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Flower of the Day – Toothache Plant

Each year I aim to grow something new, be it vegetable, fruit or flower. This year, I grew the toothache plant. Also known as Electric Daisy (Acmella oleracea), toothache plant is a member of the Daisy family (Asteraceae).
 
Toothache plant first caught my attention when James Wong wrote about it in his book, “Grow for Flavor”. In it, he refers to the plant as electric daisies and claims that eating them is “the most unusual edible experiences out there.” Obviously this statement caught my attention and I wanted to know more!

In this post, I discuss the toothache plant, what makes it so unusual and provide tips for growing it.

Flower of the Day - Toothache Plant

Toothache plant in bloom

Traditionally, toothache plant’s leaves and flowers were used to treat toothache, stammering and stomatitis.  Eaten raw, the flowers will induce a numbing sensation or a tingling effect in the mouth. The effect may be different for each person. When my daughter sampled her first flower, she claimed that she tasted citrus, then mint, followed by a mild numbing sensation. 

According to James Wong, “biting into one almost immediately sparks off an electric shocklike sensation on the tip of the tongue, which quickly morphs into a remarkable “fizziness” that moves over the surface of the palate like popping candy” (Wong, 2016). What a gorgeous description! I could envision the experience! His account intrigued me to grow it in my own garden.

When I tried my first flower, the reaction was like nothing I had experienced before! The first effect began at the tip of my tongue. I felt an immediate tingling sensation that spread to the left side of mouth and under my tongue. Probably where the flower migrated in my mouth. It felt as though I had a topical freeze at the dentist. I also had the sensation of tiny tingles, like that from pop rock candy. I couldn’t tell if I liked it or hated it, as the flower caused my mouth to fill with saliva. However, the experience was surprising and exciting! I had never grown anything like this before and as I went through all the sensations, I envisioned dehydrating some flowers, then grinding them with sugar to use as a glass rimmer for cocktails! How much fun would that be on the mouth?

Although this plant was originally used for medicine and can be still used in herbal medicine today, the most common uses are in food and drink preparations. Add the leaves and flowers to dishes as you would spices, to add a zing of flavour. Add a chopped flower to salads, or cook leaves to use in place of stewed vegetables. I’ve even seen flowers mixed into a sorbet to add a fun taste sensation. Check out James Wong’s recipe for “Electric Daisy, Mint & Pineapple Vodka” in his book.

Acmella oleracea originated in Brazil and grows as a perennial in tropical climates.  However, here in my zone 5a garden, it is grown as an annual. 

How to Grow Toothache Plant

Flower of the Day - Toothache Plant

A single toothache flower. Notice the missing petals?

Start seeds at least 6 weeks before the final frost date. Since I found it to be a slow grower, I recommend starting your seeds at least 6 and 8 weeks before the final frost date. Sow two seeds per cell in a seed starting tray.  Once both seeds have germinated per cell, select for the strongest and most uniform seedling and cut out the second just above the soil line.  When seedlings have developed their first set of true leaves, pot them up into 4-inch pots and continue to grow under grow lights or in your brightest window.

Transplant seedlings to the garden after the final frost date and after all risk of frost has passed. Watch the two week weather forecast for any unexpected temperature dips. 

Choose a full sun to partially sunny location and space seedlings at least 1 foot apart, as plants will grow at least 12″ wide and just as tall.

Toothache plant’s flowers are available in two colours – solid yellow or yellow with a red bullseye centre. Petals or ray florets are absent, putting all attention on the disk florets which grow as an elongated cone. 

Harvest leaves and flowers throughout the season. Consider dehydrating flowers and leaves to use over winter.

Hint: Did you know that toothache flowers attract fireflies?

Since I’m not a chef, I probably won’t make anything overly creative with these flowers. However, I’ve enjoyed growing them and the pollinators have been enjoying them too!

If anything, toothache plant makes a fun addition to the garden. Grow it, then have your friends sample it for fun. It will make for a memorable experience and an interesting conversation.

Happy Gardening!

References:

  1. Acmella oleraceae. (2020). Retrieved August 23, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acmella_oleracea.
  2. Wong, James. Grow for Flavor. Buffalo, New York, Firefly Books Ltd, 2016.

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