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Toothbrush tree is a small, evergreen shrub or tree that grows in hot, dry conditions in parts of Africa, the Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula. It is valued as a medicinal plant by local people, since it contains a number of active compounds that promote good health.

Salvadora persica (toothbrush tree)

[FWTA]

Salvadoraceae, Hutchinson and Dalziel. Flora of West Tropical Africa 1:2. 1958

Morphology General Habit
A shrub or small tree, up to 30 ft. high
Morphology Leaves
Leaves glaucous green
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers
Flowers yellowish
Morphology Reproductive morphology Fruits
Fruits red or purplish when ripe.

[FZ]

Salvadoraceae, A. R. Vickery. Flora Zambesiaca 7:1. 1983

Morphology General Habit
Much branched shrubs or small trees to 6 m. high, unarmed.
Morphology Branches
Branches long, often pendulous or semiscandent, glabrous or pubescent.
Morphology Leaves
Leaves subsucculent; blades coriaceous, landeolate to elliptic, occasionally orbicular, 1–3–10 cm. long, 1–2–3 cm. wide, rounded to acute at apex, cuneate to subcordate at base.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers
Flowers small, greenish–white in lateral and terminal panicles up to 10 cm. long.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Corolla
Petals (1)–3 mm. long.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Fruits
Drupes red or dark red purple when ripe.

[FTEA]

Salvadoraceae, B. Verdcourt. Flora of Tropical East Africa. 1968

Morphology General Habit
An evergreen shrub with grey or whitish stems forming tangled thickets, or a small tree, up to 2.7–6 m. tall, glabrous or pubescent.
Morphology Branches
Branches often pendulous, semiscandent, the flowering ones frequently hanging vertically for up to 1 m.
Morphology Leaves
Leaves subsucculent; lamina coriaceous, lanceolate to elliptic, sometimes orbicular, 1.4–10.5 cm. long, 1.2–3(–7.5) cm. wide, rounded to subacute or acute at apex, mucronate, cuneate to subcordate at base; petiole 0.3–1.3(–2) cm. long.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers
Flowers small, greenish-white, in numerous lateral and terminal panicles, up to 10 cm. long, with slender racemose branches.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Fruits
Drupes red or dark purple when ripe.
Figures
Fig. 3, p. 8.

[FSOM]

M. Thulin et al. Flora of Somalia, Vol. 1-4 [updated 2008] https://plants.jstor.org/collection/FLOS

Morphology General Habit
Evergreen shrub with grey or whitish scrambling stems, or a small tree
Morphology Leaves
Leaves pale green or greyish-green, ± fleshy; petiole 3–13(–20) mm long; blade leathery, lanceolate to elliptic or round, 1.4–10.5 x 1.2–7.5 cm, cuneate to subcordate at the base, rounded to acute and sometimes mucronate at the apex
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers
Flowers greenish-white, in numerous axillary and terminal panicles
Morphology Reproductive morphology Fruits
Drupes red or dark purple when ripe, c. 5–7 mm in diam.
Vernacular
Cadey (Somali, plant), rumay (Somali, tooth brush); mustard tree (English).
Note
The species has been divided into a number of varieties, and except for the widespread type variety, three other varieties have been recorded in Somalia. These are no more than extreme forms within a continuous variation

[KSP]

Kew Species Profiles

General Description

Toothbrush tree is a small, evergreen shrub or tree that grows in hot, dry conditions in parts of Africa, the Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula. It is valued as a medicinal plant by local people, since it contains a number of active compounds that promote good health.

As the common name suggests, small stems and roots are used as chewing sticks or natural toothbrushes and have been shown to reduce tooth decay, plaque and gum disease.Although the flowers are small and inconspicuous, the fruits that follow can be eaten or made into a drink, and the seeds are a valuable source of oil.

Species Profile
Geography and distribution

Salvadora persica is native to the Arabian Peninsula, Africa, western Asia, the Middle East, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Although it is drought tolerant, toothbrush tree is often found where there is some ground water. It is also salt tolerant, growing along coasts or on saline soils.

Description

Overview: An evergreen shrub or small tree, reaching up to 7 m tall, with many drooping branches.

Leaves: Rounded to ovate, slightly fleshy, about 7 × 3 cm, arranged in opposite pairs.

Flowers: Small, greenish, arranged in loose panicles up to 30 cm long.

Fruits: Fleshy berries about 1 cm in diameter, becoming red-scarlet when ripe. Each contains a single seed.

Other common names

Other common names for this species include: aarak, arak, arrak, arraka, el rak, kabats, shaow, shau, siwak (Arabic); jhal (Bengali); jhak, kharjal (Hindi); msuake, mswaki, musuake (Swahili); kalawa, karkol, perungoli, ughaiputtai, vivay (Tamil).

Threats and conservation

Although Salvadora persica has a wide distribution and tolerates harsh conditions, it is vulnerable to habitat loss and overgrazing.

Uses Food and drink

Toothbrush tree fruit can be eaten fresh, cooked, dried and stored or made into a fermented drink. The leaves have a bitter, peppery taste and are eaten as a green vegetable or made into a sauce.

Medicine and hygiene

The most widespread use of toothbrush tree is for chewing sticks or natural toothbrushes. Small twigs (around 3-5 mm in diameter) are used and have both physical and anti-microbial action, helping to control plaque and prevent tooth decay.

Roots and stems contain numerous active compounds, including salvadorine and benzylisothiocyanate, which inhibit bacteria that cause tooth decay, and tannins, which reduce plaque and gum disease. Leaves can be made into a mouthwash with similar properties.

Chewing sticks have been used for dental hygiene as far back as the time of the Babylonians (around 7000 BC). Salvadora persica is mentioned in the Qur'an and the Bible (as 'mustard seed' or 'pepper bush'). Today, it is used as a natural toothbrush by millions of people.

Other parts of the toothbrush tree are used to treat a range of ailments, including stomach ache, rheumatism and sores.

Household cleaning products

When pressed, seeds yield oil that is rich in lauric and myristic acids and can replace coconut oil in production of soaps and detergents.

Shelter and land-reclamation

Being tough and resilient to harsh conditions, toothbrush tree is often planted as a windbreak and can be used to improve saline or impoverished soils.

Agriculture

Leaves of Salvadora persica are browsed by cattle, sheep, goats and camels, although they are said to make milk taste bad. The flowers are a useful source of nectar for honeybees.

Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage

The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life worldwide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.

Five collections of Salvadora persica seeds are held in Kew's Millennium Seed Bank based at Wakehurst in West Sussex.

Cultivation

Toothbrush tree is usually harvested from the wild rather than being cultivated. However, it germinates easily from seed once the flesh of the fruit is cleaned away and coppices well.

It tolerates extreme heat (up to about 45 ⁰C) and drought, but production is higher when it has some moisture around the roots.

This species at Kew

Toothbrush tree can be seen growing in Kew'sPalm House, where it is located in the African section (bed 17).

Dried and spirit-preserved specimens of Salvadora persica are held in Kew's Herbarium where they are available to researchers by appointment. The details of some of these specimens, including images, can be seen online in Kew's Herbarium Catalogue.

Specimens of stems, roots, seeds, wood, bark and fruits of toothbrush tree, as well as chewing sticks and toothpaste made from it, are held in Kew's Economic Botany Collection in the Sir Joseph Banks Building, where they are available to researchers by appointment.

Toothpaste made from Salvadora persica is displayed in the Plants+People exhibition, in Kew's Museum No. 1.

Distribution
India, Saudi Arabia
Ecology
Thorny scrub or grassland, along river banks or on seasonal floodplains; also along the coast.
Conservation
Not assessed according to IUCN Red List criteria, but not considered to be threatened.
Hazards

None known.

[FSOM]
Use
The fruits of S. persica are edible and have a pungent taste. Twigs and roots are widely used as tooth brush. E xtracts from S. persica are used also in some tooth pastes in Europe, and the contents of salt and resins are said to have a cleaning effect.

[KSP]
Use
Food and drink, medicine.

Native to:

Algeria, Angola, Botswana, Burkina, Caprivi Strip, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Lebanon-Syria, Libya, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Northern Provinces, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sinai, Socotra, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Introduced into:

Cameroon

English
Toothbrush tree

Salvadora persica L. appears in other Kew resources:

Date Reference Identified As Barcode Type Status
Polhill, R., Kenya 23387.000
Ash [715], Ethiopia 37989.000
Headley, P.M. [178], Ethiopia 6049.063
s.coll. [Cat. no. 1042] K001110836
s.coll. [Cat. no. 1042] K001110835
s.coll. [Cat. no. 1042] K001110834
s.coll. [Cat. no. 1042] K001110837
s.coll. [Cat. no. 1042] K001110833

First published in Sp. Pl.: 122 (1753)

Accepted by

  • Boudet, G., Lebrun, J.P. & Demange, R. (1986). Catalogue des plantes vasculaires du Mali: 1-465. Etudes d'Elevage et de Médecine Vétérinaire des Pays Tropicaux.
  • Boulos, L. (2000). Flora of Egypt 2: 1-352. Al Hadara Publishing, Cairo.
  • Collenette, S. (1999). Wildflowers of Saudi Arabia: 1-799. National commission for wildlife conservation and development (NCWCD), Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
  • Darbyshire, I., Kordofani, M., Farag, I., Candiga, R. & Pickering, H. (eds.) (2015). The Plants of Sudan and South Sudan: 1-400. Kew publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Dobignard, A. & Chatelain, C. (2013). Index synonymique de la flore d'Afrique du nord 5: 1-451. Éditions des conservatoire et jardin botaniques, Genève.
  • Exell, A.W. & Wild, H. (eds.) (1960). Flora Zambesiaca 1(1): 1-336. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Germishuizen, G. & Meyer, N.L. (eds.) (2003). Plants of Southern Africa an annotated checklist Strelitzia 14: 1-1231. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
  • Ghazanfar, S.A. (1992). An Annotated Catalogue of the Vascular Plants of Oman and their Vernacular names Scripta Botanica Belgica 2: 1-153.
  • Hedberg, I. & Edwards, S. (eds.) (1989 publ. 1990). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea 3: 1-659. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia & The Department of Systematic Botany, Upps.
  • Hutchinson, J., Dalziel, J.M. & Keay, R.W.J. (1954-1958). Flora of West Tropical Africa, ed. 2, 1: 1-828.
  • Kalema, J. & Beentje, H. (2012). Conservation checklist of the trees of Uganda: 1-235. Kew Publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Lebrun, J.-P., Audru, J., Gaston, A. & Mosnier, M. (1972). Catalogue des Plantes Vasculaires du Tchad Méridional: 1-289. Institut d' Elevage et de Médecine Vétérinaire des Pays Tropicaux, Maisons Alfort.
  • Lebrun, J.p., Toutain, B., Gaston, A. & Boudet, G. (1991). Catalogue des Plantes Vasculaires du Burkina Faso: 1-341. Institut d' Elevage et de Médecine Vétérinaire des Pays Tropicaux, Maisons Alfort.
  • Mannheimer, C.A. & Curtis, B.A. (eds.) (2009). Le Roux and Müller's field guide to the trees and shrubs of Namibia, rev. ed.: 1-525. Macmillan Education Namibia, Windhoek.
  • Miller, A.G. & Morris, M. (2004). Ethnoflora of Soqotra Archipelago: 1-759. The Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh.
  • Mosti, S., Raffaelli, M. & Tardelli, M. (2012). Contributions to the flora of central-southern Dhofar (Sultanate of Oman) Webbia; Raccolta de Scritti Botanici 67: 65-91.
  • Musselman, L.J. (2011). Checklist of Plants of Lebanon and Syria http://ww2.odu.edu/~lmusselm/plant/lebsyria/Checklist%20of%20Lebanon%20Plants.pdf.
  • Onana, J.M. (2011). The vascular plants of Cameroon a taxonomic checklist with IUCN assessments: 1-195. National herbarium of Cameroon, Yaoundé.
  • Peyre de Fabregues, B. & Lebrun, J.-P. (1976). Catalogue des Plantes Vascularies du Niger: 1-433. Institut d' Elevage et de Médecine Vétérinaire des Pays Tropicaux, Maisons Alfort.
  • Verdcourt, B. (1968). Flora of Tropical East Africa, Salvadoraceae: 1-9.
  • Wood, J.R.I. (1997). A handbook of the Yemen Flora: 1-434. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Literature

Kew Species Profiles

  • Al Sadhan, R. I. & Almas, K. (1999). Miswak (chewing stick): a cultural and scientific heritage. The Saudi Dental Journal 11: 80–88.
  • Ghazanfar, S. A. (2011). Medicinal plants of the Middle East. In: Genetic Resources, Chromosome Engineering and Crop Improvement, ed. Ram J. Singh, pp. 163–180, CRC Press, Florida, USA.
  • Paull, R. E. (2008). Salvadora persica. In: The Encyclopedia of Fruit and Nuts, ed. J. Janick & R. E. Paull, pp. 791–792, CABI International, Wallingford, UK.
  • Sher, H., Al-Yemeni, M. N., Masrahi, Y. S. & Shah, A. H. (2010). Ethnomedicinal and ethnoecological evaluation of Salvadora persica L.: a threatened medicinal plant in Arabian Peninsula. Journal of Medicinal Plants Research 4: 1209–1215.
  • World Agroforestry Centre (2013). Salvadora persica, Agroforestree database.

Flora of West Tropical Africa

  • Aubrév. Fl. For. Soud.-Guin. 352, t. 73, 7.
  • Chev. Bot. 399
  • Sleumer in E. & P. Pflanzenfam. 20B: 238, fig. 74, A & G–J (1942).
  • —F.T.A. 4, 1: 23

Kew Backbone Distributions

  • Audru, J., Cesar, J. & Lebrun, J.-P. (1994). Les Plantes Vasculaires de la République de Djibouti. Flore Illustrée 1: 1-336. CIRAD, Départerment d'Elevage et de Médecine vétérinaire, Djibouti.
  • Boudet, G., Lebrun, J.P. & Demange, R. (1986). Catalogue des plantes vasculaires du Mali: 1-465. Etudes d'Elevage et de Médecine Vétérinaire des Pays Tropicaux.
  • Boulos, L. (2000). Flora of Egypt 2: 1-352. Al Hadara Publishing, Cairo.
  • Collenette, S. (1999). Wildflowers of Saudi Arabia: 1-799. National commission for wildlife conservation and development (NCWCD), Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
  • Darbyshire, I., Kordofani, M., Farag, I., Candiga, R. & Pickering, H. (eds.) (2015). The Plants of Sudan and South Sudan: 1-400. Kew publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Dobignard, A. & Chatelain, C. (2013). Index synonymique de la flore d'Afrique du nord 5: 1-451. Éditions des conservatoire et jardin botaniques, Genève.
  • Exell, A.W. & Wild, H. (eds.) (1960). Flora Zambesiaca 1(1): 1-336. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Germishuizen, G. & Meyer, N.L. (eds.) (2003). Plants of Southern Africa an annotated checklist Strelitzia 14: 1-1231. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
  • Hedberg, I. & Edwards, S. (eds.) (1989 publ. 1990). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea 3: 1-659. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia & The Department of Systematic Botany, Upps.
  • Hutchinson, J., Dalziel, J.M. & Keay, R.W.J. (1954-1958). Flora of West Tropical Africa, ed. 2, 1: 1-828.
  • Kalema, J. & Beentje, H. (2012). Conservation checklist of the trees of Uganda: 1-235. Kew Publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Lebrun, J.p., Toutain, B., Gaston, A. & Boudet, G. (1991). Catalogue des Plantes Vasculaires du Burkina Faso: 1-341. Institut d' Elevage et de Médecine Vétérinaire des Pays Tropicaux, Maisons Alfort.
  • Mannheimer, C.A. & Curtis, B.A. (eds.) (2009). Le Roux and Müller's field guide to the trees and shrubs of Namibia, rev. ed.: 1-525. Macmillan Education Namibia, Windhoek.
  • Miller, A.G. & Morris, M. (2004). Ethnoflora of Soqotra Archipelago: 1-759. The Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh.
  • Mosti, S., Raffaelli, M. & Tardelli, M. (2012). Contributions to the flora of central-southern Dhofar (Sultanate of Oman) Webbia; Raccolta de Scritti Botanici 67: 65-91.
  • Musselman, L.J. (2011). Checklist of Plants of Lebanon and Syria http://ww2.odu.edu/~lmusselm/plant/lebsyria/Checklist%20of%20Lebanon%20Plants.pdf.
  • Onana, J.M. (2011). The vascular plants of Cameroon a taxonomic checklist with IUCN assessments: 1-195. National herbarium of Cameroon, Yaoundé.
  • Peyre de Fabregues, B. & Lebrun, J.-P. (1976). Catalogue des Plantes Vascularies du Niger: 1-433. Institut d' Elevage et de Médecine Vétérinaire des Pays Tropicaux, Maisons Alfort.
  • Quézel, P. (1958). Mission Botanique au Tibesti: 1-357. Université d'Alger.
  • Verdcourt, B. (1968). Flora of Tropical East Africa, Salvadoraceae: 1-9.
  • Wood, J.R.I. (1997). A handbook of the Yemen Flora: 1-434. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Flora of Somalia

  • Flora Somalia, Vol 2, (1999) Author: by Abdi M. Dahir [updated by M. Thulin 2008]
  • Verdcourt in Kew Bull. 19: 147–154 (1964).

Flora of Tropical East Africa

  • Bak. in Flora of Tropical Africa 4(1): 23 (1902).
  • Cufod., Enumeratio Plantarum Aethiopiae Spermatophyta (Supplement in Bull. Jard. Bot. Brux.) p. 487 (1958).
  • Dale & Greenway, Kenya Trees and Shrubs p. 496(1961).
  • Engl., Die Vegetation Der Erde, IX, Pflanzenwelt Afrikas 3(2): 250, fig. 122/A, G–J (1921).
  • F. W. Andr., The Flowering Plants of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan 2: 287, fig. 103 (1952).
  • F. White, Forest Flora of Northern Rhodesia p. 221(1962).
  • Hutch., Fam. Fl. Pl. 1: 237, fig. 180 (1926)
  • Hutch., Fam. Fl. Pl., ed. 2, 1: 313, fig. 171 (1959).
  • J.P.M. Brenan, Check-lists of the Forest Trees and Shrubs of the British Empire no. 5, part II, Tanganyika Territory p. 547 (1949).
  • Keay in Flora of West Tropical Africa, ed. 2, 1: 644(1958).
  • L., Sp. Pl.: 122 (1753).
  • Sleumer in A. Engler & K. Prantl, Die Natürlichen Pflanzenfamilien, ed. 2, 20B: 238, fig. 74/A, G-J (1942).
  • Verde, in Kew Bulletin 19: 147 (1964).
  • W.J. Eggeling, Indigenous Trees of the Uganda Protectorate, ed. 2: 371 (1952).

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Flora Zambesiaca
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Flora of Somalia
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Flora of Tropical East Africa
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Kew Backbone Distributions
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Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone
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