Would you like to cultivate unique species in your garden that serve dual functions? Do you have toothaches and pains? Fungus infections? Are you in need of enhancing your digestion or immunity? Or are maybe just curious about plants that can serve these purposes?
This probably sounds like an advertisement — but if you answered yes to any of the above questions, I have just the plant for you. Spilanthes!
Spilanthes, also known by the common names of eyeball plant, toothache plant, or buzz buttons, is an herbaceous plant that is originally native to the tropics but has since been cultivated throughout the world. The common names for this species are reflective of its characteristics (when it is flowering, it can resemble an eyeball). Likewise, this plant has a unique property that makes your mouth go numb and buzz when the flower buds are chewed.
Spilanthes Uses and Benefits
Historically, spilanthes was used to help cure pains associated with toothaches. It was as simple as plucking a fresh flower off the plant, chewing it up, and BAM! The toothache was cured. Originally, spilanthes was primarily used for this purpose, but as time went on, it was discovered that spilanthes had additional healing properties.
Here are some of the many healing properties spilanthes contatins.
Both help to kill microorganisms, prevent their growth and reproduction. Microorganisms are typically responsible for sicknesses and general feelings of unwellness.
In case you didn’t know (and I didn’t) antioxidants are substances that protect cells against free radicals, which can influence the development of diseases and cancer. Free radical molecules are produced when your body breaks down unhealthy food or when exposed to tobacco smoke or radiation.
Spilanthes helps inhibit inflammatory responses by inhibiting signaling pathways in the brain that produce swelling.
When chewed, spilanthes release a local anesthetic effect that causes numbing. This occurs due to spilanthol, which is the plant’s main active ingredient, hence the name. Spilanthes also contains flavonoids which help reduce prostaglandins which can interfere with your perception of pain.
In addition to the above list, spilanthes is also antibacterial, antifungal, antiparasitic, and immune-boosting.
With these new discoveries, the following uses had positive results.
- Maintain oral health
- Decrease oral and throat pain
- Support digestion
- Fungus and ringworm infection treatment
- Combat skin aging
- Increase urine output and water intake
- Decrease swelling
- Improve lung function
- Improve wound healing
- Prevent infections, viruses, and diseases
For most uses, the plant is orally ingested. However, some make topical compresses or mixtures and incorporate into a bath instead. As with most plant medicines, these documented properties and uses have not been approved or recommended by the CDC but try it out for yourself, and you’ll quickly find out how powerful this plant is.
Why Try Spilanthes?
If the list of “pros and pros” didn’t pique your curiosity for this plant, maybe the story of my first exposure will.
I was visiting a friend on a small organic homestead in rural New York. She pointed out a small herbaceous plant with yellow, cone-shaped flower heads. She picked 3 or 4 of the flowers, popped them in her mouth, and started chewing them, all while ecstatically exclaiming to me that this plant was named spilanthes and was a powerful antibacterial.
I followed her lead, and started chewing up one flower head myself. The next thing I knew, my mouth was profusely watering, buzzing with an odd sensation, and going numb. She didn’t tell me about this side effect, and I was beginning to panic, thinking I was having an allergic reaction — and a severe one at that! Panic-stricken, I told her what was happening, and she laughed hysterically, said it was totally normal — and part of the reason she loved it so much.
Truly though, it’s very good for you. I worked on a farm months later that cultivated spilanthes and ate a flower head or two every time I was around them. I felt it truly helped improve my health.
Do make sure that you are not allergic and do it responsibly!
How Do You Identify Spilanthes?
This plant has opposite triangle/diamond-shaped leaves with mildly serrated edges. They grow on green stalks that turn slightly red with maturity. The identifying characteristic of this plant is the flower heads, which when young, resemble yellow daisies. With age, the flower head develops into an inch-long olive shape. The top of the flower head often is the only part that isn’t yellow — with a circle shape that’s darker red and gives it the appearance of an eye.
How Can You Grow and Harvest Spilanthes for Yourself?
Growing this lovely plant is pretty easy, as its general needs are full to partial sun, cultivated about 10 to 12 inches apart, with moderately moist soil. Overly moist soil will create poor development and stem rot issues, so this is something to keep in mind.
I have personally seen this plant grow from rural New York to southern Florida — so it is capable of existing in a wide variety of climates, but it will do best in a warmer environment, and flower in the heat.
Spilanthes is not particularly picky about the soil type either. This is an easy and fun medicinal herb to cultivate. If you want to purchase seeds, you may be able to find them in your local do-it/grow-it yourself outdoor shops, but this isn’t guaranteed. You may have better luck ordering online, and here is a link where you can do so.
Harvesting spilanthes is straightforward as well. It’s as simple as snapping off the flower head with clean fingers or harvesting tools. A little stem included is fine and won’t hurt to ingest. You can eat it fresh, or you may leave it out in a clean area for a few days, occasionally turning the flower heads to dry them.
I dried a bundle nearly a year ago, and it keeps quite well if stored in a clean, dry place. The effect seems about the same with numbing and buzzing in your mouth. Though, I do notice fresh flower heads seem to be more potent.
There are also ways to make oil out of them, but we won’t be going into that here. You can order spilanthes oil online, and here is where you can find it.