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Paracress (Spilanthes acmella Murr. and Spilanthes oleracea L.)


金鈕扣 [jīn chǒu kòu], 六神草 [liù shén cǎo]
Jin chou kou, Liu shen cao
DutchHuzarenknoop, Paratuinkers, Braziliaanse cresson, ABC kruid
EnglishToothache plant, Brazil cress, Para cress
EstonianHarilik nööpkakar
FinnishParakrassi, Spilantes
FrenchCresson de Para, Spilanthe des potagers; Brèdes mafanes, Brède mafana (Madagascar)
GermanParakresse, Husarenknopfblume, Prickelknöpfchen, Prickelblume
HungarianAbécefű, Szenyefű, Huszárgomb
Japaneseキバナオランダセンニチ, オランダセンニチ
Kibana-oranda-senniti, Oranda-senniti
LithuanianSpilantė, Indienų kresonas
MalayPokok Jotang
Manipuri (Meitei-Lon)লৈশাবী
Naga (Ao)Tefu mozitang (Changki dialect)
Nepaliलाटो घांस, मारती, भुइँ टिमुर, अकर
Lato ghans, Marati, Purpure jhar, Bhuin timur, Akar
PortugueseAgrião do Brasil, Agrião do Pará, Pimenteira; Jambú, Jambú do rio (Brazil)
Russian Спилантес, Масляный кресс, Кресс бразильский
Spilantes, Maslyanyj kress, Kress brazilski
SwedishTandvärksplanta, Parakrasse
Thaiผักคราดหัวแหวน, ผักคราด, ผักเผ็ด, ผักตุ้มหู, หญ้าตุ้มหู
Phakkhraathuahaewan, Phak khrat hua hewan, Phak krat, Phak phet, Phak tumhu, Ya tumhu
VietnameseCúc áo, Cúc nút áo, Núc áo rau
Cuc ao, Cuc nut ao, Nuc ao rau

Spilanthes acmella/oleracea: Para-Cress flower and leaves
Spilanthes uliginosa: Wild paracress flowers with ray florets
Wild forms of paracress (here Sp. uliginosa) usually have a few ray florets in their flower heads

Al­though termed cress, this plant has little in common with the culinary cresses.

Used plant part

Leaves and parti­cularly the flowers, which should better be termed flower heads. The herb is, in any case, best used fresh.

Plant family

Asteraceae (daisy family).

Sensory quality

Paracress has no particular odour, but when eaten it has an interesting flavour that slowly develops from pleasant and salty to a strong, tickling-burning pungency that leaves back a numb feeling in the mouth. Biting into a flower head of paracress is an adventure long remembered!

Organoleptically, paracress reminds of several other spices, mainly Sichuan pepper, but also water pepper and Tasmanian pepper, but it is rather different from the true cresses and the better known pungent spices such as pepper or chile. See also negro pepper about pungent and hot spices.

Spilanthes oleracea: Flowering Toothache plant
Paracress flowers

Spilanthes oleracea: Paracress inflorescence
Paracress flower. Cultivated like this one forms typically have only disk florets.
Main constitu­ents

The pungent flavour of paracress is due to an un­saturated alkamid, spilanthol, which reaches its highest concen­tration (1%) in the flowers; addi­tionally, other pungent alkamides (isobutyl­amides of hendeca-2E,7Z,9E-trienoic acid and hendeca-2E-en-8,10-diynoic acid). In other work there are reports of C9 poly­unsaturated alkamides. These compounds are chemically and physiologically related to the sanshools found in Sichuan pepper. (Chem. Express, 7, 153, 1992), (Bioscience, Biotechnology and Biochemistry, 56, 795, 1992), (Phytochemistry, 51, 729, 1999)

Besides the alk­amides, pungent non­volatile sesqui­terpenoids have been found, e. g., polygo­dial and eudesman­olide II. The former is the dominant con­stituent of two other pungent spices, water pepper and Tasmanian pepper. (Chem. Express, 6, 993, 1991) From the flowers of paracress, traces of an essential oil were isolated, whose main constituents were limonene, β-caryophyllene, Z-β-ocimene, γ-cadinen, thymol, germacrene D and myrcene. (J. Essent. Oil Res., 3, 369, 1991), (J. Essent. Oil Res., 5, 693, 1993)


Both types of paracress stem from South America; they are native to tropical Brazil.

Spilanthes oleracea: Paracress (Toothache plant)
Paracress flowers
Spilanthes acmella/oleracea: Flower head of para-cress
Paracress flower head

Paracress is names after the Brazil province Pará. BTW, the same is true for the paranut or Brazil nut (Bertholletia excelsa, Lecythidaceae/Theales/Dilleniidae). See cress on the derivation of cress.

The genus name Spilanthes means stained flower, from Greek spiloma [σπίλωμα] stain and anthos [ἄνθος] flower; the reference is to the dark pollen which stains the bright petals. The species name oleracea goes back to Latin holus, a leaf vegetable, and alludes to the edible leaves; acmella, I think, is motivated by the sharp pungency: Greek akme [ἀκμή] point, peak, related to Latin acer acute, sharp (Proto-Indo–European root H₂EḰ pointed).

Names like Swedish tandvärksplanta or synonymous English toothache plant refer to the anaesthetic action of the alkamid constituents of paracress; chewing a paracress flower head is effective to damp toothache, at least for a while. For similar reasons, a North American tree closely related to Sichuan pepper is also known as toothache tree.

Selected Links

Sorting Acmella names ( Sorting Spilanthes names ( Sorting Blainvillea names ( Receita: Pato no Tucupi ( Receita: Pato no Tucupi ( Recipe: Pato no Tucupi ( Receita: Tacacá ( Receita: Tacacá ( Ricetta: Tacacá ( Recette: Romazava (Madascar beef stew) ( Recette: Romazava (Malagasy beef stew) ( Commercial source for Sechuan Buttons (

Spilanthes acmella/oleracea: Para cress plant
Paracress plant
Paracress has nothing in common with real cresses except the name; in its culinary properties, paracress stands far apart. The volatile isothio­cyanates of cresses produce a quickly developing pungency in the mouth that will extent to the nose and will also fade quickly; the pungency of paracress, on the other hand, develops slowly and is confined to the mouth, where first a tickling sensation is felt that may lead, over time, to a numb feeling. The flavour is more resistant to boiling than the flavour of true cress; yet after prolonged cooking, the leaves become rather mild and can be eaten as a vegetable.

Culinary use of paracress is today almost restricted to tropical Brazil, particularly the provinces Acre, Amazonas, Pará and Ceará, where the herb is much used in the cooking styles of the indigenous peoples. There, the starch-containing tubers of manioc are eaten as a staple, and since that vegetable has a quite bland taste, it is often flavoured with potent spices. For this purpose, paracress is often used; the leaves are used fresh, added as a whole and eaten as an additional source of vitamins (and flavour).

Spilanthes oleracea/acmella: Paracress plant with flowers
Flowering paracress

Duck first fried and then stewed in manioc juice flavoured with garlic (tucupí) is a popular food in all Amazonian provinces (pato no tucupí). Another recipe from the region is tacacá, a soup thickened with manioc juice that contains dried shrimps and sometimes fresh water fish; it is eaten in many variants in Pará and the rest of North-Western Brazil. Both dishes are flavoured with garlic and paracress leaves, sometimes also hot chiles. Simultaneous usage of two pungent spices (chile and paracress) gives a unique taste that cannot easily be described; it is somewhat comparable to the use of Sichuan pepper in hot Chinese Sichuan cookery.

Outside of Brazil, paracress is little known and little used as a food. There are records of a related species being grown in South East Asia, where the boiled leaves are used as a vegetable; but fresh leaves also have some flavouring use, for example in Western Jawanese cooking, where they complement hot sambal (see chile).

Since the pungency of paracress is wholly distinct to the heat of both black pepper and chiles, it is an interesting alternative that should be tried by innovative cooks; it can be used together with other pungent spices, or alone. I found that it performs well instead of pepper in European foods, to which it lends an unconventional, tickling and yet subtle pungency.

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