Yesterday, I got to ride out to some local farms with the CSA where I help out, and I learned about a very interesting herb: spilanthes.
While picking up some arugula we were chatting with Justin — one of the farmers that runs Serenbe Farms just outside of Atlanta — and I idly munched on a piece of arugula that had fallen out of its bag. It was super spicy, and Justin laughed and asked if I wanted to try something that would really make my mouth tingle. Get your mind out of the gutter, people! Justin was talking about spilanthes, an Australian medicinal herb that he’s been growing at Serenbe for around seven years.
If you’ve never had spilanthes, be prepared for a surprise! Even after a pretty accurate description, the electric sensation from chewing on the spilanthes berry was pretty intense. My mouth felt numb and tingly, and it made me drool a little. Not too sexy, but definitely interesting!
From what Justin told me, folks eat either the berries (which sort of look like stunted, dark strawberries) or the greens on the spilanthes plant, and after a while you get used to the reaction. He compared it to eating spicy food – your mouth just acclimates over time. He started eating just one berry a day, and now he eats around seven each day. He also said that he didn’t want to jinx it, but he hasn’t gotten sick since he started eating spilanthes regularly.
Spilanthes: Medicinal Herb
Spilanthes has antimicrobial, antiviral, and antiparasitic properties. Here’s what the folks at Garden Medicinals have to say about it:
As a sialagogue it stimulates the flow of saliva, tonifies the gums, enhances immune function in the mouth and acts as an oral antiseptic reducing swelling, decay, and mouth sores caused by viruses. Has immune-enhancing components checmically similar to Echinancea species. Spilanthes is prophylactic and possibly curative for blood parasites such as malaria, and possibly useful for treating infections due to spirochetes. Its anti-fungal properites are reported useful for treating athlete’s foot and ringworm.
Of course, if you have any type of infection that you’re too worried about, you should still visit your doctor. Justin’s experience gives me the impression that it could work as a good preventative if you’re prone to illness or infection. Its numbing properties make it good for dulling topical pain, and some folks even call it “The Toothache Herb.”
You can grow spilanthes in the ground or in containers, and it likes full sun, though it can handle a little bit of shade. You’ll want to space your spilanthes plants about 12″ apart.
This plant requires plenty of water, and if you’re growing from seed it’s a good idea to sprout indoors in a sunny window and then move them outside once the seedlings are a week or two old. You can continually harvest the flowers and the leaves, just don’t pick the plant bare! For more deets on growing spilanthes, check out the growing instructions at Seedaholic.
Have any of you guys eaten or grown spilanthes? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments! After my first taste yesterday, I’m kind of fascinated!