Epazote (Chenopodium ambrosioides)

Epazote, wormseed, Jesuit’s tea, Mexican tea, Paico or Herba Sancti Mariæ (Dysphania ambrosioides), formerly Chenopodium ambrosioides) is an herb native to Central America, South America, and southern Mexico.

It is an annual or short-lived perennial plant, growing to 1.2 m tall, irregularly branched, with oblong-lanceolate leaves up to 12 cm long. The flowers are small and green, produced in a branched panicle at the apex of the stem.

Epazote is used as a leaf vegetable and herb for its pungent flavor. Raw, it has a resinous, medicinal pungency, similar to anise, fennel, or even tarragon, but stronger. Epazote’s fragrance is strong but difficult to describe. It has been compared to citrus, petroleum, savory, mint and camphor.

Although it is traditionally used with black beans for flavor and its carminative properties, it is also sometimes used to flavor other traditional Mexican dishes as well: it can be used to season quesadillas and sopes (especially those containing huitlacoche), soups, mole de olla, tamales with cheese and chile, chilaquiles, eggs and potatoes and enchiladas.

Epazote is commonly believed to prevent flatulence caused by eating beans and is therefore used to season them. It is also used in the treatment of amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, malaria, chorea, hysteria, catarrh, and asthma.

Oil of chenopodium is derived from this plant. It is antihelminthic, that is, it kills intestinal worms, and was once listed for this use in the US Pharmacopeia. It is also cited as an antispasmodic and abortifacient.

Epazote essential oil contains ascaridole (up to 70%), limonene, p-cymene, and smaller amounts of numerous other monoterpenes and monoterpene derivatives (α-pinene, myrcene, terpinene, thymol, camphor and trans-isocarveol). Ascaridole (1,4-peroxido-p-menth-2-ene) is rather an uncommon constituent of spices; another plant owing much of its character to this monoterpene peroxide is boldo. Ascaridole is toxic and has a pungent, not very pleasant flavor; in pure form, it is an explosive sensitive to shock. Allegedly, ascaridole content is lower in epazote from Mexico than in epazote grown in Europe or Asia.

 

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