Epazote – A Handy Herb that Loves Southwest Summers

Epazote is a summer growing herb that’s easy to grow and use. It is useful because it helps 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.

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*Word-Nerd Note: If you can say Mazatlan, you are also speaking the Nahuatl name of the town, it translates to “deer place.”

Epazote (formerly Chenopodium ambrosoides, now renamed Dysphania ambrosioides) is in the same family as spinach. Epazote came to our area from tropical Mayan lands back in ancient times. Possibly it was brought here by the Pochteca traders. These traders walked routes from Panama to Canada and possibly also carried parrots to the ancestral Puebloans at Chaco in New Mexico. Ancient history which was possibly shared with descendants but lost when European diseases wiped out so many people and so much knowledge.

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Popular For Cooking

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.

In the yard, this strongly scented herb is reported as a deer repellent. I can report that javalina, jackrabbits, cottontails and quail all avoid eating the plants.

Growing epazote is a topic just covered in Gardening With Soule – here. This is one of those easy herbs – you plant it where your other plants get water and then hope not to yank it for a weed by mistake. Basically it’s easy to grow.

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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.

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Go Green

Use epazote to avoid using manufactured bean-digestive compounds. Having the plants in your yard saves packaging, shipping, and all the associated waste of resources inherent in manufactured goods. Even greener, epazote plants provide food for birds, a way to capture carbon, plus a lovely green plant for your yard. If you have an alley, try scattering seed out there for a bird-feeding weed.

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What do you think?!

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More savory cooking in our latest cook book Using Honey in New & Savory Ways (Tierra del Sol Institute Press). Only $6! This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol will get a few pennies at no additional cost to you.

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One thought on “Epazote – A Handy Herb that Loves Southwest Summers

  1. Very interesting. I am not familiar with this herb but love southwestern flavors. The natural digestive enzymes and the mention of the high cost of processed foods, both financially and in decreased health benefits is refreshing. As a Naturalist, I appreciate the mention of how it grows where best and the fact that not only a deer repellant, but
    javelinas, jackrabbits, cottontails, and quail avoid it! And birds eat the seeds! Even history of use by Mayans and how it was distributed across the land by traders. Even an interesting language history! How to preserve (freeze in ice cubes) for later use…Thank you!

    A very precise, short report filled with information from multiple areas of interest.

    Dr. Soule, you may be a genius! I will definately be a follower and look forward to learning more.

    Jamie Nutt

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