The Everyday Lore Project

15 May 2020 – Toothpowder

15 May 2020 – Toothpowder

Today I made some toothpowder out of the sage I gathered during a socially distanced raid on my mother’s front garden. Amongst other things, sage is said to be good for gums, breath and tooth whitening. You can clean your teeth with fresh leaves, or do what I did, and make a toothpowder out of sage and salt. In Vickery’s Folk Flora it just said to use 50/50 sage and salt, butThe Complete New Herbal had full instructions and even oven temperatures, so I went with that.

I was quite relieved to find this recipe sticking with the sea salt and sage combo, and not incorporating crushed ox hooves, a peccadillo of the Ancient Egyptians. And it was dead quick and very easy. Some chopping, some drying, some pummelling, some more drying, and that was it. 

I scored myself some extra folklore points by removing the sticky label residue on the old herb pot I’d found for the toothpowder, using equal parts cooking oil and bicarbonate of soda rubbed on the glue. Seriously, my life is now revolutionised. And then all that was left was to try it. 

I’d been sampling throughout the making of. The first time had been after the initial chop and it had tasted lovely until I bit down a lump of sage, and then I made that face a cat makes when it smells something bad. The sage was super potent. The next time was after the grinding and that was more of a smoky taste with medicinal undertones. So I wasn’t quite sure what to expect other than top notes of salty.

To apply, I went back to Vickery which states that the powder should be rubbed on using Irish linen. I didn’t fancy commandeering a trouser leg from a pair of holiday strides, so I found an old napkin. Spanish linen, but as close as I could get. You don’t have to make the powder into a paste, you just need to make the conveyance moist. So wrapping my finger in the napkin, I ran it under the tap, before poking it in the powder.

I know this doesn’t make sense, but the only way I can explain the taste is to liken it to a Jacob’s Cream Cracker. The actual note I made was ‘tastes like a cracker you’d put cheese on’. The linen was actually quite abrasive and flecks of sage kept getting caught between my teeth. Plus the odd gag when I tried to clean inside at the back. So I swapped to using my toothbrush. I missed the foamy goodness of my usual toothpaste but as I brushed, I can remember thinking maybe next time I could add some mint. 

My teeth do feel very smooth, but my gums are still a little raw. And despite swapping to the brush, it doesn’t really feel like the in between bits have had a thorough going over. Plus no matter how much I rinsed, everything still tastes salty. I can understand maybe using it if I were to go off backpacking again as it’s ridiculously light, but then I’m not sure I particularly want to take any kind of powder through customs. But I can definitely say in seasoning scrambled eggs, I might be on to a winner.


Mabey, R. (consultant ed.) (1988) The Complete New Herbal, London, Elm Tree Books

Vickery, R. (2019) Vickery’s Folk Flora, An A-Z of the Folklore and Uses of British and Irish Plants, London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Published by Liza Frank

Author of My Celebrity Boyfriend. Obsessed with hula hooping, sons of preachermen and fresh dates, sometimes all at the same time. Curator of Folklore Agony and The Everyday Lore Project.

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