Ramadan concludes at sunset this evening. For many Muslims, the associated fasting extends to the discouragement (if not prohibition) of using toothpaste and mouthwash. Instead, a miswak, or tooth-cleaning stick, is the prescribed dental tool. Most often, these teeth-cleaning roots or twigs originate from Salvadora persica, sometimes commonly known as the toothbrush tree.
Wikipedia has an extensive entry on miswak, including references to studies that support the effectiveness of Salvadora persica twigs in oral hygiene. In a world waking up to the ills of plastic pollution, perhaps miswaks should become more widely used. Given where this species grows (this small tree or shrub is native to much of Africa, the Arabian peninsula, and parts of southern and western Asia), could it become a sustainable export crop for some countries?
The roots and twigs are not the only parts of these plants that are used. The wood has an array of other uses, spanning from firewood and charcoal to construction materials as a termite-resistant lumber. The fruits, leaves, and young shoots are edible, while the seeds contain oils that can be used for detergents and soaps. Salvadora persica has also had a long history of use in ethnomedicines and ethnoveterinary medicines (see Feedipedia’s entry on Salvadora persica for details).
An approximation of its distribution, along with additional photographs, is available from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility’s page: Salvadora persica. If you just want a quick click to one photo of the tree, see Salvadora persica via Wikimedia Commons.
The idea behind today’s entry is courtesy of BPotD contributor and commenter Chris Czajkowski, who suggested an entry on miswak because her community in British Columbia is hosting a Muslim refugee family. The family speaks little English, so Chris and her colleagues needed to research the dos and don’ts of Ramadan in order to help the family this past month.