Plants and their extracts represent an important source of food, chemical and pharmaceutical inputs, being used for centuries. Modern technologies for extraction, purification and analysis of chemically active substances have opened up a wide spectrum of uses, and are increasingly targeted at applications with great specificity.
Jambu or watercress from Pará – Acmella oleracea or Spilanthes oleracea – a plant originating in the North of Brazil, is well known in Brazilian cuisine and consumed as a seasoning in typical regional dishes, including tacacá and duck in tucupi. Its extract is the subject of research in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries due to its anesthetic action, coming from an active called spilanthol.
In popular medicine, its leaves and flowers are used through infusion to treat dyspepsia, malaria, toothache and oral infections. It is also used by riverside communities in fishing, as its anesthetic effect numbs the fish and reduces their mobility, facilitating their capture without the use of nets.
The use of jambu outside the culinary and popular sphere began in the treatment of xerostomia, a health condition known as dry mouth syndrome. Jambu extract has been found to stimulate the salivary glands, providing relief to people suffering from this condition, caused by opioid or radiation treatments, or also affected by metabolic disorders.
Its use as a topical anesthetic (or pre-anesthetic) is known in dentistry, soon expanding to cosmetology, where it is used in lotions or ointments for depilatory procedures or application of tattoos and micropigmentations. Spilanthol works by paralyzing peripheral sensory nerve endings and interrupting the transmission of pain sensitivity between nerve endings (nociceptors) and the brain.
This anesthetic action has been used in some anti-wrinkle dermocosmetic products for the immediate and temporary paralysis of some facial muscles which, prevented from contracting, do not express wrinkles or stretch marks on the skin. For this reason, spilanthol was elevated by the marketing departments of these manufacturers to the informal status of “vegetable botox”, in reference to the botulinum toxin used in aesthetic treatments as a systemic muscle paralyzer.
Still in the cosmetic sphere, jambu extract can be used as an antiseptic or deodorant, to prevent hair loss and even giving the skin a soft touch, in addition to preventing the appearance of spots or freckles.
Interestingly, one of the most popular applications of spilanthol is in the erotic products market, in gels that cause numbness or a tingling sensation in the mucous membranes of the body. Some studies also point out that jambu extract is capable of causing an increase in sexual desire, excitement and satisfaction in individuals of both sexes by increasing the levels of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), and testosterone.
Other studies analyze the application of spilanthol in drugs for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, antimutagenic and anticancer effects. Furthermore, the antiparasitic, insecticidal and larvicidal actions of the jambu extract indicate possible uses in veterinary medicine and agriculture.
Foreign researchers show great interest in this plant and its commercial potential, having registered 15 patents for use in the United States and 34 in Europe.