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 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:
Sopa de Milpa
Heike Vibrans (ed.) (2009) Malezas de México. Retomado de:
Author: María Inés Muñoz Gordillo and Mely Martínez