Epazote is a herb that’s easy to grow in warm weather, and can be very useful in cooking. It’s primary use is to help predigest the “gassy” bean compounds.
What’s in the Name?
Epazote is basically pronounced “eh-pa-zo-tee.” There. Now you know a word in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs!* The name is the same in Nahutal, Spanish, and English.
Epazote (formerly Chenopodium ambrosoides, now renamed Dysphania ambrosioides) is in the same family as European spinach. Epazote came into the Southwest from tropical Mayan lands back in ancient times. Possibly it was brought here by the Poschteca traders. These traders walked routes from Panama to Canada and it is believed that they carried parrots and macaws to the Anasazi at Chaco in New Mexico. The exact routes and history was possibly shared with descendants, but became lost when European diseases wiped out so many people and so much knowledge. But I digress.
There are many Nahuatl words that have found their way into our current “English” language. Words like epazote, sound odd at first but what about words like avocado, chia, chili, chipotle, chocolate, guacamole, mole (the food not the animal), tomato, and tamale. Then there are the words derived from the Nahuatl, and changed slightly, like the name for the Aztec nation itself, and more – including cocoa, coyote, mesquite, ocelot, peyote, and possibly even the word shack (although that last one is debatable).
By the time of Contact, epazote had been cultivated for well over a thousand years in southern and southeast coastal Mexico. It was, and still is, a principle flavoring for a large number of Yucatan and Veracruz dishes, and is indispensable for cooking black beans.
Epazote, like the Old World herbs of cumin and ginger, has the unique ability to help break down hard-to-digest vegetable proteins. These difficult proteins are found most often in beans, peas, and members of the cabbage family. A few leaves of epazote cooked in the pot with the potential offender can go a long way towards rendering the proteins harmless.
Medicinally, epazote has been used in an infusion as a vermifuge (against intestinal parasites), and in a decoction to help induce labor. The first use has lead to the common names wormseed and Jesuit tea. The Jesuits often ran healing centers associated with their missions and commonly used herbs native to the areas where they worked. We talk about Father Kino and his work often on this site – like here.
In the yard, this strongly scented herb is reported as a deer repellent. I can report that javelina, jackrabbits, cottontails and quail all avoid eating the plants.
Growing epazote is a topic for Gardening With Soule. We will just say that this is one of those easy herbs – you plant some seeds near where your other plants get water and then hope not to yank it for a weed by mistake. Basically it’s easy to grow.
Harvest and Use of Epazote
Chop or mince leaves and add early to dishes that require long cooking, like beans, roasts, soups, or stews. Use one tablespoon minced leaves per cup of beans or to a two pound roast. Not used as a garnish, due to bitter taste.
Like cilantro, epazote is best when used fresh for culinary purposes. It loses some of it’s “digestive” properties when dried. At the end of the summer, I chop and freeze as many leaves as I can harvest for use all winter. It appears to have a higher efficacy when frozen than when dried. Here is our YouTube video on processing epazote.
Use epazote to avoid using manufactured bean-digestive compounds. Having these plants in your yard saves packaging, shipping, and all the associated waste of resources inherent in manufactured goods.
Even more “green,” epazote plants provide food for birds, a way to capture carbon, plus a lovely green plant for your yard. If you have an alley or vacant lot near you, try scattering seed out there for a bird-feeding “weed.”
Father Kino’s Herbs – Learn more about this Southwest Icon
The last few copies of this out-of-print award winning Southwestern book are now for sale. Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today The review says:
“Award-winning garden writer Dr. Jacqueline A. Soule has pulled together a fascinating book on the life of Father Eusebio Francisco Kino and some of the plants that he brought to Southern Arizona and northwestern Sonora, and area called the Pimeria Alta.”
A steal at only $20! This link is to our sales site. The profits from the sale go to the local Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute. We hope you will help support this great Southwest non-profit!
And Here’s Our Cookbook!
May we suggest our dandy little cookbook? Using Honey in New and Savory Ways offers 36 pages of tips for using honey in your cooking, as well as in all manner of dishes. A steal at only $6!
We hope you will help support some local Southwest folks!
From the review:
“Honey is for more than desserts and this book can help! Using honey in cooking savory dishes helps engage all your taste buds and adds a layer of added flavor to everyday dishes – plus holiday fare.”
Beekeeper? We offer volume discounts – because if you sell honey in local markets you might want to offer some of these books as well.
© Article copyright Savor the Southwest // Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. You must ask permission to republish an entire blog post or article. Okay to use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit. You must include a link back to the original post on our site. No stealing photos.
The authors of this website have researched the edibility of the materials we discuss, however, humans vary in their ability to tolerate different foods, drinks, and herbs. Individuals consuming flowers, plants, animals or derivatives mentioned in this blog do so entirely at their own risk. The authors on this site cannot be held responsible for any adverse reaction. In case of doubt please consult your medical practitioner.