Quelite : Mexixquilitl

Mexixquilitl (as L.virginicum) also called lentejilla

Lepidium virginicum which has been posited as the plant depicted in the Badianus Manuscript.
L.virginicum is known as peppercress or peppergrass in various parts of the Americas and has become a naturalised weed in many temperate and tropical areas
Mexixquilitl as depicted in the Nova plantarum, animalium et mineralium Mexicanorum historia (circa 1651).

The picture above depicts a plant from the tropaeolum genus. These are commonly known as nasturtiums. The leaves of the nasturtium are edible and have a “peppery” bite to them.

The Tropaeolum genus is native to Central and South America and were introduced into Europe from Peru by the Spanish. Nasturtiums received their common name because the produce an oil similar to that of watercress, “Nasturtium officinale”. Nasturtiums were known as “Indian Cress”. According to Jesuit missionaries, the Incas used nasturtiums as a salad vegetable and as a medicinal herb.

Watercress. Nasturtium officinale.

Mexixquilitl (on right) as depicted in the Badianus Manuscript (circa 1552). This picture bears no resemblance to a nasturtium of the Tropaeolum genus.

Culinary uses.

Young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. They are a rich source of vitamin C (1) and have a hot cress-like flavour. Leaves are chopped finely and added to salads, used as a garnish or cooked as greens. Unripe seedpods have a pleasantly pungent flavour and can be eaten raw or used as a condiment in soups and stews. The seed is a pepper substitute.

Mexixquilitl Chermoula

Chermoula is a North African recipe that can be used as a marinade and relish. It is commonly used in Algerian, Libyan, Moroccan and Tunisian cooking and is typically used to flavour fish or seafood, but it lends itself well to other meats as well as vegetables.

Common ingredients include garlic, cumin, coriander, oil, lemon juice and regional variations may include pickled lemons (common in Moroccan cuisine), onion, ground chile, black pepper, saffron, and other herbs.


  • 1 large clove garlic, peeled
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh green peppergrass seedpods
  • 1 small serrano chile
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro (coriander) leaves
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt


  1. Grind together the garlic, peppergrass, chile, and cilantro in a mortar and pestle (or molcajete). Or alternatively put in a food processor and pulse to finely chop.
  2. Add the salt and 1/4 cup of the olive oil and mix in. You want to have a slightly liquid paste.
  3. Add more olive oil if needed. Chermoula will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 months


  • Add some ground spices. Cumin, coriander, paprika or dried red chile flakes to the mix. The Moroccan spice mix Ras el hanout  could also be used
  • Add lemon juice or preserved lemon rind (or even lime zest)
  • Add flat leaf parsley (at step 1)

How to use

  • use as a marinade for raw meat, fish, chicken or vegetables
  • baste ingredients as they cook on the grill or BBQ
  • use like sofrito in a sauce, stew (or tagine) by adding it to the simmering dish
  • serve alongside grilled vegetables or fish or meat (a bit like a chimichurri)
  • use as a dip for raw vegetables

Medicinal uses.

The leaves of wild pepper-grass are nutritious and generally detoxifying, they have been used to treat vitamin C deficiency and diabetes, and to expel intestinal worms (1). The herb is also diuretic and of benefit in easing rheumatic pain (1) (2). As a diuretic it can be used in an infusion with corn silk to treat renal issues.

A sweetened decoction of the plant is sometimes administered to babies suffering from colic, and it is a domestic remedy for afflictions of the stomach and intestines (3). An infusion of this herb can be used to treat empacho (10), the same infusion can be used as a wash in the treatment of susto (11).

North American Indians used the bruised fresh plant, or a tea made from the leaves to treat poison ivy rash and scurvy. (4)

A poultice of the leaves was applied to the chest in the treatment of croup. (4)(7)

The seed is antiasthmatic, antitussive, cardiotonic and diuretic (5). Called Ting Li Zi in Mandarin, it is one of the essential herbs that can remove heat from lungs to relieve asthma, it is a leading treatment for upper respiratory infection, bronchitis, emphysema, precordial pain, and other diseases that are characterized by coughing, phlegm, asthma, or accompanied with oedema.

It is used in the treatment of coughs and asthma with excessive phlegm, oedema (9), oliguria (8) and liquid accumulation in the thoraco-abdominal cavity. (5)

The root is used to treat excess catarrh within the respiratory tract. (1)

A poultice of the bruised roots has been used to draw out blisters. (6)

  1. Chevallier. A.: The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants: Dorling Kindersley. London 1996
  2. DeFilipps, R. A.; Maina, S. L.; & Crepin, J.: Medicinal Plants of the Guianas: Smithsonian Museum : http://botany.si.edu/bdg/medicinal/index.html
  3. Standley P.C. & J. A. Steyermark: Flora of Guatemala; : 1946 – 1976: http://www.archive.org/
  4. Foster. S. & Duke. J. A.: A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants. Eastern and Central N. America.: Houghton Mifflin Co.: 1990
  5. Yeung. Him-Che.: Handbook of Chinese Herbs and Formulas. : Institute of Chinese Medicine: Los Angeles: 1985
  6. Moerman. D.: Native American Ethnobotany: Timber Press. Oregon.: 1998
  7. Croup is an infectious condition that causes inflammation and swelling of the voice box (larynx), the windpipe (trachea) and the airways (bronchi), resulting in breathing difficulties and a barking cough. Croup is usually an illness of very young children, generally those younger than 3 years of age.
  8. Oliguria is decreased production of urine. It can be defined as a urine output that is less than 500 mL/day in adults. It is important and requires investigation because it can be one of the earliest signs of renal failure; however in most cases it can be reversed.
  9. Oedema – a condition characterized by an excess of watery fluid collecting in the cavities or tissues of the body. Oedema of the lower legs can be indicative of congestive heart failure.
  10. An illness described in the Americas which, while defined as obstruction of the stomach and / or intestine, is understood to mean indigestion or GI malaise, resulting in abdominal pain and bloating, and variably accompanied by nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and lethargy.
  11. Susto – “soul loss” (or its more advanced, and dangerous, manifestation espanto) is an ethnomedical condition common to Latin America, an illness caused when the soul is displaced after a traumatic emotional or physical event. Can be a life-threatening illness characterized by lethargy, lack of motivation, insomnia, and diarrhea and is usually treated through spiritual means, ritual cleansings, and herbal teas. Also called fright .

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