Epazote is a traditional Central American herb employed by native Mexicans since antiquity. Its strong, musky flavor gives a unique taste to Mexican and other Latin American cuisines. While its young shoots and tender leaves used like leafy greens in soups; its mature, pungent leaves added in small quantities as digestive and carminatives in bean, fish, and corn dishes.
Binomially, the herb belongs to the large Amaranthaceae family of herbs and vegetables, including amaranth, spinach, quinoa, beets, etc. Scientific name: Chenopodium ambrosioides. Some of the common names include wormseed, Mexican tea, pazote, etc.
|Epazote (Chenopodium ambrosioides).
Note for serrated margin, pointed green leaves.
Photo courtesy: jonny.hunter
Epazote is one of efficiently growing annual herb. It prefers well-draining, sandy soil and full sunlight to flourish. The herb grows generously in the fields, on the roadsides as a weedy invasive plant. It reaches about 60 to 100 cm in height featuring small pointed leaves with serrated margins. Tiny yellow-green flowers appear in clusters as in amaranth which develop subsequently into numerous small black seeds.
Epazote has largely been viewed as a medicinal herb rather than a culinary plant. In general, its leaves used in the cooking to counter indigestion and flatulence effects of beans, high-fiber and protein food. Nonetheless, the herb has its own intrinsic phytonutrients which when consumed optimally would contribute towards overall wellness.
The herb is very low in calories. 100 grams of leaves carry just contain 32 calories. Its smooth leaves provide a good amount of fiber, 3.8 g per 100g.
Its leaves compose of many monoterpene compounds such as ascaridole (60-80%), iso-ascaridole, p-cymene, limonene, and terpinene. Ascaridole is toxic to several intestinal worms like roundworm, hookworms, pinworm, etc. Native Mayans drank its infusion regularly to keep off from worm infestation.
The herb parts, especially young leaves are an excellent source of folic acid, provide 215 µg or 54% of daily recommended values. Folic acid is involved in the DNA synthesis and cell division. Caution note: Expectant mothers, however, should avoid epazote greens in their diet since it causes uterine cramps and possible risk of termination of pregnancy. (Medical disclaimer).
Epazote has small amounts of vitamin-A and some flavonoid phenolic anti-oxidants such as beta-carotenes. Together, they act as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a role in aging and various disease processes.
The herb has a good amount of minerals like calcium (27% of RDA), manganese, potassium, iron, copper, zinc, and selenium. The body uses manganese as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
It has small but adequate levels of other B-complex vitamins, particularly pyridoxine and riboflavin. These vitamins function as co-factors in the enzymatic metabolism inside the body.
|Principle||Nutrient Value||Percentage of RDA|
|Total Fat||0.52 g||2%|
|Ditary fiber||3.8 g||10%|
|Pantothenic acid||0.179 mg||3.5%|
|Vitamin A||57 IU||2%|
|Vitamin C||3.6 mg||6%|
Epazote is available year-round in the stores specializing Latin American herbs. One may also find dried leaves in the spice stores.
While buying the herb, look for fresh, small, young tender leaves as mature leaves can be pungent and strong scented. Avoid large, flower stems with yellow or wilted leaves. Once at home, store unwashed in the refrigerator as other greens, wrapped in a dampen towel.
Epazote has a strong pungent flavor with a hint of petroleum and mint smell dominating. Its leaves, fresh or dried, and young shoots are being used as a seasoning in the dishes in Mexican, Chilean and other South American regions.
To prepare, wash the leaves in cold water as in other greens and herbs. Few leaves or 1-2 sprigs are just enough to flavor the whole food. It is mainly added in the traditional black bean recipes to improve digestion.
Here are some cooking tips:
|Epazote omelet with pickled ramp.
Photo courtesy: yuco chan
Fresh epazote leaves added to flavor corn-based recipes like gordita (corn dumplings) and bocoles (cornmeal cakes).
Fresh leaves used in black (Frijoles negros) and pinto bean stews.
Contrary to its name, Epazote herb is not used to make tea but to make an herbal infusion which is later used in the recipes. Traditional Yucatan lime and chicken soups use this decoction.
Quesadillas con Epazote, is a cheese stuffed tortilla which uses the herb as one of the ingredients along with potatoes, mushrooms, egg, etc.
Epazote has been found in the traditional medicines in many Central and South American cultures. Its infusion is a popular household remedy for helminthic infestation. Usually, a half-to-one cup of a leaf decoction is given each morning before the meal for three consecutive days as treatment.
The herb is an excellent remedy for stomach and intestinal ailments like indigestion, cramps, and ulcers.
Its decoction has been found to have some anti-diabetic properties. Further, certain trial studies suggest it hold hope for some liver cirrhosis and cancers.
The herb parts should not be included in the nursing and pregnant mothers for its possible toxic effects. (Medical disclaimer).
Epazote (wormseed) should be used in small quantities. Its seed oil rather contains a large concentration of ascaridole and other monoterpenes. When taken internally, these chemicals in the oil may cause extensive damage to liver, kidney, cause rhythm disturbances in the heart and nervous systems. For the same reason, wormseed oil is banned by IFRA (International Fragrance Association) for both external and internal use of its products.
The herb parts should not be consumed by the nursing and pregnant mothers for its possible toxic effects. (Medical disclaimer).
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Tropical plant database- Chenopodium ambrosioides.