Epazote (formerly Chenopodium ambrosoides, now renamed Dysphania ambrosioides) came to our area from Mayan lands. The name is the same in Nahuatl, Spanish, and English. Who says you are not multilingual?!
Epazote is a summer annual herb popular for culinary and medicinal uses. 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 help break down these offending proteins while alo providing a delightfully piquant flavor to the dish.
This strongly scented herb is reported as a deer repellent. I can report that javalina, jackrabbits, cottontails and quail all avoid eating the plants. Medicinally, epazote has been used in an infusion as a vermifuge (against intestinal parasites), and in a decoction to help induce labor. These uses lead to one of it’s common names, wormseed.
Planting and Care. Plant epazote from seed in spring once night temperatures rise above the low 50’s. Seeds can take as long as four weeks to germinate. Plants will thrive through the warm season and freeze to the ground at 35 degrees, but often regrow from the roots.
Seed Sources. Check the Pima County Seed Library. No need to drive there, go online to check for seed availability then reserve some sent to your local branch. I have also found seed through Renee’s Garden Seed and Botanical Interests.
Soil. Epazote tolerates poor, even clay soil, but plants grow best in average, well-drained soil. Can be grown in containers that are at least eight inches deep.
Location. Full sun is ok in the Southwest, but afternoon shade is appreciated by this tropical herb.
Fertilize. Not necessary, but once a month with general purpose fertilizer will help make bushy plants. To really keep the plants bushy, you will need to pinch often. This is a technical term, really! (see “Care”).
Habit & Care. Epazote can reach 5 feet, but will be scraggly. Pinch or clip off the growing tips often to keep it around 2 to 3 feet tall, compact, leafy, and looking attractive in the garden. Usually a single plant provides enough for the household. Epazote reseeds readily, remove the flowering stalks, or be ready to weed excess plants next year. Seed heads turn an attractive bronze in autumn, and finches enjoy the seeds.
Harvest and Use. Epazote is used fresh for culinary purposes, and loses “digestive” properties when dried. 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. If you want to save epazote for winter use, chop up fresh leaves and freeze them.
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 low green plant for your yard.
This article is exerpeted from my book “Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today” (2011, Tierra del Sol Press, $15). I hope you will consider purchasing a copy locally at Antigone Books, Arizona Experience Store, Magic Garden, Mostly Books, or Rillito Nursery. You can visit my booth at the Arizona Feeds Country Store Spring Expo, Sat. May 3 (10-3), 4743 N. Highway Dr.
10 thoughts on “Enjoy Beans with Epazote”
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my Hispanic father in law used epazote in his “dry” salsa! when he was younger, and was a sheepherder in southern new mexico he would be gone for a lengthy time herding the flock. food spoilage was not an option. so he could not carry a liquid salsa and instead concocted a dry, pulverized “salsa” that would shake out of a salt shaker! the following was his typical recipie. you can vary the recipie to your taste, and you can vary the amount of hot dry chile to your taste!:
1. garlic powder 2. salt 3. epazone leaves 4. chiltepin
in a coffee grinder (retired from coffee duty) put the above ingredients and grind away to a fine pulverized dry product. this product has a long shelf life and is a handy culinary delight for backpackers, arid landscape hikers, etc! disfrutenlo!
Que saboroso, Tom! Muchas gracias, muff.
I forgot to mention my father in law called his concoction “la dinamita”!
The dried material may not work as well as fresh, but you never know until you try. The flavor is largely lost with cooking. As Ms. Frizzle (my hero) says, “Take chances!”
I have been hearing about epazote, and have a jar of it in my spice drawer, but have never known anything about it. This was very interesting. I might try it on my sister-in-law who cannot digest beans! Or maybe not.
Jacqueline replies: It may not work so well if it is dried. Also, if it is more than two years old, I would throw it out and get fresh. It is available at area Farmer’s Markets and at supermarkets catering to Hispanic clientele.
I would love to grow it here in Wisconsin. Do you think it would grow well inside with plenty of light?
Attention to all cool climate gardeners – You can grow epazote outside in the summer garden! Epazote grows in summer gardens all the way up into Zone 3, just wait until the soils are warm enough to plant lettuce seed then plant epazote seed. One problem may be that your plants might not get mature enough in a short summer to set seed, but not a big issue. Try Native Seeds/SEARCH for seed, or Botanical Interests. Thanks for a wonderful question. (Posted by Jacqueline)
Thank you. I will definitely give it a try this summer.