Spilanthes (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Spilanthes Jacquin

Protologue: Enum. Syst. Pl. Carib. 8: 28 (1760).
Family: Compositae
Chromosome number: x= unknown

Major species and synonyms

  • Spilanthes iabadicensis A.H. Moore, Proc. Amer. Acad. Arts & Sci. 42: 542 (1907), synonym: S. acmella auct., non (L.) Murr.
  • Spilanthes paniculata Wall. ex DC., Prodr. 5: 625 (1836), synonyms: S. pseudo-acmella auct., non (L.) Murr., S. acmella auct., non (L.) Murr.

Vernacular names

  • Indonesia: jotang, jocong, daun getang
  • Malaysia: getang, kerabu
  • Philippines: biri (Igorot), dilag-dilag (Ifugao), gatang-gatang (Sulu)
  • Laos: kh'aad
  • Thailand: phakkhrat (central), phakphet (northern), phaktumhu (peninsular)
  • Vietnam: cúc nút áo, cúc áo.

Origin and geographic distribution

The genus Spilanthes comprises about 75 species, mainly in Central and South America. Approximately five species have been reported from South-East Asia, but their identification has been subject to much confusion, making many literature sources hard to interpret. Spilanthes iabadicensis and S. paniculata seem to be the major sources of edible leaves. Both species occur in South America but are also common weeds in the whole of South-East Asia, including Papua New Guinea.


Young leaves and flower heads are eaten, the taste being rather pungent. The flower heads in particular strongly promote salivation. The leaves are eaten raw as well as boiled in Thailand and Indonesia. In Sundanese restaurants in West Java, young Spilanthes leaves are usually served raw with other fresh vegetables together with a chilli sauce ("sambal").

Several medicinal applications have been ascribed to Spilanthes acmella auct., non (L.) Murr. (referring variably to S. iabadicensis, S. paniculata, and even to other species such as the real para cress, S. oleracea L.). The most important application is the use of the flowerheads as a local anaesthetic, often applied to ease toothache.

Production and international trade

Spilanthes greens are market vegetables in Thailand and Indonesia. They are gathered from naturally occurring stands, and traded and consumed locally.


Per 100 g edible portion Spilanthes has been reported to contain: water 89-93 g, protein 2 g, fat 0.3 g, carbohydrates 3-7 g, Ca 162 mg, P 41 mg, Fe 4.0 mg, vitamin A 3900 IU, vitamin B1 0.03 g, vitamin C 20 mg. The energy value is 96-134 kJ/100 g.

The anaesthetic properties of Spilanthes species are due to an essential oil which contains spilanthol.


  • Annual or short-lived perennial herbs, erect or prostrate at the base and rooting at the nodes, upwards often strongly branched.
  • Leaves opposite, simple, mostly dentate.
  • Flower heads radiate or discoid, terminal or axillary from the upper leaves, usually solitary, erect.
  • Fruit a small, dry, hard, 1-seeded achene.

S. iabadicensis.

  • Annual herb, 20-100 cm tall, erect or creeping.
  • Stem angular, below the nodes with rather coarse, white, appressed hairs.
  • Leaf-blade elliptical to ovate-elliptical, 1-10 cm × 0.5-6 cm, 3-nerved, chartaceous; base cuneate or contracted, margin subentire, undulate or undulate-dentate, apex acute or obtuse, apical margin slightly dentate-serrate; petiole 0.5-2 cm long.
  • Flower heads radiate, elongate-ovoid, 5-6 mm × 7-11 mm; peduncle increasing in length after flowering, 1-12 cm long, angular, thickened apically; involucral bracts 5-7, in one row.
  • Ray flowers usually 5 in one row, female; corolla white or bright yellow, 2-2.5 mm long.
  • Disk flowers numerous, bisexual; corolla bright yellow, 1.3-1.5 mm long, 4-5-lobed; anther tube not exserted, brown; ovary compressed, style with 2 short arms.
  • Achene ellipsoid, 1-1.5 mm long, truncate, black, with 2 remote, erect, thin, very short pappus bristles.

S. paniculata.

  • Differs from S. iabadicensis mainly in the following aspects.
  • Leaf-blade broadly ovate to ovate-triangular, 1-12 cm × 0.5-7 cm.
  • Involucral bracts 8-14, in 2 rows.
  • Peduncle up to 16 cm long.
  • Flower heads radiate or conical, 10-15 mm × 8-11 mm.
  • Ray flowers (0-)5(-12).
  • Achene 2-3 mm long.
  • A form with two-coloured heads in which young disk flowers are violet at apex has been named f. bicolor Koster.

Both species are reported to hybridize easily, giving rise to intermediate, though sterile, forms.


S. iabadicensis occurs by preference in moist or swampy localities, in rice fields ("jotang sawah" in Indonesia) and on dikelets, along pools and ditches, in moist gardens and marshy meadows. In Java it occurs up to 1500 m altitude, in Papua New Guinea up to 500 m.

S. paniculata grows in drier places than S. iabadicensis, such as upland fields ("jotang huma" in Indonesia), waste places, roadsides, and riversides. In Java it occurs up to 1200 m altitude, in Papua New Guinea up to 300 m.

Both species flower year-round and produce plenty of seed which is dispersed by animals and wind.


There are no reports on deliberate cultivation of Spilanthes greens. They are weeds of minor agricultural importance.


Spilanthes greens will remain of minor importance as vegetables. Being agricultural weeds, efforts will be directed more towards eradication than multiplication.

Whether Spilanthes has potential as medicine needs further investigation.


  • Jacquat, C., 1990. Plants from the markets of Thailand. Editions Duang Kamol, Bangkok, Thailand. pp. 91-92, 180.
  • Koster, J.Th., 1979. The Compositae of New Guinea 6. Blumea 25: 249-282.
  • Perry, L.M., 1980. Medicinal plants of South-East Asia. The MIT Press, London, United Kingdom. pp. 98-99.
  • Soerjani, M., Kostermans, A.J.G.H. & Tjitrosoepomo, G., 1987. Weeds of rice in Indonesia. Balai Pustaka, Jakarta, Indonesia. pp. 102-105.
  • Unus Suriawiria, 1987. Lalab dalam budaya dan kehidupan masyarakat Sunda [Lalab in the culture and life of Sundanese society]. Granesia, Bandung, Indonesia. 129 pp.


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