Last Friday I served as local helper for visiting researchers at the American Bamboo Society’s Annual Meeting. Although not a Bamboo, the topic of Toothache Grass came up with interest, and lodged in my thoughts this week. Ctenium aromaticum is one twisted species that shows how so much ties together oddly in the world of nature.
Don’t say I suggested this, but if you bite Toothache Grass, it numbs the mouth dramatically. Effects like that do not go unnoticed, and the responsible chemistry is interesting. The grass contains at least three poor man’s anesthetics: pellitorine, dodecadienamide, and isoaffinin. (Not need to pronounce them, which would be impossible after biting the Ctenium.) A term for these odd substances is “tingle molecules,” which are of interest in the flavoring and toiletry industries. Want an underarm deodorant or scalp shampoo that feels zippy like it really works? Put in a tingle molecule!
Pellitorine has long served in traditional medicine, but not in today’s grass, which actually has no proven dental history, but rather Mt. Atlas Daisy (Anacyclus pyrethrum), a pretty Composite distributed around the Mediterranean cradle of civilization. In addition to uses against toothache (really), that ancient medicine plant is reputed to cure low T (in mice), enhance male performance (in people), counter bacteria, bug bugs, and more. Different plants, different continents, same drug, same presumed use—dental analgesic.
Dodecadienamide and isoaffinin have a more local toothache connection, in species of Zanthoxylum, often called “toothache trees.” We’ve numbed our brain with these in this blog previously: CLICK
This stuff gets serious. My son Martin is a Chemical Engineer and U.S. Patent Examiner. With his inspiration I occasionally take an interest in industrial plant-chemistry patents. A 2013 patent involves processes for manufacturing commercial tingle molecules “to impart flavor and/or a tingling and/or warming sensations in the oral cavity and on skin when used in foodstuffs, chewing gum, oral care products, hair care products, colognes, topical cosmetic products or medicinal products.” The patent application mentions and illustrates isoaffinin in their preliminary discussion of the relevant chemistry.
Worldwide there are almost 20 species of Ctenium, in Africa as well as in the New World. Some of the African species are beautiful with long feathery inflorescences, and serve for thatching and making beehives. Maybe if the dog bites or the bee stings, a little dab of Ctenium and then it won’t feel so bad. Also in Africa the livestock do not enjoy tingling tonsils, so an abundance of Ctenium indicates overgrazed pasture in addition to thatching time.