1. Family: Salvadoraceae Lindl.
    1. Genus: Salvadora Garcin ex L.
      1. Salvadora persica L.

        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.

    [FWTA]

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

    Habit
    A shrub or small tree, up to 30 ft. high
    Leaves
    Leaves glaucous green
    Flowers
    Flowers yellowish
    Fruits
    Fruits red or purplish when ripe.
    [FZ]

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

    Habit
    Much branched shrubs or small trees to 6 m. high, unarmed.
    Branches
    Branches long, often pendulous or semiscandent, glabrous or pubescent.
    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.
    Flowers
    Flowers small, greenish–white in lateral and terminal panicles up to 10 cm. long.
    Corolla
    Petals (1)–3 mm. long.
    Fruits
    Drupes red or dark red purple when ripe.
    [FTEA]

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

    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.
    Branches
    Branches often pendulous, semiscandent, the flowering ones frequently hanging vertically for up to 1 m.
    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.
    Flowers
    Flowers small, greenish-white, in numerous lateral and terminal panicles, up to 10 cm. long, with slender racemose branches.
    Fruits
    Drupes red or dark purple when ripe.
    Figures
    Fig. 3, p. 8.
    [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.

    [KSP]
    Use
    Food and drink, medicine.

    Images

    Distribution

    Native to:

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

    Introduced into:

    Cameroon

    Common Names

    English
    Toothbrush tree

    Salvadora persica L. appears in other Kew resources:

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

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

    Accepted by

    • 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.
    • 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.
    • Kalema, J. & Beentje, H. (2012). Conservation checklist of the trees of Uganda: 1-235. Kew Publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
    • Onana, J.M. (2011). The vascular plants of Cameroon a taxonomic checklist with IUCN assessments: 1-195. National herbarium of Cameroon, Yaoundé.
    • 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.
    • Germishuizen, G. & Meyer, N.L. (eds.) (2003). Plants of Southern Africa an annotated checklist Strelitzia 14: 1-1231. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
    • 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.
    • Wood, J.R.I. (1997). A handbook of the Yemen Flora: 1-434. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
    • Ghazanfar, S.A. (1992). An Annotated Catalogue of the Vascular Plants of Oman and their Vernacular names Scripta Botanica Belgica 2: 1-153.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • Verdcourt, B. (1968). Flora of Tropical East Africa, Salvadoraceae: 1-9.
    • Exell, A.W. & Wild, H. (eds.) (1960). Flora Zambesiaca 1(1): 1-336. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
    • Hutchinson, J., Dalziel, J.M. & Keay, R.W.J. (1954-1958). Flora of West Tropical Africa, ed. 2, 1: 1-828.

    Literature

    Kew Species Profiles
    • World Agroforestry Centre (2013). Salvadora persica, Agroforestree database.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • Al Sadhan, R. I. & Almas, K. (1999). Miswak (chewing stick): a cultural and scientific heritage. The Saudi Dental Journal 11: 80–88.
    Flora of West Tropical Africa
    • Aubrév. Fl. For. Soud.-Guin. 352, t. 73, 7.
    • Sleumer in E. & P. Pflanzenfam. 20B: 238, fig. 74, A & G–J (1942).
    • Chev. Bot. 399
    • —F.T.A. 4, 1: 23
    Kew Backbone Distributions
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • Kalema, J. & Beentje, H. (2012). Conservation checklist of the trees of Uganda: 1-235. Kew Publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
    • Onana, J.M. (2011). The vascular plants of Cameroon a taxonomic checklist with IUCN assessments: 1-195. National herbarium of Cameroon, Yaoundé.
    • 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.
    • Germishuizen, G. & Meyer, N.L. (eds.) (2003). Plants of Southern Africa an annotated checklist Strelitzia 14: 1-1231. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
    • 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.
    • Wood, J.R.I. (1997). A handbook of the Yemen Flora: 1-434. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • Exell, A.W. & Wild, H. (eds.) (1960). Flora Zambesiaca 1(1): 1-336. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
    • Quézel, P. (1958). Mission Botanique au Tibesti: 1-357. Université d'Alger.
    • Hutchinson, J., Dalziel, J.M. & Keay, R.W.J. (1954-1958). Flora of West Tropical Africa, ed. 2, 1: 1-828.
    Flora of Tropical East Africa
    • Verde, in Kew Bulletin 19: 147 (1964).
    • F. White, Forest Flora of Northern Rhodesia p. 221(1962).
    • Dale & Greenway, Kenya Trees and Shrubs p. 496(1961).
    • Hutch., Fam. Fl. Pl., ed. 2, 1: 313, fig. 171 (1959).
    • Cufod., Enumeratio Plantarum Aethiopiae Spermatophyta (Supplement in Bull. Jard. Bot. Brux.) p. 487 (1958).
    • Keay in Flora of West Tropical Africa, ed. 2, 1: 644(1958).
    • F. W. Andr., The Flowering Plants of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan 2: 287, fig. 103 (1952).
    • W.J. Eggeling, Indigenous Trees of the Uganda Protectorate, ed. 2: 371 (1952).
    • 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).
    • Sleumer in A. Engler & K. Prantl, Die Natürlichen Pflanzenfamilien, ed. 2, 20B: 238, fig. 74/A, G-J (1942).
    • Hutch., Fam. Fl. Pl. 1: 237, fig. 180 (1926)
    • Engl., Die Vegetation Der Erde, IX, Pflanzenwelt Afrikas 3(2): 250, fig. 122/A, G–J (1921).
    • Bak. in Flora of Tropical Africa 4(1): 23 (1902).
    • L., Sp. Pl.: 122 (1753).

    Sources

    Art and Illustrations in Digifolia
    Digital Image © Board of Trustees, RBG Kew

    Flora Zambesiaca
    Flora Zambesiaca
    http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0

    Flora of Tropical East Africa
    Flora of Tropical East Africa
    http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0

    Flora of West Tropical Africa
    Flora of West Tropical Africa
    http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0

    Herbarium Catalogue Specimens
    'The Herbarium Catalogue, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Published on the Internet http://www.kew.org/herbcat [accessed on Day Month Year]'. Please enter the date on which you consulted the system.
    Digital Image © Board of Trustees, RBG Kew http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

    Kew Backbone Distributions
    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2019. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/
    © Copyright 2017 World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

    Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone
    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2019. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/
    © Copyright 2017 International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

    Kew Species Profiles
    Kew Species Profiles
    http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0