What is Epazote?

Epazote characterizes the taste of Mayan cuisine in the Yucatan and Guatemala. The name “epazote” comes from the Nahuatl words, epote, meaning disagreeable or foul, and epatzotl, meaning “sweat,” reflecting its strong aroma. The Swedes call it citronmalla, because of its lemony undertones. Another variety is used in the southern United States as a cure for intestinal worms, thus, the origin of epazote’s nickname, “wormseed.” Epazote is native to central and southern Mexico and Central America. It is cultivated in the United States, Mexico, Asia, Europe, and Central America.

Spice Description

Epazote has small serrated leaves which are tender and green when young and turning red and coarse when mature. The young leaves are milder and less bitter in flavor. It is used as fresh or dried forms. Both the leaf and the stem are used in cooking. Even the flowers and unripe seeds are used.

Epazote has a herbaceous, strong, bitter taste with faint lemony notes. It has a strong pungent turpentine odor with camphor and mintlike overtones. The dried form has less flavor than the fresh form.

Cooking with Epazote

Mexicans and Central Americans use epazote fresh in salads, soups, and meats and especially to enhance huitlacoche, mushrooms, bean- and chile-based foods such as refried beans (frijoles refritos), frijoles negros, moles, or rice and beans. It is usually added toward the end of cooking to prevent bitterness in the finished product. Spaniards flavor teas with epazote. Epazote pairs well with cilantro, lime, chipotle peppers, cheeses, pork fat, black beans, pinto beans, cumin, garlic, onion, corn, and squash blossoms. It also goes well in tortilla soups, fillings and toppings, moles, quesadillas, huitlacoche, soups, and stews. Spice Blends: black bean soup blend, refried bean blend, huitlacoche pate blend, tortilla soup blend, and mole blend.

Health Benefits of Epazote

Epazote helps prevent flatulence, and Mexicans use it in many bean dishes. Mexican mothers steep the herb in milk and sugar and serve this tonic to their children to rid them of intestinal parasites. It is also used to treat dysentery.

Chemical Components

Epazote contains less than 1% essential oil and has mostly monoterpenes and its derivatives, such as ascaridol (up to 70%), limonene and ρ- cymene with camphor, α-pinene, myrcene, terpinene, thymol, and trans-iso-carveol. Epazote contains calcium, iron, phosphorus, vitamin A, vitamin C, and niacin.

Other Names

pazote, bean herb, skunkwood, wormseed, sweet pigweed, West Indian goosefoot, Mexican tea, stinkweed, and Jerusalem parsley (English). It is also called mentruz (Brazilian), chau hang (cantonese), mexicanischer traubentee (German), mirhafu (Hungarian), ambrosia (Italian), amenka-xitasou (Japanese), katuayamodakam (Malayalam), chou xing (Mandarin), sitronmelde (Norwegian), erva formiqueira (Portuguese), epazot (Russian), epazote/yerba de Santa Maria (Spanish), citronmalla (Swedish), meksika cayi (Turkish), and cau dau hoi (Vietnamese).

Scientific Name

Chenopodium ambrosioides
Family: Chenopodiaceae (goosefoot family). 

The above image of a epazote plant (mexican tea) was created by Robert H. Mohlenbrock @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA NRCS. 1992. Western wetland flora: Field office guide to plant species. West Region, Sacramento, CA. , available through the WWW at http://plants.usda.gov/cgi_bin/topics.cgi?earl=plant_profile.cgi&symbol=CHAM . This is a public domain image as stated on http://plants.usda.gov/cgi_bin/topics.cgi?earl=plant_profile.cgi&symbol=CHAM.