Epazote has a strong pungent flavour with a hint of petroleum and mint smell dominating. Its leaves, fresh or dried, and young shoots are used as seasoning in the dishes of Mexican, Chilean and other South American cuisines. Epazote is also known as Mexican Tea, Wormseed, Pigweed, West Indian Goosefoot, Hedge Mustard, Jerusalem Parsley and Pazote.
Selection and Storage
Epazote can normally be found fresh in Mexican grocery stores or is available air-dried. One teaspoon of dried epazote leaves is equivalent to about one sprig, or 7 fresh leaves. Fresh epazote leaves can be placed in a plastic bag and stored for up to 1 week. You can air-dry the fresh leaves and store in a jar with a tight-fitting lid.
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.
Preparation and Cooking
Wash the leaves in cold water as is done with other greens and herbs. A few leaves or 1-2 sprigs are just enough to flavour the whole food. It is particularly added in the traditional black-bean recipes to improve digestion.
Here are some cooking tips:
- Fresh epazote leaves added to flavour corn-based recipes like gordita (corn dumplings) and bocoles (cornmeal cakes).
- The herb is used in traditional Mexican mole sauce with other ingredients like tomato, capsicum (bell pepper), tomatillo, annatto, etc.
- 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, a cheese stuffed tortilla uses the herb as one of the ingredients along with potatoes, mushrooms, egg, etc.
- If you don’t have access to epazote, or you simply don’t like the flavour you can just omit it from the recipe. No herb has a similar flavour. Complementary additions include coriander or parsley.
- One teaspoon of dried epazote leaves is equivalent to about one sprig, or 7 fresh leaves.
- Another option is ajwain seed, commonly used in Indian cooking.
- Epazote has largely been viewed as medicinal herb rather than a culinary plant. In general, its leaves used in the cooking to counter indigestion and flatulence effects of beans, high fibre and protein food. Nonetheless, the herb has its own intrinsic phyto-nutrients 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 plain leaves provide a good amount of fibre, 3.8 g per 100g.
- Its leaves compose of many monoterpene compounds such as ascaridole (60-80%), isoascaridole, 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 takes part 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.
- 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 in various disease processes.
- The herb has a good amount of minerals like calcium (27% of RDA), manganese, potassium, iron, copper, zinc, and selenium. Manganese is used by the body 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.
- 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, half to one cup of a leaf decoction is given each morning before eating 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.
Epazote should be used in small quantities. Its seed oil rather contains large concentration of ascaridole and other monopterenes. 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 included in the nursing and pregnant mothers for its possible toxic effects.