How to grow epazote?

Epazote is an annual plant that grows 2 to 4 feet high (around 1 metre.) It has large, pointed leaves with serrated edges, and produces flowers that are clusters of tiny green balls.

Though considered a weed in North America, it is used in Mexican and Caribbean dishes as an herb. It is typically used in black bean recipes, and in Mexican moles.

Many people find its taste cloying and medicinal, and its smell like gasoline. Those who like it say it has a sweet, mild, citrusy flavour. Those who don’t say it smells like skunk.

Epazote can be bought fresh or dried. Fresh, it can be used in salads and scrambled eggs. It the stem seems woody, just discard the stem and use the leaves.

Epazote is not the same as the herb Wormseed (Chenopodium ambrosioides var. anthelminticum), though it is sometimes unhelpfully called Wormseed. Wormseed is closely related to Epazote, but has a particular potency against intestinal worms; thus its name.

Cooking Tips

Some people believe that Epazote in bean dishes can lessen the amount of gas that develops in your stomach. They will use 1 tablespoon fresh per 2 quarts / 2 litres of bean mixture (either chili, boiled beans or bean soup).

Substitutes

No real substitutes; just use another herb that you do like or can get. Some people recommend Mexican Oregano.

Nutrition

Contains an anti-intestinal gas agent; just how effective it is, is anecdotal.

More noteworthy, though, is that Epazote is poisonous in large doses — it contains Terpene peroxide ascaridole and can cause convulsions, coma, nausea, headache, etc. The flowers and seeds contain much of the toxin.

Equivalents

1 teaspoon dried = 7 fresh leaves = 1 stem

Storage Hints

Store fresh Epazote in refrigerator either in a plastic bag or with its stems in a glass of water for up to 1 week. It is still fine to cook with even if it looks a little wilted.

History Notes

Epazote is native to Mexico, where the Aztecs used it for medicine and cooking. It was brought to Europe in the 1600s by the Spanish from Mexico.

Language Notes

The word “Epazote” comes from the Aztec (Nahuatl) word “epazotl”. “Epazotl”, in turn, came from “epatl” meaning “skunk” and “tzotl”, meaning “sweat”. This refers obviously to how the herb smells to some people.

L.A. at Home

You can find epazote seeds for sale at local nurseries now (and epazote seedlings in a few months), though the plant is still considered a weed by many. The annual herb grows wild throughout Mexico and the southwestern U.S., earning it a well-deserved reputation as highly invasive. Despite eradication efforts by state highway cleanups, it pops up in sidewalks and on freeway meridians throughout Arizona and Texas. That’s because the seed heads that arrive in late summer and fall scatter easily, jumping from garden to walkway in the blink of a season.

The name epazote is a combination of Aztec words for “skunk” and “sweat.” One common name for the plant is wormseed. The plant is smelly and toxic if consumed in large quantity, so why do people grow it?

Any fan of Mexican cuisine will appreciate the taste epazote can bring. When added to stews, sauces and soups, the herb adds a distinctly piquant flavor — wild, peppery, minty. Throughout Mexico it is used in frijoles de la olla, beans simmered in a pot with water and onion. There is no substitute. It doesn’t take much epazote — a sprig or two added in the last 20 minutes of cooking will suffice. A bonus: It’s said to reduce flatulence.

Epazote is easy to grow in Southern California and can be perennial if winter is mild. But be careful about your choice in location. A UC study indicated that the ascaridole in the leaves inhibits the growth of nearby plants, so you’ll want to keep it away from other herbs and vegetables.

Herb to Know: Epazote

• Chenopodium ambrosioides
• Also known as Mexican tea and wormseed
• Hardy to Zone 8-9

You won’t find epazote in the standard American spice rack, but in regions of Mexico, epazote (Chenopodium ambrosioides) is a favorite recipe ingredient. You’ve undoubtedly tasted its distinctive flavor in the dishes served at your local Mexican restaurant. It’s especially common in bean dishes, to ward off gas. Its carminative compounds are believed to reduce flatulence.

Also called Mexican tea and wormseed, epazote belongs to the Chenopodiaceae, or goosefoot, family. Many members of this family are native to North America, but C. ambrosioides originated in Central America. Believed to have been used by the Aztecs, epazote made its way to Europe in the 17th century. Now abundant throughout most of the United States and eastern Canada, this herb is sometimes considered a weed due to its self-seeding and easy germination. But with a contained location and some monitoring, epazote is worth growing in the kitchen garden.

An annual in Zones 2-7 and a hardy perennial in Zones 8-9, epazote is native to tropical and subtropical regions. In full sun and average, well-drained soil, the herb grows to a height of 2 to 4 feet. The toothed, oval leaves are ready to harvest in 45 to 65 days. Insignificant greenish flowers appear in late summer and fall. Pinch back the plants to encourage bushiness and reduce self-seeding. Or allow the plants to flower and self-seed if you want new plants to grow the following spring. You may want to take steps to avoid having too much epazote in your garden. Since epazote is hardy and self-seeding, tame it with barriers or containers. You can sink large containers in the ground, or grow epazote in a large container on a sunny deck or patio. If you choose the patio route, it will also be easy to access for culinary pursuits.

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Unlike its grain cousin, quinoa (C. quinoa), epazote’s flavor is best described as uniquely pungent. Many say it is an acquired taste, but you simply must try it for yourself to really know the flavor of epazote. Start by adding just a small sprig to a recipe, such as chili. Once you’ve tried it and liked it, add just one more sprig to experience its full potential. You can add epazote to soups and stews, bean and squash dishes, corn, pork and fish. Try sautéing a sprig with mushrooms or onions. Its flavor also complements cilantro and chiles.

Although epazote leaves are commonly used in Mexican cooking, the seeds and oil should never be ingested . As one of its common names—wormseed—implies, native Central and South Americans traditionally used this herb to eradicate intestinal worms. In the early 1900s in the United States, the oil commonly was used for controlling internal parasites in humans, cats, dogs, horses and pigs, but by the 1940s, this remedy was replaced with less-toxic treatments as it has caused dizziness, convulsions and even death in doses as little as 10 mL (or less in children) when taken internally. There is no known cure for overdose.

Caution: Women who are pregnant or nursing should avoid using even the leaves of this herb.

Sources: Look for dried epazote leaves at specialty spice shops ( www.penzeys.com is one supplier); Mexican groceries sometimes carry the fresh leaves. Seeds for growing epazote are widely available from many reputable mail-order sources.

Dawna Edwards, a former Herb Companion editor, is a freelance writer and gardener from Colorado.

Often recipes we enjoy in ethnic restaurants seem to elude us when we try to recreate them at home. Usually this is because we don’t get the seasonings quite right. Sometimes the herbs and spices that are used in the recipe don’t seem to appeal to our palate or our noses even though the dish we were served was divine. For instance, both Arugula and Cilantro have strong unusual odors that often put discerning noses out of joint.

No doubt this is why the Mexican Herb, Epazote has never caught on. It is just too hard to get past that “old sock” aroma. In Infusions of Healing, Joie Davidow tells us that the name Epazote comes from the Nahuatl word for skunk, epatl, and that the Aztecs used Epazote medicinally to treat internal parasites. Epazote is an abundant weed in Mexico and parts of northern South America. There, its bitter, musky, lemon flavor is used to spice up everything from beans and squash to pork and crab cakes. Young leaves can be wilted and added to soups or stews or combined with other greens, just as chicory or sorrel would be used in early spring. It is often used with other herbs, like Mexican Oregano and Cilantro, and, of course, chilies.

A tender perennial herb, Epazote has proven itself hardy in our Zone 8 winters. It dies back to the ground each winter but returns in spring. A heat loving herb whose flavors are best when grown in full sun, Epazote can be grown in a medium size container and placed on sunny window or under lights for the winter, if your winters dip much below 20.

Epazote, a fine aromatic herb from Mexico, is used in a great variety of dishes. Here you will get to know its origins, its uses, as well as how it is grown and harvested. You will also find a few recipes that you can make using Epazote.

Known in Mexico since pre-Hispanic times, with its hollow stalks and large leaves, epazote is a plant that is distinguishable by its strong, characteristic flavor. The word “epazote” comes from the Nahuatl language, but the scientific name of this herb is Dysphania ambrosioides. Depending on the region, epazote is also known as ipazote, pazote, pazoli, and paico (this last name deriving from the Quechua language)

In Latin America, epazote is very commonly used in cooking and in traditional medicine. It has two varieties, but the most popular one is known as “Epazote Común” (Common Epazote). With a broad presence in warm climates, the common epazote is capable of being harvested at up to 3 thousand meters above sea level.

Epazote has small green flowers where you can find the seeds.

Epazote is easy to grow in your backyard, much like other herbs used in Mexican cuisine. It is a plant that requires sun, sufficient soil, and water every third day. The plant has an average height of 40 cm to 1 meter, and can live between one and two years (possibly a bit longer with extra care). The Epazote plant can be invasive, so cut the stems as they grow on the top part, so that you always have tender leaves that offer a softer scent. These leaves and soft stems from the top of the plant are what you will use in your dishes.

Depending on the zone where you live, the plant can grow very tall, and if you don’t trim it, it will start to grow flowers (they’re very small in size). In these little flowers lie the seeds, and you can plant them in small pots with a little soil on top. When the plant has a height of approximately 15 cm, it is best to move it to a larger space with enough soil for it to grow healthy. Once you plant the seeds, it will take the plant approximately a month and a half to be harvestable.

How Do You Store Epazote?

The leaves and tender part of the stems of epazote can be preserved in the refrigerator for about 4 days if you place them in a plastic bag. Always keep them in the lower part of the refrigerator or in the vegetable drawer. You can also dry or freeze the epazote to store it for a longer period of time (freezing them is the best option for preserving their flavor and aroma).

Where Can You Buy Epazote?

If you live in Mexico, epazote can be easily obtained at your local market or from produce vendors. You can even find it being grown by some of your neighbors. For those living outside of Mexico, epazote is sold in both fresh and dried form at Latin food markets in the United States. Additionally, you can also find some dried epazote being sold online, even in Europe.

How Do You Use Epazote When Cooking?

For the kitchen, epazote is the preferred herb for adding a deep and very aromatic flavor to different dishes, like Frijoles de Olla (“Pot Beans”), Quesadillas, Esquites, and Arroz a la Tumbada (from the State of Veracruz). Since this is a delicate herb, it is often added near the end of the cooking process whenever it is used. You can use the fresh tender leaves and stems of the epazote plant, or the dried version (fresh is best!).

Some people also use epazote to make tea, as it is believed to help regulate digestion, relieve stomach cramps, and even fight intestinal parasites. It can also help with gas and bloating, which is the reason why epazote is often used when cooking black beans.

Consuming epazote in large quantities can be toxic, so doing so is not recommended, especially for women who are nursing or pregnant. Essential oils made with epazote can also be harmful if consumed.

Other Recipes using Epazote:

Chilaquiles

Caldo de Camaron- Shrimp Soup

Seafood Soup

Quesadillas

Sautéed Mushrooms

Sopa de Milpa

Heike Vibrans (ed.) (2009) Malezas de México. Retomado de:

Author: María Inés Muñoz Gordillo and Mely Martínez

Various native peoples in the American and Mexican West today drink epazote tea or eat the plant to facilitate childbirth and ease painful menstruation as well as to expel worms and relieve gastrointestinal disorders (some of which might be brought on by the worms). Epazote leaves also have been poulticed on arthritic joints, athlete’s foot, and insect bites.

The major constituent of epazote’s essential oil is ascaridole (named for a genus of intestinal worms). The oil may be distilled from the herb but is most concentrated in the seeds. The variety C. ambrosioides var. anthelminticum (“parasitic worm destroying”) is richer in ascaridole than the species.

Unfortunately, the amount of epazote needed to cure a person of intestinal parasites is close to the toxic level. Fatalities have occurred from misjudging the dosage or the strength of a given batch of medicine. Today, synthetic drugs are a safer alternative, but even they are risky to use during pregnancy.

Epazote’s other main use is culinary: a few leaves added to bean dishes contribute an unusual flavor and are believed to prevent flatulence. It also ­appears in Mexican and Guatemalan recipes for mushrooms, corn, fish, and shellfish. Try two or three sprigs in a pot of black beans serving six to eight, adding them during the last fifteen minutes of cooking. Or chop a few leaves to toss into a corn relish to stuff into bell peppers or tomatoes. You may want to use just one sprig until you get used to the flavor, which some say is an acquired taste. Pregnant women should forgo this bit of authenticity altogether.

The green branches have been used to make wreath bases, but beware: handling the resinous leaves can cause dermatitis or an allergic reaction such as dizziness. Some people use the dried branches as a room freshener. Epazote also has been used to repel mosquitoes and added to fertilizer to inhibit insect larvae. In their book Southern Herb Growing (Shearer, 1987), Madalene Hill and Gwen Barclay note, “In the old days, farmers put epazote branches in the peas to keep the weevils out.”

Buy some seeds. In early summer, plant a few in well-drained soil in full sun. Give the rest of the seeds away. Thin seedlings to a single plant. Don’t let it go to seed unless you want a forest of epazote next year. If you just want a few leaves for your beans, epazote could be growing in your local park or nearby vacant lot. Look for plants growing away from well-traveled roads.

Sources

Epazote

* Also known as Pazote, Epasote and Pasote

Epazote (eh-pah-ZOE-teh) Chenopodium ambrosioides grows wild in the US as well as Mexico, the Mexican name derives from the Aztec (Nahuatl) word epazotl meaning skunk. This is a very strong smelling plant and it bears long, pointy, serrated leaves. Epazote was brought to Europe in the 17th century from Mexico and used in various traditional medicines. The herb was used by the Aztecs as a medicine as well as a culinary herb.

Best known for helping to flavor and reduce the gassy effect of beans, Epazote is commonly used in a variety of dishes including salsas in Mexico, Central and South America. Due to the presence of many aromatic compounds but especially ascaridole Epazote is used to kill intestinal parasites. Epazote can be toxic especially to pregnant women so it should be used in small quantities, when used as recommended a flavoring agent in food it is safe.

Mexican Black Beans with Epazote Recipe

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound dried black beans
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon dried Epazote*
  • 1/2 pound chopped fresh chorizo sausage
  • 1 diced onion
  • 2 diced carrots
  • 2 diced celery stalks
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1 tablespoon ancho or New Mexico chile powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin

*Epazote can tied in a piece of muslin or cotton cloth to keep the fibrous stems out of your dish.
INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Soak black beans overnight in cold water to cover. Drain and rinse.
  2. Preheat the oven to 300°F. Place the beans, chicken stock and water, and Epazote in a Dutch oven. Bring to a boil on the stove top, skim off foam, then cover and bake for 1 1/2 hours.
  3. In a large, heavy skillet, brown chorizo sausage. Remove the chorizo, leaving the fat in the pan. Add onion, carrots, celery stalks, and garlic to the pan and cook over medium heat until the vegetables become soft.
  4. Remove the pot of beans from the oven and stir in the vegetables and chorizo, along with ancho or New Mexico chile powder, ground cumin, and salt to taste.
  5. Cover and bake for 1 hour, or until the beans are soft.

Epazote (eh-pah-ZOE-teh)
Latin Name: Chenopodium ambrosioides
Common Name: American wormseed
*Also called Pazote, Epasote and Pasote

Epazote grows wild in the US as well as Mexico, the Mexican name derives from the Aztec (Nahuatl) word epazotl meaning skunk. This is a very strong smelling plant and it bears long, pointy, serrated leaves. This herb is in the Amaranth family and the genus of Chenopodiacea (Spinach genus). Epazote was taken to Europe in the 17th century from Mexico and used in various traditional medicines. The herb was used by the Aztecs as a medicine as well as a culinary herb.

Best known for helping to flavor and reduce the gassy effect of beans, Epazote is commonly used in a variety of dishes including salsas in Mexico, Central and South America. Due to the presence of many aromatic compounds but especially ascaridole, Epazote is used to kill intestinal parasites. Epazote can be toxic especially to pregnant women so it should be used in small quantities, when used as recommended in food it is safe.

Come by Taos Herb Company for a free recipe using Epazote.

Epazote – Key Growing Information

DAYS TO GERMINATION: 7-14 days.
SOWING: Direct seed (recommended): Sow outdoors shallowly, as seeds require light to germinate, 2-3 seeds per inch, once the soil has warmed in early spring. Thin to stand 4-6″ apart in rows, or clumps every 6-12″, in rows that are 12-18″ apart.
Transplant: Press seeds lightly, as seeds require light to germinate, into a soil mix that has been premoistened. Water in with the same mixture. Transplant to larger cells when seedlings develop true leaves and later to outside when they are about 3-4″ tall. Space plants 4-6″ apart in rows that are 12-18″ apart.
LIGHT PREFERENCE: Sun.
SOIL REQUIREMENTS: Grow in average to poor soil. When grown in an acidic soil, the “purpling,” which is usually barely visible in the stems and leaf veins, can become more prominent.
PLANT HEIGHT: 24-36″.
PLANT SPACING: 4-6″.
HARDINESS ZONES: Annual.
HARVEST: Harvest leaves or whole young plants for fresh use. Harvest black seeds when ripe and dry for medicinal use.
Note: Epazote self-sows readily. May become invasive, if allowed to do so.
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Dysphania ambrosioides

Image by Forest & Kim Starr

Epazote is a piece of living history. Native to Central and South America, this herb was prized by the Aztec culture for culinary and medicinal uses. Today epazote has naturalized in the United States along roadsides (frequently called a weed) and is known to grow in New York’s Central Park. Some call epazote a weed, while others enjoy it as a culinary companion to cooked beans. If you’re the latter, try growing epazote plants in your garden.

Epazote adds a distinct flavor to Mexican dishes and is a staple ingredient in bean dishes, both for its taste and its anti-flatulent properties. Like cilantro, epazote has a fragrance and flavor that folks either love or hate. Leaves have an aroma that seems to smell differently to different people. It’s been described as having tones of lemon, petroleum, savory, gasoline, mint, turpentine, and even putty. Despite the sometimes odd fragrance, the unique flavor makes epazote an ingredient that can’t be duplicated or replaced in recipes.

Pregnant or nursing women should not consume epazote in any form. No one should ingest the seeds or oil, which are poisonous. It’s also wise to avoid consuming the flowering tips of stems.

Note: While we do not currently carry this variety, we offer this information for gardeners who wish to grow it.

Extract originally published on bonnieplants.com. Please click the link for more specific information about soil, planting, care and harvesting.

Following extracts originally published by Dawna Edwards and Betsy Strauch on Mother Earth Living

In the Garden and Kitchen

An annual in Zones 2-7 and a hardy perennial in Zones 8-9, epazote is native to tropical and subtropical regions. In full sun and average, well-drained soil, the herb grows to a height of 2 to 4 feet. The toothed, oval leaves are ready to harvest in 45 to 65 days. Insignificant greenish flowers appear in late summer and fall. Pinch back the plants to encourage bushiness and reduce self-seeding. Or allow the plants to flower and self-seed if you want new plants to grow the following spring. You may want to take steps to avoid having too much epazote in your garden. Since epazote is hardy and self-seeding, tame it with barriers or containers. You can sink large containers in the ground, or grow epazote in a large container on a sunny deck or patio. If you choose the patio route, it will also be easy to access for culinary pursuits.

Unlike its grain cousin, quinoa (C. quinoa), epazote’s flavor is best described as uniquely pungent. Many say it is an acquired taste, but you simply must try it for yourself to really know the flavor of epazote. Start by adding just a small sprig to a recipe, such as chili. Once you’ve tried it and liked it, add just one more sprig to experience its full potential. You can add epazote to soups and stews, bean and squash dishes, corn, pork and fish. Try sautéing a sprig with mushrooms or onions. Its flavor also complements cilantro and chiles.

Traditional Uses

Although epazote leaves are commonly used in Mexican cooking, the seeds and oil should never be ingested . As one of its common names—wormseed—implies, native Central and South Americans traditionally used this herb to eradicate intestinal worms. In the early 1900s in the United States, the oil commonly was used for controlling internal parasites in humans, cats, dogs, horses and pigs, but by the 1940s, this remedy was replaced with less-toxic treatments as it has caused dizziness, convulsions and even death in doses as little as 10 mL (or less in children) when taken internally. There is no known cure for overdose.

Medicinal Uses For Epazote

Epazote (epazo¯tl is the Nahuatl word for the plant) gets its alternate name American wormseed from its long-standing and widespread use as a remedy for intestinal parasites. The practice apparently arose in Mexico and South America and was then passed northward, first to Native Americans and from them to white settlers. Its effectiveness (it paralyzes the parasites and then a strong laxative is taken to expel them) was recognized by its inclusion in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia from 1820 to 1947. Large plantings in Maryland in the nineteenth century supplied the essential oil (then known in commerce as Baltimore oil) to the pharmaceutical industry.

Besides using it as a vermifuge, the Aztecs also mixed epazote leaves with food to treat respiratory disorders. (Breathing difficulties can be caused by roundworms that have migrated to the lungs; getting rid of the worms could have alleviated symptoms.) In eighteenth-century Mexico, a decoction of the dried leaves was taken to relieve rheumatism, fainting, burns, and typhus. Epazote’s uses in the New World led to its importation into Spain in the eighteenth century, where it is known as Mexican tea.

Various native peoples in the American and Mexican West today drink epazote tea or eat the plant to facilitate childbirth and ease painful menstruation as well as to expel worms and relieve gastrointestinal disorders (some of which might be brought on by the worms). Epazote leaves also have been poulticed on arthritic joints, athlete’s foot, and insect bites.

Other Uses For Epazote

Epazote’s other main use is culinary: a few leaves added to bean dishes contribute an unusual flavor and are believed to prevent flatulence. It also ­appears in Mexican and Guatemalan recipes for mushrooms, corn, fish, and shellfish. Try two or three sprigs in a pot of black beans serving six to eight, adding them during the last fifteen minutes of cooking. Or chop a few leaves to toss into a corn relish to stuff into bell peppers or tomatoes. You may want to use just one sprig until you get used to the flavor, which some say is an acquired taste. Pregnant women should forgo this bit of authenticity altogether.

The green branches have been used to make wreath bases, but beware: handling the resinous leaves can cause dermatitis or an allergic reaction such as dizziness. Some people use the dried branches as a room freshener. Epazote also has been used to repel mosquitoes and added to fertilizer to inhibit insect larvae. In their book Southern Herb Growing (Shearer, 1987), Madalene Hill and Gwen Barclay note, “In the old days, farmers put epazote branches in the peas to keep the weevils out.”

Growing Epazote

Buy some seeds. In early summer, plant a few in well-drained soil in full sun. Give the rest of the seeds away. Thin seedlings to a single plant. Don’t let it go to seed unless you want a forest of epazote next year. If you just want a few leaves for your beans, epazote could be growing in your local park or nearby vacant lot. Look for plants growing away from well-traveled roads.

Often recipes we enjoy in ethnic restaurants seem to elude us when we try to recreate them at home. Usually this is because we don’t get the seasonings quite right. Sometimes the herbs and spices that are used in the recipe don’t seem to appeal to our palate or our noses even though the dish we were served was divine. For instance, both Arugula and Cilantro have strong unusual odors that often put discerning noses out of joint.

Epazote is such an herb. Epazote is used medicinally to treat internal parasites. Epazote is an abundant weed in Mexico and parts of northern South America. There, its bitter, musky, lemon flavor is used to spice up everything from beans and squash to pork and crab cakes. Young leaves can be wilted and added to soups or stews or combined with other greens, just as chicory or sorrel would be used in early spring. It is often used with other herbs, like Mexican Oregano and Cilantro, and, of course, chilies.

A tender perennial herb, Epazote has proven itself hardy in our Zone 8 winters. It dies back to the ground each winter but returns in spring. A heat loving herb whose flavors are best when grown in full sun, Epazote can be grown in a medium size container and placed on sunny window or under lights for the winter, if your winters dip much below 20..

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