The Electric Daisy: Yes, It Makes Your Mouth Feel Like its Being Electrocuted.
Binomial Etymology — Acmella oleracea
Acm- is “a point;” -ella is “small;” oler- refers to the plant being a vegetable and -acea is a generic plant name ending(Borror, 1960).
Binomial Pronunciation — Ack-mell-ah Ol-er-Aye-cee-ah
USDA Status — An exotic garden plant.
Family — Asteraceae
Family Characteristics — Plants in the Asteraceae family have composite flowers, meaning, what appears to be one flower will be composed of hundreds of smaller flowers.
Acmella oleracea is an attractive/edible ornamental plant from the Pará state of northern Brazil that keeps a bizarre secret. If you munch on a fresh leaf, your mouth is met with a mild buzzing sensation akin to putting a near-dead 9-volt battery to your tongue, but if you chew on a fresh flower, things turn out much differently.
When you chew on a flower, you’ll not immediately notice any apparent effect. You start to doubt the power of this plant, and then… AND THEN… a strange numbing electric buzz introduces itself. You may say, “I think I feel something.” By the time these words leave your mouth, you’ll realize that something is obviously going on. Your eyes begin to water and saliva starts flooding your mouth as it becomes harder and harder to talk without sounding like your trying not to vomit. Your mouth turns into a chamber of sizzling electricity. You may be asked, “hey, are you alright(?)” by a guy named Phil in a hallway as you continuously swallow with glassy red eyes and a look of latent distress on your face. You can almost hear Philip decide you are drunk as you grunt sounds at him and quickly access a restroom. There you are spit a half-cup of suddenly manufactured saliva into the sink. The intensity of the experience crescendos for about 10 minutes before it starts to diminish, slowly. In all, this freakishly entertaining ordeal lasts for about fifteen minutes. Let me put the somewhat-alarming power of this experience in a different way:
If you were captured by lunatics who forced you to eat unknown plants, you’d consume this flower and think “yep, I am going to die shortly.”
In fact, Acmella oleracea is not poisonous. It is a widely used cooked green in the Brazilian Amazon and unlike most medicinal plants, the toothache plant seems more widely studied and esteemed as a source of therapeutic compounds by scientists and chemists than herbalists. So whether you are looking for an attractive medicinal plant for your garden, a local anesthetic to releive your toothache pain, an ingredient for an exotic cocktail, or a hilarious prank to play on your siblings… Acmella oleracea is your pal.
With regard to its use in fighting toothaches, a widely marketed remedy called “Paraguay Roux,” was peddled in the 19th century. The active ingredient of this tincture was, of course, Acmella oleracea (Spach, 1848).
After some curious digging, I realized that somebody apparently spilled the nuggets on this “medicine” in the late 19th century because the recipe for Paraguay Roux started popping up all over the world in several different languages. All featured the same ingredients in the same ratios and a professed enthusiasm for its effectiveness. Having tried electric daisy flowers on many occasions, I am confidently assuming that this tincture — made with fresh flowers — should produce a powerful effect.
Combine and macerate:
4 parts of electric daisy flowers, 1 part pellitory root (Anacyclus pyrethrum), 1 part Italian elecampane leaves and flowers (Inula bifrons).
Place macerated vegetation in 8 parts ethanol or a strong/clear liquor like Everclear.
Let stand for 14 days.
Filter out vegetation and put it in a dropper.
Apply to toothaches by first drying the teeth, and applying the tincture with a cotton ball.
When used fresh, the leaves and flowers produce a taste and tingling sensation in the mouth that marries two logically unrelated experiences: the taste of fresh spinach and that famously metallic 9-volt-battery flavor (you know it). This pseudo-electric effect is often utilized to create interesting coctails either by making an infusion of the fresh flowers, running the fresh flowers around the rim of the glass, or both.
The cooked leaves, called jambu, are of great use in Brazilian cuisine. I have included a recipe for Arroz de Jambu (Jambu Rice) and a fancy-pantsy cocktail in the “Recipe Challenges” section below.
The Asháninka communities of Peru utilize this plant as a remedy for diarrhea (Luziatelli, Sørensen, & Mølgaard, 2007).
Rural Brazilians use Acmella oleracea as a natural cough suppressant (Lozano et al., 2014), and for the relief of stomatitis, colds, and pain (Nascimento et al., 2013).
Traditional healers in Thailand use this plant to treat toothaches (Maneenoon et al., 2015). This use can be understood when the flowers of the plant are chewed.
People from the Philippines utilized the roots as a purgative and an infusion of the plant to treat psoriasis and itching. Further, the plant was used to dissolve bladder stones and treat ulcers. The bruised leaves were used topically to aid in healing wounds (Tavera, 1901).
In the early 19th century, the French used to make a syrup of the flowers that would be given to children as a cough suppressant (Descourtilz, 1829).
The chemical, Rhamnogalacturonan, contained within the plant shows very promising healing activities in the treatment and prevention of ulcers (Maria-Ferreira et al., 2014).
The native Asháninka peoples of Peru use Acmella oleracea as a wash to cure two supernatural conditions (chacho de cerro & chacho de agua) that are reported to present with physical symptoms: body pain, fever and vomiting. Chacho de cerro is caused by wandering in a forest when the forest itself forbids trespass, and chacho de agua is caused by malevolent spirits that reside in the rivers from which water is gathered (Luziatelli, Sørensen, & Mølgaard, 2007).
This is a plant that numbs your mouth producing a small flood of saliva along with a feeling of being subjected to a low-level current of electricity.
By Kevin Healey
For More Unusual Plants Used For Food and Medicine Visit
Borror, D. J. (1960). Dictionary of Word Roots and Combining Forms (1st ed.). Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company.
Luziatelli, G., Sørensen, M., Theilade, I., & Mølgaard, P. (2010). Asháninka medicinal plants: a case study from the native community of Bajo Quimiriki, Junín, Peru. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, 6(1), 21. doi:10.1186/1746–4269–6–21
Lozano, A., Araújo, E., Medeiros, M., & Albuquerque, U. (2014). The apparency hypothesis applied to a local pharmacopoeia in the Brazilian northeast. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, 10(1), 2. doi:10.1186/1746–4269–10–2
Maneenoon, K., Khuniad, C., Teanuan, Y., Saedan, N., Prom-In, S., Rukleng, N., . . . Wongwiwat, W. (2015). Ethnomedicinal plants used by traditional healers in Phatthalung Province, Peninsular Thailand. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, 11(1). doi:10.1186/s13002–015–0031–5
Maria-Ferreira, D., da Silva, L. M., Mendes, D. B., Cabrini, D. A., Nascimento, A. M., Iacomini, M., & … Baggio, C. H. (2014). Rhamnogalacturonan from Acmella oleracea (L.) R.K. Jansen: Gastroprotective and Ulcer Healing Properties in Rats. Plos ONE, 9(1), 1–11. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0084762
Nascimento, A. M., Souza, L. M., Baggio, C. H., Werner, M. F., Maria-Ferreira, D., Silva, L. M., . . . Cipriani, T. R. (2013). Gastroprotective effect and structure of a rhamnogalacturonan from Acmella oleracea. Phytochemistry, 85, 137–142. doi:10.1016/j.phytochem.2012.08.024
Pardo de Tavera, T. H. 1857–1925. (1901). The medicinal plants of the Philippines. Philadelphia: P. Blakiston’s son & co..
Descourtilz, M. E. b. 1775. (1829). Flore médicale des Antilles, ou Traité des plantes usuelles des colonies françaises, anglaises, espagnoles et portugaises … Paris: Pichard [etc.].
Spach, Édouard. (1848). Histoire naturelle des végétaux: Phanérogames. Paris: Librairie encyclopédique de Roret.