a mouth rinse. The infusion may also be taken as a medicinal tea which is utilized for its antifungal, antiviral, antibacterial, and immune system stimulating properties.

Spilanthes Tea Blend

4 dried spilanthes flowers

1 teaspoon grated, fresh ginger root

4 tablespoons chopped, fresh lemon balm

2 cups water

Add the water to a non-metallic pan and place it on the stove. When the water comes to a boil remove the pan from the heat. Add all the ingredients listed above and let the mixture steep for 5-10 minutes. Cover the pan with a lid to prevent the volatile essential oils from escaping while the tea is steeping. Strain the herbs from the water and pour into your favorite mug. If desired you may add honey or sugar to sweeten the tea. This recipe makes 2 cups of tea.


About The Author

Lynn has written herbal articles for a variety of publications including The Herb Companion, Backyard Home, and Llewellyn Publications yearly Herbal Almanac. She is also the founder and manager of Herb Witch, an online community for herbalists, cooks, gardeners, green witches and anyone with an interest in herbs. The Herb Witch website, which you can visit Here.

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