Also known as wormseed, pigweed and Mexican tea, epazote, pronounced (eh-paw-ZOH-teh), comes from the Aztec epazotl meaning “smelly animal” due to its very pungent camphor-like aroma. Native to Central America, it was originally used as a remedy for intestinal parasites, to repel insects or as a tea to help an upset stomach by the Aztecs, the Mayans and European settlers in U.S. Epazote later became a culinary herb especially used in the cuisine of Mexico and Guatemala. Brought to Europe in the 17th century, it is grown commercially in Russia.
The shrubby, robust plant is an annual with a weedy habit that grows about two to four feet high with a thick trunk-like stem. One plant will provide more than enough for average kitchen uses. The large and pointed medium green leaves have serrated edges and sometimes have deep red blotches. Tiny clusters of greenish flower spikes are intermixed with the leaves in late summer and fall and produce drooping spikes loaded with tiny seeds. Easily grown from seed, plant this heat loving herb in spring in full sun and well-drained soil and it will be ready to harvest in 45-65 days. Fresh leaves can either be placed in a damp paper towel in a plastic bag or in a glass of water like a bouquet in the refrigerator for up to a week. To dry hang upside down in a well-ventilated room until thoroughly dried then store in an air tight jar out of sunlight.
Epazote, like cilantro, is an acquired taste as it is slightly bitter and musky with a hint of lemon. It is also quite strong, so use the fresh herb sparingly. The leaves may be used as a vegetable or used as a seasoning in corn, bean, fish, mushroom or rice dishes. It is especially popular for flavoring beans of any kind and helps reduce some of the “negative” effects of eating beans. Young leaves may also be wilted and added to soups containing eggs or cheese or stews. The fresh leaves make attractive garnishes for hearty corn or bean soups as well. 7 fresh leaves = 1 tsp dried which may be crushed for a condiment or added the last 15 minutes of cooking to prevent bitterness. Epazote combines well with oregano, cilantro, cumin and chilies and although no herb is similar in flavor, savory may be substituted especially to compliment the flavor of beans.
Epazote self seeds readily in the garden,
so don’t let it go to seed unless you want volunteers
growing everywhere the next season!
2Tbs corn oil
1c diced onion
1Tbs minced garlic
2c peeled, chopped tomatoes
1Tbs tomato paste
8c chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 sprig epazote
1Tbs ground cumin
salt & pepper
Sauté onions lightly in oil then add minced garlic, tomatoes and tomato paste. Cook until mixture is somewhat reduced. Add chicken stock, bay leaf, epazote, cumin, salt and pepper. Simmer slowly 30 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve. Allow guests to add any or all of the following:
1/2 avocado, diced
4 oz. grated cheddar cheese
5 oz. cubed, cooked boneless chicken
3 fried corn tortilla, cut in strips
SPICY RED BEANS & BROWN RICE
3Tbs corn oil
1c diced mixed red and yellow bell peppers
1/3c sliced scallions
1 large chipotle en adobo, minced
1Tbs minced epazote leaves
3c cooked brown rice
1 can red beans
1c peeled and diced ripe tomato
1/4tsp toasted and ground cumin seed
Sauté peppers and scallions then add chipotle, epazote and rice. Mix well and cook 1-2 minutes. Add beans, tomato and cumin, cover and cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve hot.
". . . I have given you all things even as the green herbs."