Toothbrush tree - Mustard tree
Toothbrush tree - Mustard tree - Salvadora persica
Salvadora persica or the toothbrush tree is a small evergreen tree,
belongs to the family Salvadoracea, native to the Middle east, Africa and India. Its sticks are traditionally used as a natural toothbrush called miswak and are mentioned by the World Health Organization for oral hygiene use.
Other names include arak, jhak, pīlu, and mustard tree.
The genus was named by the French botanist Laurent Garcin in 1749 after a Spanish apothecary, Juan Salvador y Bosca. The type specimen was collected in Persia, hence the species name persica.
Salvadora persica is a small tree or shrub with a crooked trunk, typically 6–7 metres (20–23 ft) in height.
The short bole branches freely from low down. Its bark is scabrous and cracked, whitish with pendulous extremities. The root bark of the tree is similar in colour to sand, and the inner surfaces are an even lighter shade of brown. It has a pleasant fragrance, of cress or mustard, as well as a warm and pungent taste.
Leaves are somewhat fleshy, glaucous, 3.8–6.3 by 2–3.2 cm in size, elliptic lanceolate or ovate, obtuse, and often mucronate at the apex, the base is usually acute, less commonly rounded, main nerves are in 5–6 pairs, and the petioles 1.3–2.2 cm long and glabrous.
The leaves break with a fine crisp crackle when trodden on.
The plant has small, bell-shaped. The flowers are greenish yellow in color, in axillary and terminal compound lax panicles 5–12.5 cm long, numerous in the upper axils, pedicels 1.5–3 mm long, bracts beneath the pedicels, ovate and very caducous. Calyx is 1.25 mm long, glabrous, cleft half-way down, lobes rounded. Corolla is very thin, 3 mm long, deeply cleft, persistent, lobes are 2.5 mm long, oblong, obtuse, and much reflexed. Stamens are shorter than corolla, but exserted, owing to the corolla lobes being reflexed.
Flowers followed by aromatic fruits. The tree produces small red edible fruits, juicy but pungent, in clusters. Drupe is 3 mm in diameter, globose, smooth and becomes red when ripe.
The plant is native to the Middle East and Africa, and is found on desert floodplains, riverbanks, and grassy savannahs. It has high tolerance for salty soils and can tolerate as little as 200 millimetres (7.9 in) or less of mean annual rainfall, but it prefers ready access to groundwater.
It is widely distributed in the drier parts of India, Baluchistan, and Ceylon and in the dry regions of West Asia and Egypt.
A very useful, multipurpose tree, usually harvested from the wild, and providing food, medicines and various commodities for the local populace. The seeds are rich in volatile mustard oils and it is believed that this is the plant referred to in the Biblical parable of the mustard seed. The tree is possibly planted in shelter-belts and more recently it has been cultivated in Africa for toothpaste ingredients. It is often grown as an ornamental in the tropics.
Salvadora persica stick, known as miswak, is popular for teeth cleaning throughout the Arabian Peninsula, Iranian Plateau, as well as the wider Muslim world.
Toothbrushes made from roots and small branches of about 3-5 mm diameter have been used for over 1000 years, especially by Islamic populations in India, Arabia and Africa. Several agents occurring in the bark and wood have been suggested as aids in prevention of dental caries [cavities], such as antimicrobial agents that suppress bacterial growth and the formation of plaque.
The fresh leaves can be eaten as part of a salad and are used in traditional medicine.
The leaves are eaten as a vegetable in the eastern tropical Africa and are used in the preparation of a sauce, and tender shoots and leaves are eaten as salad. Leaves are bitter in taste, corrective, deobstruent, astringent to the bowels, tonic to the liver, diuretic, analgesic, anthelmintic, useful in ozoena and other nose troubles, piles, scabies, leukoderma, lessening inflammation, and strengthening the teeth. Leaves are pungent and are considered in Punjab as an antidote to poison of all sorts and in south of Bombay as an external application in rheumatism. The juice of the leaves is also used in scurvy.
The flowers are small and fragrant and are used as a stimulant and are mildly purgative.
Fruits are edible. With a sweet, agreeable, aromatic, slightly pungent and peppery taste. The aromatic fruits can be eaten raw, dried like currants, made into a drink or used as a substitute for mustard seeds. The strongly flavoured, juicy, pink to purple fruits are about 10mm across and contain a single seed. A fermented drink is reported to be made from the fruits. Fruits possess deobstruent, carminative, diuretic, lithontriptic, and stomachic properties and are used in biliousness and rheumatism. In Sind, it is believed that fruits have a good effect on snake bite.
The seeds are tonic.The seed oil is applied to the skin to relieve rheumatism.
The seeds are harvested when ripe and can be used fresh or dried.
The wood promotes healing. The bark of the root is acrid and vesicant. A latex obtained from the bark is used for treating sores.
The bark and wood is harvested as required, then dried and powdered for later use.
Root bark is used as a vesicant and is employed as an ingredient of snuff. A paste of the roots is applied as a substitute for mustard plaster and their decoction is used against gonorrhea and vesical catarrh. A decoction of the bark is used as a tonic in amenorrhea and the dose of the decoction is half a teacupful twice daily and as a stimulant in low fevers and as an emmenagogue.
Stem bark is used as an ascarifuge and also in gastric troubles.
The wood of the Salvadora persica can be used for charcoal and firewood. It is not used for cooking since it can taint the food with a foul taste.
The white wood is soft, not liable to attacks by termites and is easy to work. It has various uses, including for making coffins and clubs.
In Namibia, the mustard bush is used as drought-resistant fodder for cattle.