Instead of a toothbrush
There were many prehistoric ways for cleaning the teeth before the dawn of a real toothbrush. Chewing sticks were popular. In Southeast Asia the use of betel leaves, areca nuts and slaked lime did have an antiseptic effect against caries, although resulting in blackened teeth from the phenols. The hilltribers usually say it is better with black teeth than no teeth.
My grandfather showed me how to use the sandpapery leaves of Streblus asper (Moraceae) as a toothbrush. This tree is common in the Chiang Mai valley and other parts of Thailand, and is often used to make topiaries which we call ‘mai dat’ in Thai.
The leaf of Streblus asper used to function as a toothbrush.
The blossom of Streblus asper somewhat resemble the related mulberry blossom. They can be admired in an unpruned tree at Dokmai Garden now.
The Dokmai Garden ‘mai dat’, a Streblus asper, pruned to show the Thai gardener is the master of nature. Bonsais and penzais are the opposite, a Japanese or Chinese gardener’s attempt to copy nature, using a miniature scale.
The bark is grey in this species. Another commonly used tree in Thai topiaries is Diospyros ehretioides (Ebeneaceae). This native ebony has a black bark, and smoother and egg-shaped leaves. Its pruned form grows at Dokmai Garden.