Papaloquelite : The Butterfly Herb* (salsa recipe included)

*See Post : Papaloquelite : What’s in a name?

P.ruderale (L) and P.macrocephalum (R)

Why “butterfly” herb?

Principal English Translation:
a butterfly (see Molina and Karttunen); also, a person’s name (attested as male and possibly female)

Alonso de Molina:
papalotl. mariposa.
Alonso de Molina, Vocabulario en lengua castellana y mexicana y mexicana y castellana, 1571, part 2, Nahuatl to Spanish, f. 79v. col. 2. Thanks to Joe Campbell for providing the transcription.

Frances Karttunen:
PĀPĀLŌ-TL pl: -MEH butterfly / mariposa (M).
Frances Karttunen, An Analytical Dictionary of Nahuatl (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992), 187.

The pápalo or pápaloquelite, is a herbaceous plant native to Mexico, Central and South America, its leaves are similar to the wings of a butterfly, hence its name, because in Nahuatl papalotl means “butterfly”

Gina Ruiz’s grandmother, Doña Lupe (Maria Guadalupe Gonzalez Camarillo), who knew just about everything about plants and herbs told her that the plant got its name because its scent attracted butterflies.

The common name papaloquelite, is from papalotl, the Nahuatl word for butterfly, perhaps because the flowers attract butterflies.

So, to be certain, all I can say is that I cant be certain.

The butterfly nomenclature is said to come from….

  • the shape of the leaf
  • the way the leaves move
  • the fact that the plant attracts butterflies. This may be because of the scent of the plant or because of the shape/structure of the flower. Ecologically this makes some sense as the flowers of the porophyllums look like the butterfly would be an ideal pollinator.

A plant appearing to be P.punctatum has been used in the advertising for a National Park in Mazatlan. The interesting thing about the images is the presence of a fig-like structure (photo bottom right).

This is an unusual picture of a porophyllum. It appears to be a P.punctatum (judging by the leaf shape, succulence and pore size/shape/distribution) (1) but in all my wanderings I have never seen the what appears to be the fig-like fruit as in the bottom right image. The fig-like structure in the P.punctatum image may be that of a “gall”.

  1. See Post : Porophyllum punctatum

Further research has shown that some species of Porophyllum can be affected by a gall midge that causes swollen structures on the plant. These swellings are where the midge has laid eggs and its larvae grown in a type of cocoon within the plant. A similar phenomenon occurs in Oak trees (Quercus species)

Inside these swollen stem segments are orange larvae of the asphondylia midge.
Near Lake Pleasant, Maricopoa Co., Arizona. 26 Oct., 2014.

Just as new stems and growth on this plant were emerging an adult gall midge, a small fly, deposited eggs within the plant tissue. Chemicals released by the insect induces the plant to produce a gall – a swelling of plant tissue. Within the fresh galls small larvae will be found that are feeding on the plant tissue. The adult midges resemble a small, very delicate gnat – a Diptera. This species (Asphondylia) appears to be specific to galls on Slender Pore Leaf, Porophyllum gracile.

Galls often look somewhat like a fruit.

The Oak tree can be prone to galls.

I also love the roadside location of the plants in the poster. Ah, the tenacity of “weeds”.

In Mexico, one of the most common uses of papalo is as an accompaniment for tacos, especially al pastor, suadero, and longaniza.

Chef Raúl Lucido via Facebook
Tacos suadero.
Agustin Cordova Cuitlahuac

A few years ago it was very common to find huge bouquets of fresh papalo in taquerias , from which you could take as you needed, however, this use has been gradually decreasing.

Photo taken in 2009 in the CDMX

Papalo is also used in the preparation of the traditional cemitas of the state of Puebla, giving them the unique and special flavour that characterizes them.

The Pueblan Cemita sandwich.
AlejandroLinaresGarcia, CC BY-SA 4.0

Papalo is used in the preparation of innumerable salsas. The easiest method of use is to use it instead of cilantro in your guacamole (although to some the inclusion of cilantro in guacamole is anathema)

This recipe, supplied by Fundacion Herdez (1) is a beautiful example of the confusion that exists in the chile world.

  1. A non-profit philanthropic association founded by Don Enrique Hernández-Pons in 1988 in Mexico City whose Mission is to “Investigate, preserve, increase and propagate the rich heritage of Mexican cuisine, as well as our gastronomic traditions and the elements that make up the national identity : Create educational programs and models that strengthen the formation of individuals and communities and to Help solve the important food needs of civil society, through donations in kind”

The cuaresmeño chile is a jalapeno chile but it isn’t.

This is a fresh chile that is certainly a jalapeno but it is differentiated (generally) by “corking” on the chile and one of its names is “acorchado” (cork like : also spongey or numb)

Jalapenos (or should I say cuaresmeños?) showing “corking”
Auno3 at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Next we have the cascabel chile. Typically this is the name of a chile seco (dried chile). It is the dried version of the bola chile (see images below). Regional differences can be huge in the chile world, as noted in the second poster, where the cascabel is noted as being a chile manzano. The manzano is a Bolivian chile and it seems to me it has been erroneously placed in this particular image.

The third chile on our list is the Morita. This only furthers confusion as the morita is a dried, smoked, jalapeno chile.

Hold on a seco.

Isn’t a dried smoked jalapeno a chipotle?

The answer is Yes to both.

Oh Lord.

It appears that the morita is a chipotle just dried for less time so its a little softer.

I’m giving two versions of this receta. One with the fresh chiles (in which case we’ll be using both a fresh red and a fresh green jalapeno). The other will involve using the dried chiles, the cascabel and the morita.


  • 4 jalapeno chiles
  • 2 (dried) cascabel chiles (or 2 fresh bolas)
  • 2 (dried) morita chiles (or 2 fresh red jalapenos)
  • 6 tomate verde (tomatillos)
  • 1/2 white onion
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 8 papalo leaves
  • 1 limón (Mexican lime) – without seeds – juiced
  • sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon oil


  1. Tatemar (roast) the chiles, tomato verde and garlic on the comal

Tatemar (tatemado) is an important step in many Mexican dishes and is an integral aspect of Mexican cookery. It involves charring the ingredient on a comal or even over an open flame. This is sometimes done to loosen the skin of an ingredient (i.e chiles) but its main importance is to cook the ingredient (to one degree or another) and to add flavour.

Fresh chile version

Treat the jalapenos either on the comal (as above) or over an open flame as below (the chiles below are poblanos). When sufficiently charred put in a bowl and cover with cling wrap or a teatowel so the chiles will sweat and loosen the skins. When cool, scrape the blackened skin off the chile with a knife. Don’t wash them with water as it will remove a lot of flavour. cut the chile open and remove the seeds and “ribs” of the chile (leave these ribs in if you want more heat)

2. Martajar these ingredients with a little salt in a molcajete.

“Martajar” is another culinary term unique to Mexican cookery. It means to roughly grind (also pound or smash) the ingredient, usually in the prehispanic Mexican blender known as the molcajete as shown in the picture above.

Dried chile version

If using chile secos (dried chiles) – the morita and the cascabel – cut open the chiles and remove the seeds. Soak chiles in freshly boiled water for 10 – 15 minutes until they soften. Put the chiles in the molcajete and……..

Martajar Baby……..

3. Wash and disinfect the papaloquelite. If you have no papalo you can just use cilantro (coriander leaves). Papalo has a much stronger flavour profile than cilantro so if you use cilantro you will need a small bunch of it. If the papalo flavour is too strong for you it can be tempered somewhat by using salt, onion (and maybe a little chile), limón (lime) juice (or any acidic citrus juice – or maybe even a dash of vinegar) and a little oil.

4. Separately, finely chop the papaloquelite and the onion.

5. Mix the ground chiles with the onion and the papaloquelite.

6. Add the limón juice

Now you need to go make some tacos…….


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