The Unconventional Beauty of the Toothache Plant

Are you tired of the same old petunias and marigolds gracing your garden every summer? It’s time to shake things up and introduce the toothache plant! This peculiar and enchanting beauty goes by many names: electric daisy, buzz buttons, eyeball plant, Sichuan buttons, jambu, and paracress. With its captivating appearance and unique medicinal properties, the toothache plant is a remarkable addition to any garden. In this article, we will explore the fascinating world of this annual herb and provide you with tips on successfully growing it.

Meet the Toothache Plant

Let’s dive into the realm of the toothache plant, also known by its scientific name, Spilanthes acmella (syn. Acmella oleracea). The name “toothache plant” stems from the presence of spilanthol, a natural anesthetic found in its attractive golden flowers with a red center. When these flowers are chewed, they produce a buzzing sensation and numbness, making it an effective remedy for toothaches and gum infections. This unique trait also gives rise to its other common names, buzz buttons, and electric daisy. For generations, the toothache plant has been treasured for its potent local anesthetic properties.

As you observe the round, two-toned blooms of the toothache plant, it is easy to see why it is also known as the eyeball plant. While modern gardeners typically cultivate it as an annual, in warm climates without freezing temperatures, it can thrive as a perennial. Native to South America, this member of the Asteraceae family has journeyed across the globe, becoming a popular ornamental and medicinal plant. In tropical regions, it has even naturalized. When fully grown, the toothache plant reaches a compact height and width of 12 to 18 inches, boasting thick, dark green leaves with serrated margins.

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Where to Grow the Toothache Plant

You’ll find that growing the toothache plant is a breeze. Most plants available in North America are acquired from nurseries, either as seeds or cuttings. If you’re looking for varieties with larger flowers or striking coloration, seek out “Lemon Drops” with its all-yellow blooms or “Bullseye” with its bold, bi-colored flowers.

Select a sunny spot that receives at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight daily for your toothache plant. Inadequate sun exposure might result in leggy growth and reduced flowering. Optimal soil conditions include moisture and organic-rich composition. However, don’t fret if you’re limited to container gardening. Toothache plants thrive in containers filled with a mixture of potting soil and compost, too.

Planting Tips for Buzz Buttons

While toothache plant transplants are commonly available, you can also start growing them from seeds. As warm weather enthusiasts, toothache plant seeds should be sown indoors about four weeks before the last expected spring frost. These seeds require light for germination, so avoid covering them with soil; simply scatter them on the surface. Germination typically occurs within 7 to 14 days. When the seedlings are around three weeks old, transfer them to larger pots. Once the temperatures warm up, harden them off and transplant them into your garden.

Caring for the Eyeball Plant

Toothache plants are intolerant of frost, so it’s crucial to wait until the danger has passed before planting them outdoors. Allow for a two-week buffer after the expected last frost date in your region. When planting, gently loosen any roots that might be circling within the pot before settling the plant into the prepared hole. Adequate watering during the establishment phase and dry spells is essential. Fertilize every two to three weeks using diluted fish emulsion or liquid organic fertilizer to enhance bloom production. Alternatively, you can use an organic granular fertilizer at the beginning of the growing season, followed by another application in late June. Deadheading, the removal of spent flowers, is imperative to ensure continuous blooming and the development of fresh foliage throughout the summer.

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How to Take Cuttings of the Toothache Plant

Would you like to propagate more toothache plants? Fear not, it’s a straightforward process. Snip off a 6- to 8-inch-long section of the stem, leaving only the top two leaves intact. Dip the cut end into rooting hormone and insert it into a pot filled with sterile potting soil. Keep the cutting well-watered, and before you know it, new roots will emerge, giving life to a new plant. It truly is a super easy way to expand your toothache plant collection.

Medicinal Wonders of the Toothache Plant

Originally cultivated for its medicinal properties, the toothache plant now primarily graces North American gardens as an ornamental. However, this shouldn’t deter you from experiencing the “buzz” of this remarkable plant. By placing a flower in your mouth and gently chewing it, you activate its medicinal compounds. These compounds are then absorbed through your gums, lips, and tongue, triggering a salivary gland response that produces a buzzing sensation and acts as a natural analgesic. The toothache plant has been reported to alleviate canker sores, sore throats, gastric ulcers, and even ringworm infections. However, it is crucial to consult with your doctor before relying solely on the toothache plant for these treatments.

Beyond its medicinal uses, the toothache plant can also add a unique flavor to your culinary endeavors. Both the cooked and raw leaves can be used to enhance the taste of soups, salads, and various dishes. The leaves impart a warm, spicy sensation in your mouth, which eventually leads to tingling and numbness. It may feel peculiar, but rest assured, it’s perfectly safe. Interestingly, toothache plant leaves are a common ingredient in a popular Brazilian soup.

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Intrigued by this oddball plant? Give the toothache plant a chance in your garden, and watch it become a conversation starter. With its vibrant blooms, culinary potential, and captivating buzz, it’s an exceptional addition to any green space.

For more unique plants to diversify your garden, visit the Ames Farm Center.

How to grow the toothache plant in a home garden