Epazote: Everything You Need to Know

Epazote (pronounced eh-pah-ZOH-tay) might not be an herb you come across too often when cooking.But just like anything in life, you never know when something new you learned could become useful.

The following article from nutrition-and-you.com explains epazote in full detail, including its health benefits and tips on how to use epazote in food preparation. Who knows? Maybe epazote will become your new favorite herb!

Epazote nutrition facts

Epazote is a popular Central American herb used by native Mexicans since antiquity. Its strong musky flavor gives unique taste to Mexican and other Latin American cuisines. Its young shoots and leaves used like vegetable in soups while mature, pungent leaves used as digestive and carminatives in bean, fish and corn dishes.

Binomially the herb plant belongs to the large amaranthaceae family of herbs and vegetables including amaranth, spinach, quinoa, beets etc. Scientific name: Chenopodium ambrosioides. Some common names include wormseed, Mexican tea, pazote…etc.

Epazote is easy growing annual herb, prefers well draining sandy soil and full sunlight. It grows in the fields, along the roadside as weedy invasive plant. It reaches about 60 to 100 cm in height featuring small pointed leaves with serrated margins. Small yellow-green flower appears in cluster as in amaranth developing to numerous tiny black seeds.

Health benefits of Epazote

Epazote has largely been viewed as medicinal herb rather than a culinary plant. In general, its leaves used in the cooking to counter indigestion and flatulence effects in the beans or any fiber and protein rich food. Nonetheless, the herb has many intrinsic plant nutrients which when used optimally would benefit to overall health and wellness.

  • The herb is very low in calories. 100 g leaves just contain 32 calories. Its plain leaves provide good amount of fiber, 3.8 g per 100g.
  • Its leaves composed of many monoterpene compounds such as ascaridole (60-80%), isoascaridole, p-cymene, limonene, and terpinene. Ascaridole is toxic to several intestinal worms like roundworm, hookworms, pinworm etc. Native Mayans drank its infusion on regular basis to keep off from worm infestation.
  • The herb parts, especially young leaves are excellent source of folic acid, provide 215 µg or 54% of daily recommended values. Folic acid takes part in the DNA synthesis and cell division. Expectant mothers, therefore, advised to add more greens in their diet to help prevent neural tube defects in the newborns.
  • Epazote has small amounts of vitamin-A and some flavonoid phenolic anti-oxidants such as beta-carotenes. Together, they act as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a role in aging and in various disease processes.
  • The herb has good amount of minerals like calcium (27% of RDA), manganese, potassium, iron, copper, zinc, and selenium. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
  • It has small but adequate levels of other B-complex vitamins, particularly pyridoxine and riboflavin. These vitamins function as co-factors in the enzymatic metabolism inside the body.

Selection and storage

Epazote is available year around in the stores specializing Latin American herbs. One may also find dried leaves in the spice stores.

While buying the herb, look for fresh, small, young tender leaves, as mature leaves are pungent and strong scented. Avoid large, flower stems with yellow or wilted leaves. Once at home, store unwashed in the refrigerator as other greens, wrapped in a dampen towel.

Preparation and serving methods:

Epazote has strong pungent flavor with dominant petroleum and mint smell. Its leaves, fresh or dried, and young shoots used as seasoning the dishes in Mexican, Chilean and other South American region.

To prepare, wash the leaves in cold water as in other greens and herbs. Just few leaves or 1-2 sprigs enough to scent the food. It is particularly added in the black bean recipes to improve digestion.

Here are some cooking tips:

  • Fresh epazote leaves added to flavor corn-based recipes like gordita (corn dumplings) and bocoles (cornmeal cakes).
  • The herb is used in traditional Mexican mole sauce with other ingredients like tomato, bell pepper, tomatillo, annatto etc.
  • Fresh leaves used in black (Frijoles negros) and pinto bean stews.
  • Contrary to its name, Epazote herb is not used to make tea but to make herbal infusion, which is later used in the recipes. Traditional Yucatan lime and chicken soups use this decoction.
  • Quesadillas con epazote, a cheese stuffed tortilla uses the herb as one of the ingredient along with potatoes, mushrooms, egg etc.

Medicinal uses of epazote herb

  • Epazote has been found in the traditional medicines in many Central and South American cultures. Its infusion is a popular household remedy for helminthic infestation. Usually, half to one cup of a leaf decoction is given each morning before eating for three consecutive days as treatment.
  • The herb is excellent remedy for stomach and intestinal ailments like indigestion, cramps, and ulcers.
  • Its decoction has been found to have some anti-diabetic properties. Further, certain trial studies suggest it holds hope for some liver cirrhosis and cancers. (Medical disclaimer)

Safety profile

Epazote (wormseed) should be used in small quantities. Its seed oil rather contains large concentration of ascaridole and other monopterenes. When taken internally, these chemicals in the oil may cause extensive damage to liver, kidney, rhythm disturbances in the heart and nervous systems. For the same reason, wormseed oil is banned by IFRA (International fragrance association) for both external and internal use of its products. (Medical disclaimer)

So now that you know everything there is to know about epazote, you can incorporate it into a few recipes for a unique, flavorful twist.  Maybe it will come in handy when preparing a bean dish or when experimenting with a new tea flavor. Whatever the case, epazote can be used in a variety of ways and for many different purposes.

If you want an authentic taste of epazote (without having to do the work), come to one of our three Ixtapa Mexican Restaurant & Cantina locations in Massachusetts to try one of our traditional recipes!