Arabic: Arak, Rak;
Other English: Toothbrush Tree, Mustard Tree, Saltbush Salvadora persica L.; Salvadoraceae
Have you ever wondered how people cleaned their teeth before the invention of the toothbrush? One answer is the miswak! A miswak (plural: masawik) is a fibrous stick prepared from the root of the arak tree. It has antiseptic and astringent properties which help clean and protect the teeth and gums. A high-quality miswak has a strong, pungent smell. It is pale yellow or cream in color. It is moist and flexible.
The Prophet Mohammad, founder of Islam, recommended the miswak to his followers. He used it to sweeten his breath during fasting and advised its use prior to prayer. This practice is still popular in Arabia today.
The arak is a short evergreen tree that grows in sandy and arid areas of the Middle East and Africa. Sheep and goats like to nibble its leaves.
How to use: Soak the root in water for a few hours to soften the natural fibers. Then scrape off five to 10 millimeters (¼–½) of bark from the tip and gently chew until fibers have separated and the root becomes brush-like. Clean the teeth by rubbing the miswak up and down and sideways as you would a conventional plastic toothbrush. When the fibers become overused, simply cut off the tip of the miswak, scrape off more bark and continue to use as before. To retain freshness, keep miswak in the refrigerator or soak in water.
Did you know?
- Arak roots contain triclosan, an effective antibacterial used in modern toothpastes. Other ingredients include fluoride, vitamin C, alkaloids and small amounts of tannins and flavenoids.
- A herbal toothpaste with pure miswak extract (made by a hygiene-products company in India) is currently marketed in Saudi Arabia and other countries of the region.
- Other natural toothbrush sources, when arak is not available, include the peelo tree, the olive tree, the bitam tree, the walnut tree, the neem tree or any bitter tree that is not harmful or poisonous in any way!