Epazote is not such a common herb, but its flavor is unmistakable. Native to Central and South America, it is most used on the American continent, but it also can be found in sub-tropical regions of Europe.
Epazote’s botanical name is Cheopodium ambrosioides or Dysphania ambrosioides.
“Chenopodium” means “goose foot” (in Greek: “chen” means goose and “podus” means foot) due to the characteristic shape of the leaf, similar to a goose paw.
The term “ambrosioides”, “like ambrosia” refers to the very strong smell the herb has. Ambrosia was in Greek mythology the food reserved for the immortal gods who lived on Mount Olympus (“a” meaning “without” and “broros” meaning “mortal”).
The English name “epazote” comes from the Nahuatl language spoken by the Aztecs before the arrival of the Spaniards in Mexico, from “epatl” which means “stench” and “tzotl” which means “sweat”. It is obvious that the old Aztecs didn’t like this herb very much..
A different approach to the flavor of epaozte have Scandinavian names: “saitruunasavikka” in Finnish, “citronmalla” in Swedish and “sitronmelde” in Norwegian, whose first element means citrus, and the second means smell.
Epazote reaches up to 16 inch tall. The leaves are oval (approx. 1.5 inch long and 0.4 inch wide) and serrated. The flowers are small and green, and the seeds are very small and green when fresh. They turn black when dried. The plant has a very strong smell.
You may use the leaves, flowers and unripe fruits. The last have the strongest flavor. All these parts are best when used fresh, but they will still work dried. Yet, the aroma won’t be as strong.
Epazote’s flavor is strong, but difficult to describe. It is often compared with citrus, thyme and mint, or maybe with this combination.
You may keep it fresh for a few days at room temperature or in the refrigerator for about a week.
It can also be kept dry for a few months in a tin packaging protected from light, air and moisture.
Epazote contains the following active compounds: flavones, volatile oil (ascaridole), limonene, camphor, thymol, terpinene, etc. The most important compound is ascaridole, also called chenopodium oil. This oil is toxic when used in large quantities.
It has an antihelmintic effect and was used to treat the intestinal worms in humans and some animals like pigs, dogs, cats and horses. In US, it was replaced with other antihelmintics, but there are a lot of countries that still use oil of chenopodium to treat this disease.
Epazote has analgesic, vermifuge and stomachic properties and it improves the digestion.
The strong flavor of epazote is characteristic to the cuisines from southern Mexico and Guatemala. This herb is very popular in the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico.
People use fresh epazote in soups, salads and meat dishes. It is an important ingredient in recipes for mole verde, a Mexican sauce made with herbs. The most popular use is together with beans due to the fact that it fights against flatulence.
The most common Mexican dish flavored with epazote is “refrito frijoles” (refried beans). It is called this way because the beans are boiled first and then roasted in lard.
Epazote can be used with any beans, but especially with black beans.
It also pairs well with other legumes, fish, pork, green vegetables, rice, mushrooms or with other herbs and spices (oregano, paprika, cloves, cilantro and cumin).
Although epazote is not quite common like other herbs, you should definitely give it a try.