skeletonA new study published in the journal PLOS ONE suggests that a highly toxic weed may be responsible for the impeccable dental health of ancient people.

The purple nutsedge is regarded as one of the world’s most abundant weeds – and it also happens to be extremely poisonous. A new analysis of skeletons of ancient people that populated Sudan over 2,000 years ago shows they ingested the noxious weed as a possible staple in their diet and utilized it as a tooth cleaner.

Poison as a tooth cleaner? Scientists believe the strong antibacterial properties of the plant zapped certain bacteria that grow in the mouth before allowing tooth decay to set in.

When scientists examined the mouths of these skeletons, they found that less than one percent of the teeth showed signs of caries, abscesses or any other signs of tooth decay. After further analysis of the plaque that had hardened to the teeth, scientists were able to determine that purple nutsedge was, in fact, ingested by this group of people.

According to study co-author Karen Hardy, a research professor at the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, it is still not clear if the ancient people ate the purple nutsedge or used it as medicine.

While this particular weed boasts many positive properties in regards to antibacterial solutions, it tastes like… well, like poison. Hardy suggests the sharp, bitter flavor could have been tamed by certain cooking methods or they may have just put up with the taste as needed for medicinal purposes.

No matter what this particular weed was used for, this news is rather unique and exciting according to the researchers as no other plant has ever been shown to prevent tooth decay in ancient people.

Denise Prichard is the Assistant Editor at Spear Education.