The cause of the irritation can be mechanical, such as products containing ground rose hips. Another common ingredient is Mucuna pruriens, a type of legume that produces seedpods coated with thousands of detachable spicules (needle-like hairs), the spicules contain an enzyme (mucunain) that causes severe itching, and they have been sold commercially as itching powder. Mucuna pruriens has been used to test the efficacy of anti-itch drugs.
The term "itching powder" is colloquial; there is no one specific source of the powder, though some gag companies do tend to have favourites. Two very common, accessible, and fairly harmless (though not entirely – itching powder can be very dangerous when abused) sources are maple samara and rosehips. These are used in home recipes popularized by sites that publish how-to guides such as wikiHow and eHow. For the safety of the maker and of the victim, gloves (dust mask, and glasses as itching powder is a mouth and eye irritant) and caution are strongly encouraged whenever handling the processed powder. Rosehips contain prickly hairs that are used as the active ingredient, whereas the body (rather than the wing) of the bigleaf maple samara is covered with spiny hairs that cause skin irritation, and are used to make itching powder.
Itching powder was created from mucuna pruriens in the early 19th century as a cure for lost feeling in the epidermis. When a person would lose feeling on their skin in conditions such as paralysis, the powder (mixed with lard to form an ointment) was used as a local stimulant believed to treat the condition.
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