Growing Herbs: Toothache, Peek-a-boo or Eyeball Plant

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I probably should NOT start out by telling you my kids used to feed the buds of this plant to practically every new (and unsuspecting) visitor that came to our place. The gales of laughter that ensued after watching the victim politely nibble and start to drool was a sure sign someone had been pranked.

spilanthes acmella olereacea flowers

Spilanthes oleracea was the name we knew this plant by for many years, but these days you are liable to see it labelled under it’s newer name Acmella oleracera. In the USA it often goes by the common names Toothache, Peek-a-boo or Eyeball plant.

As its name implies, eating the leaves or buds causes a “buzzing” sensation in your mouth… or in the mouth of the person your children gave it to. Numbness occurs and next comes the drooling. This plant is known as a sialagogue meaning it causes one to start salivating. Big time.

This plant is loads of fun to grow!

Unless you live in the very warmest parts of the country, plan on growing it as an annual. It is easy from seed and grows nicely in my zone 5 garden (and containers) from late Spring into Fall. It does not appreciate frost and if it survives at all you’ll see damage on the leaves as in the photo below.

spilanthes toothache plant cold damaged

Seeds started outdoors after all danger of frost is gone usually do well, but feel free to start them indoors if you like!

Once your plants are growing you’ll see lots of nice green leaves. They often seem to have a reddish or purplish cast to them.

The plants form these little buds.

spilanthes toothache plant

Then more buds form. They start to open looking like weird little eyeballs.  Aren’t they cute?

spilanthes toothache plant flowering and buds

If you let the flowers go, they will enlarge and eventually dry out. Clipping them off at this point will give you plenty of seeds for next year.

spilanthes seeds

You can save the seeds as you would any others.

Heck, since you’re saving seeds, why not make yourself some paper seed packets with our cute pattern?

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