Up and down the roadsides, along fence rows of pastures and farms, and in the woodlands of the southern United States grows the toothache tree. It is a small tree or large shrub with beneficial medicinal properties.
Especially for those who suffer from toothache pain and have no immediate access to modern dental care and can’t visit the Dentist In New York for example, as may occur in a survival situation. Although it prefers the dry soils of open areas, the toothache tree can be frequently seen in the forested regions of warmer climates of the world, including Mexico, Central and South America, and Africa.
A member of the genus Zanthoxylum, the toothache tree is well known by many common names: prickly ash, tickle tongue, pepper bark, Hercules club, rabbit gum and aceitillo.
The deciduous tree may grow up to 18 feet tall and has a loose crown of glossy, pale green pinnately compound leaves. The leaves give off an easy to identify peppery smell when crushed. In the spring, dense clusters of tiny, fragrant greenish-yellow flowers cover the branch tips and in the fall, pea-size, pitted black fruits dot its bare branches.
The smooth bark of stems and trunk are liberally coated with corky warts tipped with sharp, slightly curved thorns. A clear, watery sap will ooze from cuts in the bark.
It is the simple “taste” test that quickly determines the toothache tree’s amazing property from that of its neighbors. If a marble-sized portion of the inner bark, leaves, flowers, or fruits is chewed, an intense numbness or tingling sensation to the tongue and lip is instantly felt. No other tree has this unique ability.
Chemical components of the toothache tree
A comprehensive phytochemical analysis has exposed its secrets. All parts of the aromatic tree (roots. sap, bark, leaves, flowers, and fruits) contain the following compounds: Zanthoxylum, coumarin, sesamin, and various minor resinoids. A very pungent resin,. Zanthoxylum has a complex chemical structure and properties similar to the commercial product benzocaine.
Coumarin and sesamin are toxic glycosides with documented pain reducing abilities. Coumarin is found largely in the leaves, and in concentration can destroy the cloning mechanism in human blood. Hence, only measured amounts of the tree should be utilized in the treatment of toothache pain to prevent accidental ingestion and unpleasant poison reactions.
For the relief of toothache pain, gather a fresh leaf and roll it into a tube. Moisten the tube-leaf with salvia and crush thoroughly between your fingers to form a paste. Insert the paste directly onto the affected tooth and hold in place against gum and inner cheek until the agonizing pain diminishes in its intensity.
A copious amount of saliva is secreted due to the paste’s chemical properties and must be spat out, as swallowing may lead to vomiting and gastrointestinal irritation. In winter, use fruit or bark to make the paste.
Pain relief may last for a few minutes to several hours depending upon the location in the mouth of the decayed or injured tooth, the condition of the tooth and its surrounding gum, the physical state of the individual’s health, and his variable tolerance to pain.
An abscessed tooth is a localized infection and has complications that may block the paste’s ability to relieve pain. For better results, treat the infection and the accompanying symptoms first before applying the paste to the sore tooth.
Another hazard to consider is the consumption of alcohol while using the paste. An old timer’s remedy for treating toothache, it is not recommended in the treatment of any dental complaint or with any kind of oral medication. Ingested alcohol causes counter effects and may accelerate the toxicity of the medicine.
Other medical uses for the toothache tree
The toothache tree has a broad spectrum of medical usage beyond dental ailments.
The sap applied locally relieves surface pain, and in the tropics has seen use as a topical anesthetic in the jungle surgery of knife or machete injuries, gun-shot wounds, the setting of broken bones, and in snake bite treatment.
A wet paste made of bark powder and warm water is antibiotic in nature and is painted onto sores, ulcers, infected tick bites, cancer and tumors. An inner bark tea has a double value as a wound antiseptic and for a soothing wash on skin irritations or swellings. To gain relief from the misery of diarrhea, drink a few cups of dilute bark or fruit tea every four hours or as needed.
Research into the anti-germ or anti-microbial abilities of plants helps in understanding how they work, which germs they affect, and how best to apply them outside the laboratory. An antimicrobial study of the toothache tree reveals it to be an important viable source in the search for new antibiotic tools to combat infectious diseases.
In cultured media, an ethanol extract of the bark markedly reduced the population levels of gram positive and gram negative staining bacteria, yeast, and mycobacteria. All are representatives of the worst scourges afflicting mankind today, such as pneumonia plague, influenza, typhoid, tuberculosis, dysentery, septicemia (blood-poisoning). etc.
The bark extract made into a purified pharmaceutical drug exhibits definite anticholinergic properties and has shown great results in the battle against cholera.
Related article: The Most Powerful Antiseptics You Can Make At Home
The toothache tree has many lesser known uses valuable to the survivalist. Its flowers, leaves and immature fruits are a food source. The intense heat of cooking dispels their toxic principles, but even so, they are mainly limited to the role of culinary preparation or as food flavoring.
Young leaves added to meat dishes or stews made of wild game tames the tangy, offensive taste some animals exude while cooking, and makes the meal more palatable.
Powdered fruits or bark are excellent substitutes for black pepper, and in many areas of the tree’s range of distribution, the local inhabitants utilize it solely for that purpose. A specially processed extract of the fruits has economic possibilities as a preservative of perishable foods and in the preparation of leather products for wear in tropical climes.
Using toothache parts as an insecticide and other useful tips
In the home garden, a dilute extract of the sap in combination with pyrethrum becomes a powerful natural insecticide for use against aphids, mites, and parasitic insects that prey upon succulent food plants.
A yellow dye made by boiling the roots has dual uses, as an herbicide to control the growth of undesired weeds and as a nematocide to kill destructive root-parasitizing nematodes.
Bark tea sprayed on fences and borders enclosing the garden or orchard helps to deter the activities of rabbits and other foraging animals. The hunter who bathes or rinses his hair with the dilute bark tea before the hunt will improve his ability to stalk game without easy detection.
Wire snares, metal traps, footwear and clothing soaked in a tube filled with bark tea increases the trapper’s skills to bag more fur-bearing animals. The tea acts as an agent to neutralize or mask our human scent. It is man’s smell that creates wariness and fear among wild animals.
A thick slurry of fresh pulverized bark and water is a highly effective fish poison. Two gallons of slurry stirred into a shallow pond or into little ponds of intermittent creeks stuns all the fish within a 20-foot radius. Ideally, the water temperature should be 60 degrees F and above, and the depth less than four feet to allow the poison to diffuse equally.
Using this method, the fish are easily netted or speared, and large amounts of animal protein can be gathered for the table. To the aqua farmer, it is a means of acquiring replacement stock or food for his game fish, as most of the stunned fish will revive once in a fresh habitat.
Other uses for the toothache tree
The toothache tree’s trunk is too warped for commercial lumbering and its brittle wood useless to the large-scale woodworking industries. Nevertheless, it is still found in the labor-intensive economies practiced in Latin America as a fuel, for farm implements and in the manufacture of furniture or minor household items.
Insect resistance appears to be a major characteristic of the tree as termites do not readily attack the deadwood unless it has been sufficiently weathered. Its dried leaves and wood chips burn with a strong, pleasing odor and find use in the manufacture of incense or to make gentle smudges to repel flies, mosquitoes, and flying Insects from home.
The fresh wood is very fire resistant and requires an igniter fuel to assist in its combustion. Charcoal made from the toothache tree burns with an intense flame and high temperature and finds use in metallurgy.
Honey bees have been known to fly great distances to visit the tree’s sweet flowers. The flowers are considered to be a good bee food by the honey production trade. Many nectar-feeding insects, hummingbirds, moths, and rare butterflies have been observed in the flowers. The African honey bee or killer bee as it is popularly known has been recorded at its flower clusters in Central and South America.
Ripe fruits are eaten by field mice, wild turkey, quail, and various songbirds. They remain on the tree well into winter and are the favorite food of many types of migrating birds. Their preference for the fruits helps to explain why the toothache tree is so numerous along fence rows and road-sides of the South.
Related article: Top Ten Trees For Survival And Wilderness Living
The sharp, thorny branches and trunks are utilized by many nesting birds as protective barriers against predatory snakes and mammals. A species of stinging wood ant found in the tropics makes its home in the corky warts of the bark. They are very aggressive and will swarm out to attack any intruder that disturbs the tree. The ants add further protection for the roosting birds, their nurseries, and the birds seem to be unharmed by the ants.
The webworm or tent caterpillar, the larval stage of the eastern moth, is the only insect that feeds extensively upon the foliage of the toothache tree. In the spring and summer months, they make their tent colonies in the leaves and hundreds of hungry caterpillars begin their feeding activities. Their voracious appetites may partially strip the tree of its leaves giving it a peculiar denuded appearance.
Field tests suggesting the web worm’s utility as survival aid were conducted and the following observations were established:
1. The caterpillar’s diet of the peppery leaves made them unsavory to hungry chickens.
2. They are a fish attractant, as crushing and scattering the caterpillars’ pulp onto the surface of a fish pond stimulated a feeding frenzy among schools of small panfish
3. The individual caterpillars are excellent live lures for bait fishing.
In Latin America and in Africa, the toothache tree is sometimes planted in ornamental gardens or in landscapes by city planners. Away from the cities, small plot farmers transplant the tree to form living fences and corrals to enclose and protect their meager livestock. The tree is seldom foraged upon by farm animals except for an exploratory nibble.
Precautions when using the toothache tree
When harvesting material from the toothache tree, always wear heavy-duty gloves and protective clothing. Special care must be taken to avoid its sharp, claw-like thorns or deep lacerations may result. Experience has proven how difficult these heal even with the aid of antibiotic ointments.
The actual handling of the wood or contact with the sap or the leaves may cause painful dermatitis or a burning skin rash among persons who are allergy prone.
To be safe, do your own sensitivity test. Rub a leaf or a piece of inner bark onto the underside of a wrist where the skin is thin and very sensitive to chemical irritants. Look at the patch after 24 hours to note its condition. If you should discover yourself to be a dermatitis sufferer, limit your usage to the milder fruits.
Intimate knowledge of the functional uses of the plants that surround us in our daily lives is a major step towards becoming self-reliant. The more we know, the greater our confidence to be able to face adversity and win. The future becomes brighter as we venture out to meet its challenges.
A closing word
The toothache tree with its many uses is a valuable addition to the abundant survival aids nature has provided us. It is a source of immediate pain relief and is readily attainable to the outdoorsman and the survivalist where it grows.
It should be used with caution, however, as it is a crude drug with toxic side effects. If abused or too much dependency is placed upon its pain reducing properties, addiction may occur. To protect yourself from an overdose, take only one leaf at a time on a set time scale.
There is no substitute for qualified dental and professional care of pains, injuries and infections. The toothache tree’s medicinal abilities should be utilized only as a temporary aid until professional treatment can be acquired.