Most people have never heard of epazote, however, you have probably tasted it and wondered exactly what it was. Epazote is the leaf in black beans and that great lemony aftertaste in an authentic salsa.
Raw, it has a resinous, medicinal pungency, similar to the liquorice taste of 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 putty.
Although it is traditionally used with black beans for flavor and its antiflatulent 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.
Also know as Mexican tea, wormseed and stinkweed.
Epazote can normally be found fresh in Mexican grocery stores or is available air-dried.
Often, the first time a person tastes epazote, they feel an instant dislike - almost a gag reflex for some. Given time, most people will acquire a taste for it. Epazote is an essential ingredient in authentic Mexican cuisine.
WARNING: Epazote can be toxic especially during pregnancy.
Cultivation of Epazote
Site: Epazote is not fussy about soil, but wants full sun and good drainage. As with most herbs, a less-than-rich soil produces the best and most concentrated flavor in the leaves. It can grow fairly large, up to 2 to 3 feet tall, so give it a good-size pot.
Propagation: Sow a few seeds in the pot, and after emergence thin to the best plant. Germination rates are usually very good, and seedlings should appear within a few days of sowing the seed.
Growing: Epazote self-seeds readily and is considered highly invasive. You might want to consider growing it in a pot outdoors. It is usually described as an annual, but apparently can be perennial given warm winter temperatures so take care of your plant and it might last you some years.
Harvesting: To harvest, cut the center stem first, to encourage bushing. Prune the plant frequently to prevent flowering and assure a continuing supply of leaf, but don't harvest more than half the plant at a time. And, as with most herbs, don't fertilize it, lest you weaken the flavor.
Culinary Uses: Epazote (chenopodium ambrosioides) is an unusual herb that is essential for any chef serious about authentic Mexican cooking. In its native Mexico and was common in the pre-Hispanic cooking of the Aztecs and Mayas.
You can use Epazote leaves and fruits in a variety of dishes. It has a strong and pungent flavor with a light hint of mint. It is an essential ingredient in many recipes requiring beans. It’s no surprise to see Epazote used to flavor beans, as its anti-flatulent properties come in quite handy. Epazote is also said to cure an upset stomach. In very large quantities, it can be toxic.