Curiosity about a natural remedy led me to Acmella oleracea, commonly known as toothache plant, eyeball plant, paracress, Sichuan buttons, buzz buttons, ting flower and electric daisy. When in bloom, this unusual plant attracts fireflies, bees, butterflies, and songbirds.
It's not just for toothaches
While the plant is used as a medicinal remedy in various parts of the world, Acmella oleracea extract is also considered a natural alternative to Botox®. When applied topically, it reportedly reduced muscle tension which led to a reduction in facial wrinkles.
For some reason, Acmella oleracea sounds much better to me than Botulinum toxin type A. This is not to say that Botox and similar injectables don't have a number of very valuable uses.
A. oleracea is used in topical formulas that can easily penetrate the skin, inhibiting contractions and tightness of subcutaneous facial muscles. In a clinical study, 75% of patients reported a soothing and smoothing effect immediately following the first use.
Patents are being developed for the use of Acmella oleracea as a safe alternative to Botox. However, the plant's extracts do not contain the collagen-building peptides of Botox and are not equally effective.
Used to numb toothaches, one of its components, spilanthol, has an analgesic effect. This is responsible for the plant's ability to induce a mouth-watering sensation when used in foods and is associated with the tingling or pungent flavor sensation some people experience.
A small amount of chopped fresh leaves adds a unique flavor to a salad. When cooked, the leaves lose their strong flavor and can be used as you do other leafy greens. Both fresh and cooked leaves are used in soups and stews in northern Brazil, especially in the state of Pará, where they are combined with chilis and garlic to boost both flavor and nutrition.
The buds have a grass-like taste followed by a strong tingling or numbing sensation and often excessive salivation.
A concentrated extract of the plant, sometimes called jambu oil or jambu extract, is used as a flavoring in foods, chewing gum, and chewing tobacco. The oil is traditionally extracted from all parts of the plant.
Jambu extract is described as having a citrus, herbal, tropical or musty odor, and its taste is described as tingling, pungent, cooling, numbing, or effervescent. The major component, spilanthol, is responsible for these sensations.
The extract is also used in shampoos.
Although naturalized in most areas of the tropics, Acmella oleracea was not known in the United States until early in this century.
This flowering herb species is a member of the Aster family. It prefers well-drained soil that's high in organic matter. If started outdoors, seeds should be sown after last frost. Avoid exposure to cold weather. Don't bury the seeds since they need direct sunlight in order to germinate.
It's native south of the border
Toothache plant is one of about 30 species of annual and tender perennials in the daisy family that are most likely native to Brazil. The commonly seen flower form without rays has not been found in the wild. The cultivated plant now growing everywhere in tropical regions of the Southern Hemisphere and warmer parts of Asia was probably first introduced to the Indian Ocean Islands centuries ago by Portuguese seamen. Its distribution throughout much of its current range is likely the result of workers scattering the seed during the railroad construction boom at the close of the 19th century.
In temperate regions, toothache plant is a fast growing, warm weather annual that can be grown from seeds or cuttings. It reaches 12-18 inches tall and wide and has simple, opposite leaves with coarsely-toothed margins 2-4 inches long.
It can be grown any time of the year in USDA Hardiness Zones 9-11, and as a warm weather annual in Zones 4-8.
The single flower heads are about the size and shape of an olive. The basal portion is bright yellow and the less mature apical florets are red or maroon, giving blooms the appearance of an eyeball. Flowering continues throughout the growing season.
Toothache plant is an easy annual to grow and produces flowers continuously until first frost. Due to its very distinctive appearance, it will add a lot of interest to a sunny garden. And the flower buds are safe to eat.
But be warned: if you bite into those buds, they will bite back!
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