Szechuan Button, Acmella oleracea, a herb growing wild in many countries like a weed, is a lively addition to any garden salad.
Photo: Australian Gardener
It gets its name partly from its flower, a bright yellow bulb, and partly from its taste, which causes a tingling in the mouth similar to the peppers of Szechuan (or Sichuan) Province in western China. Some describe it as peppery, others say it is like a 9-volt battery.
However, the effect is not lingering, as with real peppers, chilli, and similar hot spices. It is more like a sudden shock to the mouth, fading into numbness. This is caused by a substance called Spilanthol, a natural alkaloid in the plant, activating the salivary glands.
The buttons are not eaten by themselves, but can be mixed with other foods, or even drinks, to enhance the flavour. It is said to be a good garnish for shellfish.
It has many other names, like Spilanthes, buzz button, electric daisy, and toothache plant. The last name comes from another effect of the alkaloid Spilanthol, a painkiller and antioxidant. The button has been used in Asia, South America, and North Africa to treat toothache and stomachache.
The button is not common in Australian dining, but it is an easy plant to grow, and seeds are available from Beautanicals in Queensland.
According to Australian Gardener, it grows well in full sun if watered regularly, and rarely grows higher than 25cm.