Szechuan Buttons or Toothache Plant – Rock Star of the Garden
Szechuan Buttons – Secret Ingredient of Celebrity Chefs and Master Bartenders
One of our best selling herbs is the Toothache Plant or Szechuan Buttons. Spilanthes oleracea, also known as Acmella oleracea is a low-growing plant with bronze-purple leaves hosting yellow/red “gumdrop” flowers that bloom repeatedly summer through fall. The medicinal uses of spilanthes have been around for a long time. A mouth rinse of spilanthes extract can be used daily to promote gum health. In vitro testing has shown that the plant’s extract has strong effect against E.coli, pseudomonas, salmonella, klebsiella pneumonae and staphylococcus albus, as well as inhibiting the growth of candida albicans. Improves digestion, eases flatulence, improves the appetite, and helps to overcome nausea and vomiting by its stimulating effect on the salivary glands.
We don’t sell spilanthes soleley for its medicinal properties but also for its “Rock Star” qualities. NPR has a story about using the Szechuan Buttons in high-end restaurants and bars. The Washington Post did one as well. We were very intrigued and had to grow these amazing little plants last summer to see for ourselves, had a nibble of the traditionally used leaves and it makes your mouth tingle. It is like the old pop rocks candy, a very effervescent feeling. The fresh buttons sell for somewhere around $40 for a bag of 30 buttons, but if you grow them yourself it’s around $3.50 for a packet of 30 seeds, and you’ll grow hundreds of buttons! Freezing does not hurt their buzz, so you can have them year round.
We also had to try out the buttons on a cocktail. What follows is a short photo essay of this experience. We would highly recommend growing the plant for its rock star presence but also for the beauty it adds to the garden.
Starting with this –
We selected three great specimens.
With the ingredients gathered, we were ready to start.
After the drink is made, the magic is ready to be put into play! The Buttons must be pressed into the rim of the glass firmly, as the bud needs to be slightly crushed to release the “Buzz”.
We were surprised at the strength of the tingle and how long it lasted. Any part of our mouths or tongues that touched the rim of the glass had an immediately noticeable tingling or buzzing feeling, along with some numbness of the tongue that lasted at least 20 minutes. The height of the effect easily lasted 10-12 minutes, with a slow tapering off toward the end.
Seeing how easy it is to grow these, you can be the producer of a lot of “Buzz”!
Now they make a spilanthes alcohol called Tingala! It tastes amazing and has a strong tingling flavor.
Very interesting! They seem to have created the name “Tingflowers” just like Koppert Kress and Marx Foods named them “Szechuan Buttons”. Marketing in action!
I tried these in Las Vegas at a bar and they blew my mind!
I’m back home in Australia now and couldn’t find them anywhere! I’ve ordered some of the seeds from you now so hopefully I’ll have success growing them down under! If they are a success I’ll be coming back for more!
Just one thing, and sorry if I’ve missed it in an earlier comment but roughly how long do they take from seed to edible button?
Ross, it depends on the soil temperature, but generally a spring planting will give lots of buds beginning in mid-summer. Once they start producing, they are very prolific, but you can freeze the buttons for later use. Please let us know how they turn out!
I’ve had these before on a chocolate truffle about 3 years ago!! Funnest candy ever! I love it, but the little berry was so mysterious. I just stumbled up this while googling for “rare and unique(unusual herbs)
I’m going to read up on care and hopefully start growing some soon. This will be so much fun! I
can’t wait to introduce people I know to this. Not many people I know have tried it.
So glad I found this.
Good to hear, Ash! Let us know how they grow for you.
What is the ideal region for growing these plants? Could they do well in RIchmond, VA?
Yes, they should do fine in VA. We have customers all across the country growing these for restaurants, bars, and now even a few sushi bars!
Do you have any tips for someone who wants to grow these? I kill almost every plant I touch, but having tried these at a food show some years ago I was very excited to purchase the seeds. I live in southern California so our weather is good, but it will be in a pot due to lack of a garden.
Jessica, they are very easy to grow and grow very well in containers. Warm soil and some consistent moisture to get them started is needed. You can also read my article Starting Seeds at Home – a Deeper Look for a seed’s eye view of the germination process!
What fun! My largest buttons are about a week from maturity. I took two plants to my son in NY and they’re thriving. They treated me to Phantom of the Opera on Broadway – my 2 best plants are named Raoul and Christine. Question: should they be refrigerated, and how long will they last without freezing them? Thanks again, Marti
Marti, I don’t have any knowledge or experience with freezing the buttons as they are normally used fresh. If you do freeze them, please let us know how it turns out! They are best harvested fresh and used within a few days for the best “effects”. Glad to hear you are enjoying them!
Hello, some info on our experience with freezing the buttons, FYI. We bought your seeds last summer and the few plants that we were able to keep alive until full maturity starting making lots of buttons, but fall and winter were coming so we planted two of them in pots and brought them into the garage for the winter, with a florescent light on a timer. They did fine and kept producing, so we started freezing buttons since we had so many and I didn’t want to let them all go to seed. They are now back outside and still producing (though tend to dry out a lot more in the sun and wind so we have to keep up the regular watering).
So last week we did a taste test side by side:  ate buttons cut directly from plant in the garden–super spicy and tingly lasting for minutes (we hold the stem and bud and try to bite off just the flower part);  took out buttons from jar in the freezer with date of a few months ago and let them come to room temperature for a few minutes, then ate–noticeably less strong but still some kick; 3) took out frozen button dated around 8 months ago when we first started freezing them–very mild, hardly any kick at all (the way I prefer them, but then again I’m wimpy with strong stuff :)
So freezing length definitely affects the strength of the “kick.” They also lose some color and look a bit more bland and floppy, as would be expected.
Thanks for this update Lauren!
Seed packet received in 2 days. Had some questions because I’m a first time seed grower-Steven very gracious with his time and knowledge. All seeds germinated, most in 5 days (packet suggested 10-12). Very excited:more details in a month when plants are larger. Marti
Thanks Marti! Please let us know how they grow for you, and what special dishes or drinks you use them in!
Awesome little plant! Yummy too!
Thanks, Nick! They have a completely unexpected effect don’t they?
Thanks so much for the seeds, wish I had a picture to send, they really pop. I love everything about these plants.
Thanks Jeffery! We are continually amazed at the strength that these little buds have and how long the effect lasts.
Another reason for spring to hurry up and get here. Can’t wait to grow some of these. Love the newsletter keep up the good work !
Hello Vince! Let us know what you think when you taste these!
Thanks for the encouragement, we appreciate it.