Pápaloquelite : Porophyllum macrocephalum

Porophyllum macrocephalum

Also called : Papaloquelite, Papaloqulitl (Nahuatl),Papalokilitl, Papalo, pápalo rollizo, (“plump” papalo), Quelite de mariposa, Mariposa Azteca , pucsnan’caca (Totonac), quelites oloroso, ahoyacaquilitl (sweet scented edible plant), chipaca, chaoacocopin, xpechukil, Pech´uk (Yucatán Maya), xac’ani (Otomi), wacamacho, ukche, tepegua (Queretaro), tepelcacho (Chilapa, Guerrero), tepelcasho, Pápalo macho, pápalo hembra (Mixteca), Chapahua (Totonaco, Veracruz Coast) Chapahuate (Totonaco), chivatillo (Michoacán), Mesis, Tepehua (Hidalgo), liendrilla, yerba de peo, yerba de chulo (black vulture grass), chucha, gallenaza, ruda de gallina (Colombia), yerba de cabra (goat grass), yerba poroso, hierba de venado (deer herb), oreja de monte (mountain ear), mata piojo (louse killer), ruda cimmarona (wild rue), erdure de mariposa (butterfly greens), purranga, mampirutu (in Papiamentu –  a Portuguese-based creole language)  and mampurite (“skunky”), Bighead poreleaf (Texas), Summer cilantro (2), Bolivian cilantro, Killi (from Quechua: Killiña), cilantrillo

The name “mampuritu” and its derivatives are often quoted as meaning “skunk” in Spanish. This is confusing as the translation for skunk is mofeta or zorillo. The word mampuritu is used on a Caribbean island (Curaçao) to refer to a plant used to relieve gas pains and P.ruderale is referred to as Yerba di mampuritu by the Government of the Netherlands Antilles in their dcbiodata.net.

This herb predates the introduction of coriander/cilantro into Mexico by hundreds (if not thousands) of years. It is a strong smelling herb that can be used in place of cilantro although fewer leaves are needed. (think of “cilantro” as the fresh green herb and “coriander” as the dried seed). There is no substitute for its unique flavour. Its flavour, like that of cilantro can linger in the mouth and generally produces a reaction similar to that of your first taste of cilantro. It has a strong herbal flavour with the same high notes as cilantro. I have heard it referred to as “citrusy”, as having “the pungency of rue” and of being “without the rankness of cilantro”. On the “First We Feast” Blogspot in their article “Taco Slang 101: The Secret Language of Taquerias” they note that papalo tastes like “sharp, lemony petroleum”.

The intense flavour of papalo can be reined in by making a salsa out of it, limón (lime juice), olive oil and purple onion. This salsa will be a good accompaniment to frijoles de olla.

Cilantro is often accused of having a “soapy” flavour. This is due to aldehydes found within the plant and there is a genetic disposition in some people for these plants to exhibit this soapy flavour (1) (Eriksson, N etal). Papalo complements the flavour of chipotle chiles and in Mexico it is traditional for bunches of fresh papalo to be kept on tables at taquerias and fondas so that you can add the leaves to your liking, a habit likely dating back to the days of the Azteca. It is added to tacos, tortas and beans, just before consumption. It can be added to soups, salsas and salads and as a flavouring agent for grilled meats. It is a common culinary herb in the states of Hidalgo, Jalisco and the D.F. and is an indispensable ingredient in Puebla for their national sandwich, the Cemita. I have had delicious results when using this herb in place of cilantro in Asian dishes. This herb can sometimes have a bitter flavour when used on its own. This bitterness fades when the herb is mixed with other ingredients (tomatoes, chiles, garlic, limón).

  1. due to the OR6A2 gene

Cemita Grilled Cheese (adapted from a Starr Conspiracy recipe)


  • 2 slices brown or light rye bread
  • Butter
  • 1 canned chipotle chile (in adobo sauce)
  • 2 teaspoons of the adobo sauce
  • ½ small avocado
  • Queso Oaxaca (Oaxaca cheese – substitute with mozzarella or Armenian string cheese)
  • Papalo leaves (substitute with cilantro)


  1. Butter the bread on both sides and grill both slices on one side
  2. Flip them over and begin grilling the other side
  3. While the bread toasts, finely chop the chipotle and mash it with the avocado and adobo sauce
  4. Spread the avocado mixture on one piece of toast and add a couple of papalo leaves and a sprinkle of cheese
  5. Top with the other slice of toast and consume

The species are divided into broad leaved and slender leaved varieties.

Broad leaved varieties include P.ruderale, P.coloratum, P.punctatum and P.macrocephalum.

Slender leaved varieties include P.tagetoides, P.gracile and P.linaria

P.tagetoides (Pipicha – narrow  leaved variety) on left,  
P.macrocephalum (Papalo – broad leaved variety) on right
P.macrocephalum (Papalo – broad leaved variety) on left, P.tagetoides (Pipicha – narrow  leaved variety) on right

In Mexico City the most commonly used variety is the broad leaved type known as papaloquelite, it is a delicate herb with soft scalloped leaves that has visible oil glands around the edges.

P.macrocephalum leaf – showing oil glands in leaf
Papalo in a taqueria in Mexico City

Pescado Papalado (Steamed papalo fish fillets en papillote) (1)

(adapted from a recipe by Yoliliztli Juarez)


  • 2 sprigs of papalo
  • 2 sprigs of pipicha
  • 1 fillet of fish
  • Finely minced garlic (to taste)
  • Butter
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • Baking paper


  • Season the fish fillet with salt, pepper and garlic
  • Cover both sides of the fish fillet with the herbs
  • Lightly butter one side of the baking paper and place the fish on the buttered side
  • Wrap the fish tightly and steam or bake until cooked (10 – 12 minutes)

This dish can be modified by the addition of kaffir lime leaves, bruised lemongrass and some green chile.

  1. En papillote – cooked and served in a paper wrapper. You could, if you wanted to, use mixiote or banana leaf to wrap the fish (or aluminium foil)

Oil production within the leaves of the plant significantly decreases during flowering and this will affect the flavour profile of the herb during this period. Young, fresh growth is best. This herb cannot be effectively dried or frozen. The flavour profiles of the Porophyllums are very similar although I have read that the slender leaved varieties are more pungent than the broad leafed varieties. Once I have tried both I will let you know.

Guacamole de papalo y pipicha 

(adapted from a recipe by Yoliliztli Juarez)

Guaje pods


  • 3 sprigs of papalo
  • 4 sprigs of pipicha
  • 1 medium-large avocado
  • 1 or 2 cloves garlic (minced) original recipe calls for 1 or 2 guaje pods (1)
  • Salt to taste
  • Squeeze of lime juice


  1. Wash the herbs and remove the leaves from the stems, chop coarsely
  2. Roughly crush the avocado and add the herbs and garlic
  3. Season to taste with the lime juice and salt
Leucaenea tree
  1. Guaje pods grow from a tree known as Leucaena leucocephala which is also known by the Maya as Uaxim and in English as Leadtree, White Popinac and Wild Tamarind. The tree produces long, flat, green pods filled with seeds about the size of a small lima bean which are used in Latin American cooking. The pod and seeds have a garlicky quality, and fresh pods are often chopped up and used to flavour various dishes. When the pods dry and turn brown, the seeds are scraped out and can be eaten raw or added to salads or cooked dishes. The seeds are often ground and used as a thickening for cooked sauces. Fresh or dried guaje (also spelled cuaje and huaje) can be purchased at Latin American markets.

Mexico has a lively culinary scene and many chefs are experimenting with and showcasing local flora. The quelites in particular are producing some exciting results. In 2009 the “Fiesta de la Flor Más Bella Ejido” was held in Xochimilco. CANIRAC, the National Chamber of the restaurant industry, held a competition featuring pre-Hispanic cuisine, apprentice chef Apolinar Gutierrez Quiroz won 2nd place with a dish featuring chilacayote, purslane, romeritos and huazontle. This was topped off by a vivid green margarita flavoured with papaloquelite. Enrique Olvera of Mexico City’s Pujol restaurant is showcasing indigenous herbs such as epazote and papalo and is using them in non-traditional ways. Enrique was México’s Chef of the year in 2004. During the XXV Festival Vaniloquio of 2016 the 3rd Concurso de Quelites was held in San Pedro Cholula and papalo ice cream won first place in the Sweets section of this gastronomic competition featuring quelites.

This competition is open to traditional cooks, restaurateurs and housewives, from the “magical town of Cholula” and the primary rule to be followed is that the main ingredient of the dish be a quelite; including (but not limited to)  epazote, alache, watercress, romeritos, verdolagas, huazontle, pápalo, quintonil, pepicha or chepil. Competitors participate in two categories. The first is a traditional one, in which broths, moles or stews are presented; and the second is one for innovation and you have the option of creating either a sweet or salty (savoury) dish.

This competition is held in collaboration with the Vigías de Patrimonio Cultural group. This group is interested in preserving and showcasing the cultural heritage of the area. It is worth noting that a pulque (1) expo is held at the same time as part of the festival .

  1. Pulque. An ancient fermented drink made from the sap of some varieties of Agave that was consumed throughout Mesoamerica. Pulque was once banned by the authorities but it is currently in the midst of a resurgence amongst the Mexican hipster crowd.

Nutritional profile of Papalo (1)

Nutritional components of pápaloquelite. (P.macrocephalum)
Data per 100 g of edible portion
Water (g) 93.2
Protein (g) 1.8
Fats (g) 0.3
ash (g) 0.9
Total Carbohydrates (g) 3.8
Energy (kCal) 25
Cholesterol (mg) 0
Calcium (mg) 361
Iron (mg) 2.4
Vitamin A Equiv (µg) 129
Thiamine – B1 (mg) 0.08
Riboflavin – B2 (mg) 0.2
Niacin – B3 (mg) 0.3
Vitamin C (mg) 19
EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) 3.817mg/100g (2)
DHA (docosahexaenoic Acid) 1.175mg/100g (2)
ALA (α-Linolenic acid) 4.382mg/100g (2)

  1. https://www.gob.mx/cms/uploads/attachment/file/231821/Diagnostico_del_papaloquelite_en_mexico.com
  2. José Luis Silencio Barrita, Sara Montaño Benavides and Santiago Sánchez (November 11th 2015). Antioxidants and Natural Compounds in Mexican Foods, Basic Principles and Clinical Significance of Oxidative Stress, Sivakumar Joghi Thatha Gowder, IntechOpen, DOI: 10.5772/61626.

Another document, Alimentacion saludable una alternativa para mejorar la salud (1) from the International conference, Food And Health : Solutions To The Current Problem (2) lists the exact same figures for the nutritional content for P.tagetoides (3).

  1. Healthy Eating: an alternative to improve health.
  2. http://docplayer.es/22116500-Alimentacion-saludable-una-alternativa-para-mejorar-la-salud-conferencia-internacional-alimentacion-y-salud-soluciones-a-la-problematica-actual.html
  3. Chepiche or Pipicha

 Medicinal uses of Papalo

The leaves of papalo are traditionally used as an anti-bacterial and an anti-inflammatory. A tea made from its leaves has been used to treat high blood pressure, infections, stomach ache, colic, indigestion and as a treatment for snake bite. In Tabasco pápaloquelite is mostly used as a laxative.  Papaloquelite (like cilantro) is considered a “cold” food and is contraindicated in diarrhoea. In Veracruz it is used to treat stroke and ventazón (flatulence), in Michoacán it is used for evil liver (hígado malvado), which is characterized by the presence of bad breath and in this case it is advisable to eat the raw roots and leaves as a vegetable. In Oaxaca; the leaf is applied locally against toothache and in other areas it has been used as a mouthwash/gargle for oral ulcers. As a medicinal plant it is recommended for liver diseases such as congestion, gallstones, lack of bile and jaundice. For these disorders take an infusion made with papaloquelite and orange leaves.(Telma,2011).

The Quechua people of Bolivia are said to eat a pore leaf daily as a tonic, considering it useful for treating liver ailments and high blood pressure. It has been written that the Chacobo Indians of Bolivia believe Papalo leaves will reduce the swelling of infected injuries and the Tzotzil Maya call P.macrocephalum Xinal tz’i’lel (“stinky plant”) and use it as a remedy for stomach “wind”; a small bunch of it is brewed for a “hot” tea. (Breedlove etal,2000,p281-82).(1)

Papalo has mild laxative properties and the roots and leaves are used in some parts of Oaxaca for this purpose in the treatment of empacho (Pérez Ochoa et al 2019) . There is uncontrolled clinical observational evidence for its use in hypertension and for seizures (epilepsy). Its emmenagogue properties suggest that it may be unsuitable for use during pregnancy and it should not be used medicinally whilst breastfeeding as it may pass through the mother’s breast milk into the baby where it has the potential to affect the baby’s digestive processes. After pregnancy it can be administered in the puerperium stage (2) to help regulate menstruation. Pérez Ochoa Papalo has mild laxative properties and the roots and leaves are used in some parts of Oaxaca for this purpose in the treatment of empacho (. There is uncontrolled clinical observational evidence for its use in hypertension and for seizures (epilepsy). Its emmenagogue properties suggest that it may be unsuitable for use during pregnancy and it should not be used medicinally whilst breastfeeding as it may pass through the mother’s breast milk into the baby where it has the potential to affect the baby’s digestive processes. After pregnancy it can be administered in the puerperium stage (2) to help regulate menstruation.

In San Luis Potosi an infusion of P.macrocephalum is used in the treatment of depression and anguish (Guzman Gutierrez etal 2014). A materia medica from the state of Aguascalientes (Regalado,G 2014) says that a tea made from this plant is to be drunk once a day in the treatment of cancer or inflammation of the cardiac muscle (el corazon). Regalado writes that a throbbing or dizziness in the ears (tinnitus?) can be treated by making a small ball of the fresh leaf and inserting it in the ear, he also mentions its daily use in the treatment of susto or the more serious condition of espanto.(see also Pericon)

The aqueous extract obtained from the whole plant did not present toxic effects when administered orally at the dose of 52.5g / kg.

  1. Aztec medicine (much like western medicine at the time) used a theory of balancing elements in relation to illnesses and the medicines used to treat them; various illnesses and their treatments were designated as hot or cold (in one degree or another) and balance was achieved by “readjusting” with opposites. Unlike the Moorish Humoral theories of the Spaniards which in essence covered only illnesses and medicines/treatments the Aztec concepts of duality addressed the whole cosmos and included such things as plants, animals, minerals, stars, days of the week, units of time, cultural activities and even their gods. These ideas predated the conquest and were not a “degenerate form of the Hippocratic humoral principles” as has been suggested (Messer 1987). Cooking was also included in this. Cooking below ground (in an earth oven – pib) was considered cold while cooking aboveground was considered hot (particularly when the food was prepared in a ritual context). Things could also be classified as templado (neutral) which designated them as being “harmless” or “balanced” Tortillas are considered templado.
  2.  Puerperium – the period of about six weeks after childbirth during which the mother’s reproductive organs return to their original non-pregnant condition.

P.macrocephalum has been found to contain α-asarone, β-asarone, and the monoterpenes (β-phellandrene, sabinene, myrcene and limonene. Limonene is believed to be partly responsible for the anti-inflammatory action of P.ruderale. (Rondon etal,2000). The monoterpene group of compounds contained within this oil is known to have anticonvulsant effects. (Souza et al).

Plants from Brazil are characterized as having a lemony cilantro like odour provided by (E,E) dodecadienal and those from Bolivia as having a piney odour provided by sabinene and terpinen-4-ol. (DeBaggio etal, 2009, p411).

Another article (Raggi etal) has found that essential oils hydro distilled from the 2 varieties above contained the following constituents.

P.macrocephalum contained limonene (83.5%), myrcene (6.3%) and 1-undecene (5.4%) as the major compounds.

P.ruderale contained E-β-ocimene (54.9%), limonene (25.2%) and β-pinene (10.1%) as the main components. 

 The presence of β-phellandrene and limonene in the essential oil is very interesting as these are known to possess antibacterial activity. Previous research has reported that these particular compounds have demonstrated activity against the microorganisms Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Salmonella typhi, Salmonella choleraesuis and Bacillus subtilis (Fonseca etal).

Like P.pausodynum (1) this plant has been used for treating headaches. The essential oil content of this plant, in particular the terpene limonene (2) may have some utility in the treatment of migraines. A home remedy utilised by abuelas are chiqueadores. Chiqueadores are headache plasters that can be made from fresh herbs which are affixed to the temples with a bandanna (3) and which remove stress or bad mood and relieves headaches.  According to the Royal Spanish Academy (4) limonene is anxiolytic and antidepressant and this component of papalo may reduce headaches via the reduction of anxiety levels within the sufferer.

  1. See Post Porophyllum Pausodynum
  2. Also found in rosemary and pine
  3. Or small discs of paper smeared with something medicinal and a sticky substance such as tallow or even lard
  4. https://www.gob.mx/siap/articulos/chiqueadores

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