Spilanthes, aka Toothache Plant or Buzz Button Plant, is an often overlooked powerhouse, one that doesn’t make it into many modern mainstream herbal books and lists, yet one that deserves a lot of attention in modern practice. This overlooked herb has long-documented painkilling or analgesic properties that often take center stage in modern herbal remedies for not just tooth, mouth, and gum ailments. Spilanthes is antimicrobial (antibacterial and antifungal), too. That makes Spilanthes a powerful herb for first aid and helping us manage symptoms while we address bigger, more chronic underlying conditions both internally and externally.
Walking along an Brazilian trail, you may well encounter Spilanthes in it’s native habitat. To find it, you’ll no doubt be strolling through a tropical area, where frost never reaches. Spilanthes is native not only to the South American continent but also to India and Africa. In all areas, native healers long ago learned to apply this member of the Aster family to external wounds to help ease pain and prevent infection. It’s also been used internally for tooth and mouth related ailments as well as to soothe sore throats, ease internal pain, and fend off a variety of parasites and infections.
Which Spilanthes Species to Use
If you’ve ever done a search on Spilanthese, you’ll notice there seem to be three primary species herbalists rely on, S. acmella, S. oleracea, and Acmella oleracea and there seems to be a bit of confusion on the native land where each grows. Thanks to botany’s ever-evolving understanding of the plant realms, the medicinal Spilanthes plant we herbalists most often grow and use has picked up three names. That’s right, Spilanthes is Spilanthes, whether you call it S. acmella, S. oleracea, or Acmella oleracea. Spilanthes acmella oleracea, or whichever version of that name you like best, happens to be native to South America, but native traditions from India and Africa teach us that their native Spilanthes are equally potent medicine. From a practical perspective, it makes sense to use the Spilanthes that grows in your area, if you are graced with this plant in your environment. If not, then choose the Spilanthes variety to which you have easiest access.
According to Jeff Carpenter and Melanie Carpenter, the whole Spilanthes plant is medicinal but the highest concentration of herbal medicine resides in the buds. Spilanthes flowers fairly quickly, so long as you’ve got good light. In my indoor aeroponic garden Spilanthes has put even the quickest bolting basils to shame with it’s speedy bud-formation and blooming. If you’re growing your own outside, you can pick blossoms every few days just as you do with Calendula, then at the end of the season you could take one final whole-plant harvest just before Jack Frost blankets your garden.
Spilanthes is a light-dependent germinator, which means you’ll want to sprinkle the seeds at the soil’s surface and ensure they have plenty of light as they germinate and grow. This plant is most comfortable with long, sunny days and warm to temperate nights, but will oblige cool-climate gardens with a bloom-filled season if you start it indoors before the last frosts have passed. It’s especially tender to frosty conditions, so folks living in sub-tropical and chillier climates are unlikely to worry about Spilanthes taking over the garden bed.
Spilanthes as Herbal Medicine
Spilantes is effective as both a fresh and dried herb. Many herbalists like to make tinctures and extracts from the fresh aerial parts. You can dry some for use in teas and decoctions, as well. It’s high in water content when fresh, so plan on a 1:2 herb to liquid ratio of you’re using fresh plant material. Native folks use Spilantes in salads, according to Henriette Kress. The flavor of Spilanthes is mild at first, like a fresh green you might pick in spring. Then, the sharp sensation sometimes described as a tingling sensation begins. That’s the first sign that Spilanthes is a good digestive – it’ll get your mouth watering and will prod even the most stubborn salivary glands into action with just one leaf. Like Cayenne, Spilanthes is a perfect advocate for the power of herbal remedies and herbal actions; there’s no denying that Spilanthes has an effect on the body!
Herbal Nerd Society Members…Look for more articles on Spilanthes as Herbal Medicine this month.