Quelite : Huauzontle

Chenopodium nuttalliae (syn : C.berlandieri)

“hairy amaranth” – from the Nahuatl huauhtli ‘amaranth’ and tzontli ‘hair’

According to a Mexican government website (1) the cultivation of huauzontle was prohibited by the Spanish, along with amaranth (2), due to its use in religious rites linked to human sacrifice.

  1. https://www.gob.mx/siap/articulos/el-huauzontle-planta-prehispanica-de-importancia-religiosa-y-alimenticia
  2. See Post “Amaranth and the Tzoalli Heresy”

Huauzontles are a highly nutritious plant from the Chenopodium or “Goosefoot” family. Other plants in this family include epazote, cenizo (or lambs quarters) and quinoa. The leaves and seeds of this plant are both edible but the plant is typically grown for its flowering seed heads.

Colour variation of huauzontles

Tortitas de Huauzontles  (Adapted from a recipe by Mely Martínez – Mexico in my Kitchen)

Serves 6


  • 1 large bunch of Huauzontle branches (about 750g – 1 1/2 pounds)
  • Salt to taste
  • 250g Mexican Panela Cheese or Queso Fresco cut into 1/2cm x 2.5cm strips. (1/3” by 1”)
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 4 eggs separated
  • 1/2 cup of vegetable – or as needed (for frying)


  1. Rinse the huauzontles well in several changes of water to remove any dirt and grit and drain well.
  2. Remove the flowers buds from the main thick steams and place in a strainer. Make sure to remove any stems and small leaves, since they tend to have a bitter taste. Once you have removed all the florets, place under running water to clean again, then shake the strainer to remove any excess water.
  3. Blanch the Huauzontle florets in a medium-sized pot with water and a pinch of salt at medium heat for about 8 to 10 minutes and refresh in iced water. They will be tender but still have a bright green colour. Remove and drain any excess water.
  4. Place the cooked Huauzontles in a salad spinner to remove as much water as possible, or use a strainer and shake to remove the moisture. Remove any little stems, sticks, or leaves that may have snuck through and discard them. Set aside to cool.
  5. Form patties (or “tortitas,”) by placing a small amount of the huauzontle in your hand and squeezing to remove any remaining moisture. Add a slice of the cheese, cover with more huauzontle, and squeeze together to form a patty.
  6. Dust the patties with flour one at a time. Shake off any excess flour, making sure the patties keep their shape while doing this step. Form the rest of the patties using the same process.
  7. In a large frying pan, heat the oil. The oil should be about 1 cm deep
  8. While the oil heats, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, and then stir in the yolks one by one while beating until you have a fluffy batter. Season with salt.
  9. Once the oil is hot, dip each patty into the beaten eggs, making sure it is well coated. Carefully place the patty into the hot oil; do not overcrowd the skillet. Fry each side until it gets a deep golden colour (it will take a few minutes for each side). It takes practice to master this step, now: use a large spatula to help you turn the patty gently. After you’ve fried it, place the patty on a paper towel to absorb the oil.
  10. Generally served with a warm tomato salsa/sauce      
photo courtesy of mvsnoticias.com

Even though huauzontles are considered a nutritious foodstuff they, like other wild plants, contain a number of substances that may aggravate certain conditions. Huauzontles contain both saponins and oxalic acid.

Blanching the huauzontles and disposing of the blanching water reduces both the saponin and oxalic acid content of this vegetable.

Oxalic acid is named after an edible wild herb called wood sorrel which is in the Oxalis family. Oxalic acid was first isolated from this plant. Oxalic acid can aggravate health problems like arthritis, rheumatism, hyperacidity, gout and kidney stones. Plants high in oxalic acid should only be eaten sparingly.

Yellow Wood Sorrel (Oxalis stricta)
Photo courtesy of Missouri Department of Conservation

Saponins are a class of steroid and terpenoid glycosides which foam when shaken with water. The word saponin is derived from sapo, Latin for “soap”. They will produce a foam when agitated in water, this is particularly noticeable when cleaning the seeds of the quinoa plant. Saponins can present a danger when introduced into the bloodstream as they can cause haemolysis (1), this can cause issues particularly if there is ulceration of the stomach or intestines with any concomitant bleeding. Symptoms in this case are usually mild and uncommon but might include stomach pain, cramping, diarrhoea, nausea or vomiting. Saponins also have some health benefits, they bind to bile acids and help eliminate them from the body, preventing cholesterol from being reabsorbed thus lowering cholesterol and body fat levels (2).

  1. the rupture or destruction of red blood cells.
  2. Vinarova, Liliya & Vinarov, Zahari & Atanasov, Vasil & Pantcheva, Ivayla & Tcholakova, Slavka & Denkov, Nikolai & Stoyanov, Simeon. (2014). Lowering of cholesterol bioaccessibility and serum concentrations by saponins: In vitro and in vivo studies. Food & function. 6. 10.1039/c4fo00785a.

Saponins are also reported to have other health benefits, they seem to be able to help our immune system and to protect against viruses and bacteria (specifically Candida), they have anti-tumour and anti-mutagenic activities and can lower the risk of human cancers, by preventing cancer cells from growing and may also have a protective role on bone loss. (1)

  1. “What are saponins and what are their health benefits?” : Prasad Srivastava : Indian Institute of Pulses Research : 10th Oct, 2013

Stripping huauzontles from the stem

Huauzontle Guisados

This recipe is for a dish of stewed huauzontles cooked in a tomato salsa and used as a filling for tortillas.

4 Servings

  • 100 grams of queso de Oaxaca (substitute with Mozzarella)
  • 3 stalks of huauzontle
  • 1 bunch of coriander
  • 2 dried guajillo chili pepper
  • 3 Roma tomatoes
  • 1/2 medium white onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic


  1. Wash the huauzontles cleaning them of any sand or grit
  2. Blanch them in boiling water seasoned with sea salt
  3. Roast the tomatoes, garlic and onions on a comal.
  4. Remove seeds and veins from chiles and rehydrate them in hot water.
  5. Blend the roasted vegetables and chiles together.
  6. Fry the sauce and season to taste.
  7. Add the huazontle when the sauce begins to boil.
  8. Heat a tortilla on a comal.
  9. Add a spoonful of the huazontles guisados and some cheese.
  10. Fold in half, flip over on the comal and heat the other side.

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