Epazote

Chenopodium ambrosiodes

(Synonyms: Teloxys ambrosioides, Dysphania ambrosioides)

Also called : Epazōtl (from Nahuatl, epatl – skunk and tzotl – sweat), epasote, pazote, Hierba Olorosa, wormseed, American wormseed, Jesuits tea, Mexican tea, Herba Sancti Mariae, payqu (paico)(Quechua), Jerusalem Oak (although this name usually refers to Chenopodium botrys)

This plant is indigenous to Mexico and South America

Its leaves (fresh or dried) and young shoots are used as a seasoning in Mexican, Chilean and other South American dishes. In México a sprig of the fresh herb is added to the bean cooking pot and removed before service. It is believed that epazote is a carminative and will reduce the propensity for beans to cause flatulence.

leaf and flowering top of epazote

There is also a less common variety called Epazote Morado (Purple epazote) which has dark red/purple coloured leaves. Its uses are the same.

Epazote has a resinous, medicinal pungent flavour with a hint of petroleum and a mint or even tarragon smell dominating (its scent is often compared to kerosene).

This plant can tend to be invasive when planted in the garden and in many places it is considered an urban weed.

In Western Herbal Medicine epazote is called wormseed and has largely been viewed as a medicinal herb rather than a culinary plant. Its effectiveness (it paralyses parasites and then a strong laxative is taken to expel them) was recognized by its inclusion in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia from 1820 to 1947.

An infusion of the leaves has also been used for,

  • alleviating abdominal distension, flatulence, pain and cramps in the abdomen and to enhance digestion.
  • respiratory disorders, such as, bronchitis, asthma, catarrh. It improves breathing and gets rid of mucus and phlegm.
  • amenorrhea and menstrual irregularities
  • the management of malaria and to expedite the process of healing and recovery
  • a strong anti-tumour agent against various different cancerous cells, uterine fibroids, cysts, and cystadenomas
  • The leaves are used in Moroccan traditional medicine to treat diabetes and hypertension.

A methanolic extract of epazote has demonstrated significant antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus aureus (256 μg/mL) and moderate activity against Pseudomonas aeruginosa (512 μg/mL).

Constituents

Volatile oil (up to 90% ascaridol, plus geraniol, cymene, limonene, terpinene, myrcene and methyl salicylate) alpha-pinene, anthraglycosides, aritasone, butyric-acid, chenopodium, cinnamic acid derivatives, d-camphor, ferulic-acid, gallic tannins, geraniol, l-pinocarvone, limonene, malic-acid, menthadiene, menthadiene hydroperoxides, mucins, octadecanoic acid, oxalic acid, p-cymene, p-cymol, pectins, 1-piperoylpiperidine safrole, saponins, scopoletin, stigmasterol, β-sitosterol,  spinasterol, tartaric-acid, terpinyl-acetate, terpinyl-salicylate, thymol, trans-isocarveol, triacontyl-alcohol, trimethylamine, urease, vanillic-acid.

Actions

Anti-amoebic, anthelmintic, antibacterial, anti-helicobacter pylori, antiflatulent, anti-hypertensive, anti-inflammatory (IL-6, TNF-alpha), antimicrobial, antioxidant, antiparasitic, antiplasmodial, bactericidal, carminative, digestive tonic, hypotensive, immunomodulatory, immunostimulant (in small doses), vermifuge (schistosomicidal), Reduces antibiotic multi-drug resistance

Secondary actions

anticancer, diaphoretic (increases perspiration), diuretic, emmenagogue (stimulates menstrual flow), nervine, mildly sedative

Dosage

Tincture: 1 – 3 ml. per day
Infusion (herbal tea): 1 – 2 cups per day (1)
Use with caution and preferably under the supervision of a qualified practitioner.

  1. if treating intestinal parasites take the infusion first thing in the morning on an empty stomach for 3 consecutive days.

WARNING

Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers should avoid epazote as it can cause uterine cramps and possible risk of termination of pregnancy as a result. Epazote (wormseed) should be used in small quantities. Its seed oil contains a large concentration of ascaridole (named for a genus of intestinal worms) and other monoterpenes. When taken internally, these chemicals in the oil may cause extensive damage to liver and kidneys and cause 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. The essential oil should not be taken internally. Humans have died from overdoses of the essential oil (attributed to the ascaridole content). Poisoning symptoms include severe gastroenteritis with pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, kidney irritation, painful urination, dizziness, stupor, paralysis, spasms, convulsions and death.

Wormseed may interact with anticancer herbs and supplements, antifungals, and antiparasitic herbs and supplements.

Contraindicated in autoimmune diseases

  • Asmae Assaidi, Abdelkhaleq Legssyer, Abdelbasset Berrichi, Mohammed Aziz, Hassane Mekhfi, Mohammed Bnouham, Abderrahim Ziyyat. J :Hypotensive property of Chenopodium ambrosioides in anesthetized normotensive rats. : Complement Integr Med. 2014 Feb 20;11(1):1-7. doi: 10.1515/jcim-2013-0045.
  • Cysne, Dalila & Fortes, Thiare & Reis, Aramys & de Paulo Ribeiro, Bruno & dos Santos Ferreira, Amália & Maria Mendonça do Amaral, Flavia & Guerra, Rosane & Marinho, Claudio & Nicolete, Roberto & Nascimento, Flavia. (2016). Antimalarial potential of leaves of Chenopodium ambrosioides L. Parasitology Research. 115. 10.1007/s00436-016-5216-x.
  • Ibironke, G.F.  and Ajiboye, K.I. : Studies on the Anti–Inflammatory and Analgesic Properties of Chenopodium Ambrosioides Leaf Extract in Rats : International Journal of Pharmacology : Volume 3 (1): 111-115, 2007
  • Sousa, Zulane & Oliveira, Fernando & Conceição, Aline & Silva, Luiz & Rossi, Maria & Santos, Juliana & Andrioli, João. (2012). Biological activities of extracts from Chenopodium ambrosioides Lineu and Kielmeyera neglecta Saddi. Annals of clinical microbiology and antimicrobials. 11. 20. 10.1186/1476-0711-11-20.

Epazote herb (Chenopodium ambrosiodes), fresh leaves

Nutritive value per 100 g.
(Source: USDA National Nutrient data base)

Principle Nutrient

Value
Energy 32 Kcal
Carbohydrates 7.44 g
Protein 0.33 g
Total Fat 0.52 g
Dietary fibre 3.8 g
Vitamins
Folates 215 µg
Niacin 0.639 mg
Pantothenic acid 0.179 mg
Pyridoxine 0.152 mg
Riboflavin 0.348 mg
Thiamine 0.028 mg
Vitamin A 57 IU
Vitamin C 3.6 mg
Electrolytes
Sodium 80 mg
Potassium 470 mg
Minerals
Calcium 275 mg
Copper 0.190 mg
Iron 1.88 mg
Magnesium 121 mg
Manganese 3.098 mg
Phosphorus 86 mg
Selenium 0.9 µg
Zinc 1.10 mg
Phytonutrients
Carotene-ß 38 µg

Recipe

Quesadillas De Flor De Calabaza

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 pounds flor de calabaza (squash flowers), cleaned and roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped white onion
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 1 tablespoon roughly chopped epazote
  • Oaxacan Cheese (substitute mozzarella) (or you can use grated yellow cheese if you prefer – barbarian)
  • Corn Tortillas (or masa)

Rinse and briefly shake excess water off the flowers. Remove stringy green sepals around the base of each flower. If the flowers are large leave about a half inch of the stalk on. Roughly chop the flowers, calyx and stamen included.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat, add the onion garlic, and a little salt, and fry gently without browning until translucent, about 1 minute.

Add the flowers and salt to taste, cover the pan, and cook over low heat until the round calyx is tender, not soft, about 10 minutes. Add epazote after 5 minutes.

Place mixture in tortilla, fold in half and grill or toast in a dry pan or comal until cheese melts and tortilla is toasted. If using masa just press your tortilla out and add the mixture before folding it in half and cooking on the comal. For extra flavour you can add strips of roasted poblano chile to the quesadilla. On the streets of México you will find this quesadilla made by placing a whole flower, a large epazote leaf and quesillo (1) into the freshly pressed and raw tortilla before cooking it on the comal. Epazote has a very distinctive flavour that persists for hours. The first time I tried it on the streets of el D.F. I was burping epazote all day. 

  1. Oaxaca cheese, queso Oaxaca or quesillo is a white, semi hard cheese from Mexico, similar to unaged Monterey jack, but with a mozzarella-like string cheese texture

Frijoles de Olla (Black beans with epazote)

  • 500g black beans
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp. oil (or lard if you want to be a little more Mexicano)
  • 1 sprig epazote
  • 1 tsp. salt

Method

Pick over the beans and remove any stones or debris. Rinse briefly under running water to remove any dust.

Add 2 litres of water to a medium pot (or clay olla if you can get one), add beans, oil, garlic and epazote. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour. Beans are cooked when you can easily ssquash a bean between two fingers and it is not dry or hard in the middle. If beans are done, add salt and simmer for 5 more minutes.

Note: While soaking beans is not necessary, it is sometimes recommended. Thin-skinned beans like black beans generally do not require soaking unless they are very old and dry.

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