Poreleaf – What’s in a Name?
Slender poreleaf, also called hierba del venado, odora, (Spanish), xtisil (Seri), bears the scientific name of Porophyllum gracile. If you like word origins you can just look at this scientific name and learn something about the plant. “Poro” tells us it has pores, and “phyllum” refers to leaves – so the leave have pores on them! And furthermore those pores are filled with rich herbal oils. “Gracile” has the same root as graceful. It is a graceful herb with pores in the leaves! Enough Latin for now.
Slender poreleaf is a member of the Compositae or Sunflower family. Like many in the family, it used for culinary (sunflower, lettuce, artichoke), medicinal (chamomile tea), and ornamental (too many!). Poreleaf is a blue-green evergreen perennial, and Sonoran Desert native. It grows 1 to 2 feet high and 1 to 2 feet wide. Poreleaf can take full sun and even reflected sun, and also grows well in part shade. It needs the alkaline desert soils, and does not tolerate over-watering.
Use Your Poreleaf
Poreleaf taste is somewhere between arugula, cilantro and rue. It is not for everyone. I like it in salsa. I also crush the dried leaves and add them to hamburger. Careful! A little goes a long way. Harvest fresh material of the slender poreleaf as needed for salads and salsas. You can also harvest and dry for use later.
The Seri use a tea made from the stems of this native plant as a remedy for colds. Roots are macerated and used to treat toothache. In some Mexican markets fresh and dried poreleaf is available for sale. People crumble dried leaves together with salt and rub it on meat for flavor and to help make it last in the absence of refrigeration.
These medicinal uses may have scientific validity, but there are no published studies. I will share this – for the plant nerds – many related species in the same Tageteae tribe contain thiophenes, sulfur compounds with proven bactericidal properties, good as cold remedies. The thiophenes may also help preserve the meat while the other secondary compounds flavor the meat.
Planting and Care
You won’t find this delicate fragrant perennial blue green shrub in nurseries, but if you find seed while you are out hiking, bring some back and plant it about a quarter inch deep in an unused corner of your yard. Protect it from seed eating birds, and with a little water and you will be rewarded with a durable desert plant that needs no care and produces lovely white to pinkish flowers with attractive red highlights.
If you are not a hiker, head over to the Pima County Seed Library – online or in any branch library. I donated a bag of seed to them, and smaller packets should be available for check out. All they ask is that you return some seed to them in coming seasons.
Slender poreleaf appears to be unpalatable to rabbit, javelina, rodents, and deer. Since it is distasteful to deer it is puzzling why it is called “hierba del venado” which translates as “herb of the deer.” Perhaps because it is found in remote areas where deer roam, or perhaps it is good for field dressing deer meat.
Porophyllum ruderale is commonly grown throughout the New World and used as a condiment, especially in salsas. Since it is used by many cultures, common names, include Bolivian coriander, quillquiña, yerba porosa, killi, pápalo, tepegua, mampuritu, and pápaloquelite. It needs more water than our native species, and shade in summer, but the taste is much the same.
If you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my free lectures that I mention on the SavortheSW Facebook page. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today (Tierra del Sol Institute Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit “Tierra del Sol” may get a few pennies.
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