Xocoyoli : The Sour Quelite

As a child one of my first plant memories involves what we called “sour grass”. This is a plant in the Oxalis family (Oxalis pres-carpae) that has four leaf clover like leaves, bright yellow flowers and long juicy stems. The stems (or peduncles) would be chewed like a farmer chews a haystalk as we walked or played. It was often a challenge to see who could gather the largest bundle of stems and chew through them without pulling a sour face.

Sourgrass : Oxalis pes-caprae
See Quelite Agrio : Other Sour Quelites for specifics on this one.

Sour quelites are interesting herbs. There are salad herbs such as Dock and Sorrel (Rumex species) which are well known, but others such as the leaves of Jamaica (Hibiscus sabdariffa) are less utilised. These plants have some medicinal use (and potential dangers) but are primarily consumed for their tart, lemony flavour. See my Posts Flor de Jamaica (Hibiscus sabdariffa) and Quelite Agrio : Other Sour Quelites for more information on the nutritional value and medicinal uses of these plants.

Today I would like to investigate another species of plant used as a quelite. I like to focus on the wild and weedy plants and in Mesoamerica these plants are often designated the moniker “quelite”. The best definition to me of a quelite is that of “preferred weed”. Now a weed is generally just a plant growing in a place that you don’t want it to grow and any plant can be a weed (even trees) but quelites (generally speaking) might be a weed of agriculture (in this case the milpa)(1) which is left to grow in the field and later used as food or medicine; some might be only found in the wild during certain seasons and must be wildcrafted and others are valued in such a way that they are commercially grown (2). I have written many Posts on individual quelites (with my focus being the Porophyllum species) but check this one for a basic rundown (3). Quelites may be used for their leaves, flowers, seeds or seedpods, stems or roots and they might be used as food, medicine or even ritual spiritual purposes (4).

  1. milpa agriculture is a traditional system of agriculture in Mesoamerica that involves the intercropping of plants (typically corn, beans and squash – often called the three sisters) although it often just refers to the maize field itself.
  2. these include Papalo (Porophyllum species) Pápaloquelite : Porophyllum macrocephalum, Romeritos (Suada torreyana) Quelites : Romeritos and Epazote (Chenopodium – I’m using an old name here) Quelite : Epazote.
  3. Quelites : Quilitl
  4. See my Post Quelite : Pericón : Tagetes lucida for an example of the ritual (and magical) use of this particular herb.
A beautiful example of milpa agriculture in Poza Rica (1)
  1. Poza Rica: formally : Poza Rica de Hidalgo is a city and its surrounding municipality in the Mexican state of Veracruz. Its name means “rich well/pond”. The city shares borders with the municipalities of Papantla, Tihuatlán, and Coatzintla, and stands on Federal Highway 180. The archaeological zone of El Tajín is located approximately 15 kilometres from Poza Rica : Image via http://alrogastro.blogspot.com/2013/02/los-quelites.html

In this case we are looking at the Begonia species and its edible stems.

The Begonia genus has approximately 1,500 species, many of which are distinguished by their economic importance based on the beauty of the flowers and the shape and showy colour of their leaves.

It is distributed from Mexico and Guatemala to Colombia. It grows in humid and shady places in high evergreen forest, medium sub-deciduous forest, low deciduous forest, cloud forest, holm oak and pine forests, between sea level up to 1,000 meters.

The name Begonia nelumbonifolia was so named in 1830 by the German botanists Diederich von Schlechtendal and Adelbert von Chamisso de Boncourt. This scientific name is a correction of the previous name Begonia nelumbiifolia. The generic name honours Michel Bégon , a governor of the former French colony of Haiti and the specific epithet means “with leaves like Nelumbo ” which is an aquatic plant known by the recognisable name of “lotus”.

A “Nelumbo” species lotus

The processing of xocoyoli is a fairly straight forward process. All you need do is remove the leaves and the remaining stems are washed in clean water and used as needed (one recipe includes the peeling of the stems.

Here I construct a recipe using  four different recipes (well there are 5 but one recipe published in la Jornada de Oriente was retrieved from an earlier recipe which contained a more detailed explanation than the one in La Jornada)

Recipe References

  1. Recipe via La Jornada de Oriente : Algunas recetas de la gastronomía prehispánica : Lunes, 18 de agosto de 2008 : https://www.lajornadadeoriente.com.mx/2008/08/18/puebla/cul317.php
  2. What I believe to be the original recipe referenced by La Jornada Oriente in 2008 : Nicolaza Chepa, Victoria & Juana María (2000) Maseualtakual nikan Cuetzalan “Comida indigena tradicional de Cuetzalan” Área de Producción de Materiales; Unidad de Apoyo; Zautia, Pue. 1999-2000. https://bibliotecadigital.fia.cl/bitstream/handle/20.500.11944/145832/GIT-2009-0522_MA_COMIDAINDIGENACUETZALAN.PDF?sequence=3&isAllowed=y
  3. La Jornada del Campo : 12 de septiembre de 2009 • Número 24 • Año II : Suplemento informativo de La Jornada (pagina 9)
  4. Recipe by cocinero Freddy Cortés; Puebla https://www.animalgourmet.com/2016/05/05/cocinerastradicionales-frijoles-con-xocoyoli-de-puebla-y-garbanzos-en-amarillo-de-queretaro/
  5. arecetas website : https://www.arecetas.com/articulos/frijol-con-xocoyolis/  August 21, 2021

My reference recipes.

The recipes themselves are quite simple although there are a couple of issues that I feel need addressing as they might not be obvious to those familiar with the plants (and other ingredients involved).

The first issue involves a quelite called mafafa (Xanthosoma robustum. See Post Quelite : Mafafa). The edible leaves of the mafafa are used in one particular recipe (La Jornada 2008). This plant tends to be found in the more tropical areas (Vera Cruz, Chiapas, Yucatan) and its leaves are used in a dish called Paxnikaka. I won’t go into any great detail about the plant here (for more information on the plant see my Post as noted above), my main concern is the potential toxicity of the plant and its requirements for processing before consuming it. The leaves of this plant are high in oxalic acid and the eating of the fresh leaf without any prior processing will cause a painful burning in the lips, mouth and throat. If any of this is swallowed it has the potential to cause breathing difficulties and intense gastric irritation. This type of poisoning is similar when consuming the (unprocessed) leaves or tubers of the taro plant (1).

  1. Colocasia esculenta, is a tropical plant that is grown mainly for its edible tubers in Africa, Oceania and South Asia (just like sweet potatoes and yams). While its corms are primarily used for cooking, its leaves are also edible.

There is disagreement surrounding the exact mechanism by which raw taro causes oropharyngeal irritation. It is largely thought to stem from specialized plant cells called idioblasts, which contain bundles of oxalate crystals called raphides coated with a proteolytic enzyme (1). When the plant is crushed or chewed, the idioblasts (2) forcibly eject the raphides (3) along with the proteolytic enzyme into the oropharynx (4) causing micro-trauma and a local reaction (Bradbury and Nixon 1998). WARNING : Seek urgent medical attention if lips or tongue become swollen or if there is difficulty breathing or swallowing. As been noted that “In the case of oral exposure to raw taro leaf or corm, patients should first be assessed for airway compromise. Should significant oropharyngeal swelling or airway compromise occur, patients should obtain emergent medical attention at a health care facility (Yuen 2001). In the absence of severe symptoms, patients should be instructed to immediately remove any plant debris from the mouth by wiping with a wet cloth, rinsing the mouth with water to flush out the crystals, then drinking a full glass of milk or ingesting another calcium-containing food or supplement (Yuen 2001). The calcium is thought to limit absorption of soluble oxalates by forming insoluble calcium salts (Hossain 2003; Brogren and Savage 2003). Cold items such as popsicles, ice cream, or ice chips may provide symptomatic relief for the local irritation. Patients or caregivers can further monitor for worsening of symptoms during the first few hours after oral exposure.” This process may or may not work similarly in the case of mafafa. I have no definitive information on this as I am not prepared to test it on myself (or anyone else for that matter). My recommendation is to seek medical advice in ALL CASES of this type of poisoning. Call your local Poisons Information Centre.

  1. Proteolytic enzymes, also called protease, proteinase, or peptidase are enzymes that break down protein. The three main proteolytic enzymes produced naturally in your digestive system are pepsin, trypsin and chymotrypsin
  2. An idioblast is an isolated plant cell that differs from neighbouring tissues. They have various functions such as storage of reserves, excretory materials, pigments, and minerals. They could contain oil, latex, gum, resin, tannin, pigments, or, as in this case, oxalic acid crystals
  3. Raphides are needle-shaped crystals of calcium oxalate monohydrate found in more than 200 families of plants. Both ends are needle-like, but raphides tend to be blunt at one end and sharp at the other.
  4. The middle part of the throat, behind the mouth. The oropharynx includes the soft palate (the back muscular part of the roof of the mouth), the side and back walls of the throat, the tonsils, and the back one-third of the tongue..
Raphides at 600x magnification.
You can see why they’d cause aggravation if eaten.

Both varieties of plant (taro and mafafa) can be made perfectly edible with some fairly basic treatment. Treating the leaves of both plants involves either soaking them (as is the case with taro) for between 20 minutes and 18 hours, depending on the maturity of the leaf (the older the leaf the longer the soaking) and in the case of mafafa the plant is simmered in fresh water for between 20 minutes and an hour (again, depending on the maturity of the leaf). In both cases the soaking/cooking water is discarded as it contains the oxalates at the heart of the problem and, in both cases, the soaking/cooking water might be replaced once or twice throughout the process with fresh water.

In one of my reference recipes (La Jornada 2009) there is also the inclusion of an alkalising agent in the recipe. Interestingly enough it is not noted in the ingredient list and I wonder if this was a typographical error or if it is such common knowledge that it didn’t even occur to the author to note it. It is referenced in the second step of preparation. En una olla colocamos la mafafa con agua hasta cubrirla y la dejamos hervir con una pizca de sal caliza por 15 minutos. The key reference is “sal caliza” which can translate to “limestone salt”. More detail on this a little later. 

Frijoles con xokoyoli (Beans with xokoyoli/xocoyoli)


Common ingredients

  • The key ingredient in all recipes is the hero of this Post. Xocoyoli, the stems of a number of begonia species plant.
  • All recipes call for a base of soupy beans (frijoles de olla). All but one recipe used dried beans (either black or pinto) and the lone stand out used the fresh ayocote bean.
  • All recipes call for a paste made from toasted sesame seeds (ajonjoli) that have been ground with a chile of some variety. All but one recipe used a green chile (serrano was the only named chile – the other recipes called for chile verde). One recipe used a tablespoon of dried chiltepin chiles which were dry roasted in a pan and ground with the ajonjoli.
  • All but one recipe called for tequelite (also called tepequelite, nacastequilit) a plant in the Peperomia species. This semi-succulent leaved plant has a pronounced cilantro flavour and in the notes of the recipe supplied by the Pueblan cocinero Freddy Cortés he notes that this plant liberan una mucosidad especial (releases a special mucous) that slightly thickens the dish (similar in most respects to the baba – or “slime” – released by nopales or okra when they are cooked). This is a regional herb that has no real substitute. You can make up its flavour profile by using cilantro. Use well cleaned and chopped cilantro roots and stems during the cooking process and add the chopped leaves to the dish just before serving. The leaves of cilantro do not stand up well to being cooked. You could use culantro in its place (culantro does not mind being cooked). One recipe noted you could use epazote instead of tequelite but, as anyone who has eaten epazote knows, this herb has its own very distinct profile which is not at all like cilantro. You could potentially use molokhia (See Post Green Rice : Arroz Verde) or alaches (See Post Quelite : Alache : Anoda cristata) which can both supply a similar baba but neither is traditional (as far as I’m aware – molokhia is a Middle Eastern plant). The molokhia might be an interesting addition as it can add another layer of sourness to the dish and a similar thickening baba although it will be totally bereft of the cilantro like flavour.
  • All recipes called for an alkalising agent of some kind. Sal caliza, carbonato (bicarb soda?), tequesquite, and ceniza (wood ash) are all used in different recipes.

Quelites mentioned in the recipes (aside from xocoyoli and tequelite that is)

  • Mafafa – also called metsokiliit. See Post Quelite : Mafafa for more detail on this one. This is a potentially dangerous herb if consumed raw (see WARNINGS above)
  • Quelites de chayote – also called guias de chayote. These are the tendrils and young leaves of the chayote plant.
  • Prickly Pear quelites – this is a bad (Google Translate) translation. The original was quelites de espinoso or spiny quelite. This may refer to Amaranthus spinosus which is known as quelite espinoso (or quintonil espinoso – amaranth leaf quelites are often called quintonil)
Quelite espinoso – Amaranthus spinosus. Image by Fototeca de Poza Rica y Coatzintla via Facebook

The key ingredients in all of the recipes (apart from the xocoyoli) are toasted ajonjoli and soupy beans. All recipes insist that the frijoles be soupy. Both dried beans (Cortés and La Jornada) and fresh (arecetas) are used. The areceta recipe calls for a variety of large fresh bean called ayocotes. The sesame seed in all recipes is toasted and ground. This step is very similar to Mole de ajonjoli.

Note the soupy nature of the dish in the images above. Image 1 is a good example of the xocoyoli stems. In Image 2 you can see the mafafa leaves (and some smaller leaf ribs with the leaf still attached)

So your recipe might go something like this…..


  • 250g (dried) beans or 500g fresh ayocotes
  • 200g ajonjoli (sesame seeds)
  • 1 small green chile or 1 Tablespoon dried chiltepin chile (adjust the chile to your preference)
  • 1 Tablespoon tequesquite (or 1 cup ceniza – wood ash – with a pinch of bicarb added)
  • 1 bunch xocoyoli (10 – 15 stalks)

The quelites (use one, none, or all of these – they are not mandatory ingredients)

  • 6 leaves of tequelite – about 2 cups of roughly chopped leaves (substitute with a sprig of epazote or use cilantro as I have noted above)
  • 9 medium sized leaves of mafafa (stems and ribs removed)
  • 1 bunch guias de chayote (about a large handful)
  • 1 bunch of quelite de espinoso (about 2 large handfuls – this, like the mafafa leaves, will shrink down in a similar manner to spinach)
  • 1 bunch quelites de frijol (the leaves and tendrils of a bean plant)


Cook your beans and have them ready. You want soupy beans (check my reference images of the dish above)

Wash your xocoyoli in fresh water. Some recipes call for the peeling off of the thin outer layer of the xocoyoli stalks while others do not. If the stalksa are fresh, smooth and unblemished then peeling is probably not required. Cut the stems into 3cm (about 1 inch) lengths. Some types of xocoyoli have almost furry stems. These would benefit from peeling.

The next step us only called for in one recipe (when it comes to the xocoyoli) but is mentioned in all recipes that contain tequelite and is vitally important if you choose to include mafafa in your dish and that step is to blach/cook these ingredients in an alkaline liquid so as to offset the acidity (most notably the oxalates in the mafafa) of the quelites and make them more suitable for ingestion.

Place the mafafa in a non-reactive pot (don’t use an aluminium one) and cover with water. Add a pinch of sal caliza (or a tablespoon of tequesquite) and boil for 15 minutes. Drain off this water and refill the pot with clean fresh water. Boil for another 10 – 30 minutes and then drain off this water. Your mafafa is now ready.

Preparing your other quelites (also in an alkaline liquid) is not as vigorous. Make your liquid (again in a non-reactive pot) by filling it with water and adding either a) 1 Tablespoon of tequesquite, b) 1 Tablespoon of carbonato or, c) a liquid made by mixing 1 cup of edible wood ash with 4 cups of water and straining it to remove any lumps. Bring this liquid to the boil and, one quelite at a time, for 15 minutes. Drain off the alkaline water and rinse the quelites in fresh water to remove the alkaline cooking iquid. Do this for the tepequelite, guias de chayote, quelite de frijol and quelites de espinoso. Set your quelites aside until its time to finish the dish. If you are using cilantro (or epazote) in place of the tequelite you wont need to treat these herbs in the alkaline liquid. I would finely chop the roots and stalks of the cilantro and add to the beans when cooking them (or add the culantro here if you’re using it) and add the fresh cilantro leaf to the dish just before serving. If using epazote just use a sprig of it (also when cooking the beans). You can remove this from the final dish (or not – as you prefer) before serving. For more information see Quelite : Mafafa for more detail on sal caliza and Tequesquite for greater detail on tequesquite.

Toast the ajonjoli until golden brown and grind into a paste with your chile. If using a fresh chile verde, remove the stem and seeds before grinding. If using a chile seco (the chiltepin for instance) then toast the chile before grinding with the sesame seeds. Grind into paste. Add a little of the been water if the mix is too dry. This process would work better in a molcajete than in a blender (but don’t be afraid to blend pendejo)

Now we put it all together

If your beans aren’t already simmering at the back of the stove then heat them up.

Add the sesame paste, quelites and xocoyoli to the beans and bring up to a boil. Cook until it begins to thicken (remember that this is a soupy dish though so don thicken it too much). The thickening will also be affected by the tequelite if you are using this herb

Some of the various species of Begonia, their habitats, and uses.

Basurto-Peña (etal 2003) note of the naming of the plants in this species that “Some species are named by adding an epithet that makes reference to some morphological or ecological feature of the plants. For example, Tepexocoyoli means mountain-sour; Mazatxocoyoli means deer-sour; Pesoxocoyoli, badgersour; Spililixcutni, spotte-sour; Stalangaxcutni, melting-sour; “Manteca xocoyoh” is softer; and b”Xocoyoli cimarron” is wild sour” (See the Tables above and below for some of the indigenous nomenclature of these plants)

I have tried to include examples of all the Begonias mentioned in the texts noted above.

Begonia fusca Liebm.
SPANISH: ala de ángel, alas de ángel, begoña, begonia, mazatxocoyoli, mazatxocoyolli, tujuncoyó, xocoyolli cimarrón
USES/NOTES: Cultivated for its edible petioles, which are sold in markets of northern Puebla, Mexico, and often eaten with beans.
NATURAL RANGE: East-central and southern Mexico to western Honduras

Begonia heracleifolia Cham. & Schltdl.
SPANISH: agrios, ala de ángel, amate (Nahuatl), begoña, begonia, brazo de mico de noche, cachimba, doncella, laktsu-shcutni, mano de león, pesoxocoyolli, shcutni, spililixcutni, stalangaxcutni (Totonac), tazu, verdura de tlacuache, xocoyol, xocoyole, xocoyoli, xocoyolli, xoxococ
USES/NOTES: Edible petioles are sold in markets of northern Puebla, Mexico.
NATURAL RANGE: East-central Mexico through Central America, perhaps to Peru

Begonia manicata Brongn. ex J.F.Cels
SPANISH: agrios, begonia, comida de danto, mantecaxocoyolli, parona, pavana, sakil poshil majben, stalangaxcutni, tecosxocoyolli
USES/NOTES: Edible petioles are sold in markets of northern Puebla, Mexico.
NATURAL RANGE: East-central Mexico to Nicaragua

Begonia gracilis Kunth
SPANISH: ala de ángel, alas de ángel, alita de ángel, begoña, begonia, caña agria, caña aigre, carne de doncella, chipile, coyoles, flor de agosto, hierba de la doncella, orejita de guajolote, quelite, sangre de doncella, sangre de toro, toruri iurhiri, totoncaxoxocoyolín (Nahuatl), tsitsiki agosturi
USES/NOTES: Edible petioles are sold in markets of northern Puebla, Mexico.
NATURAL RANGE: Sierras of Chihuahua and Nuevo León to Oaxaca, Mexico

Begonia incarnata Link and Otto
SPANISH: begonia, begonia blanca, coral de la costa, quiquiriqui
USES/NOTES: Edible petioles are sold in markets of northern Puebla, Mexico.
NATURAL RANGE: East-central Mexico from northern Puebla and Hidalgo to Chiapas, and possibly into Guatemala

Begonia nelumbiifolia Cham. & Schltdl. [includes B. nelumbonifolia Schltdl. & Cham.]
SPANISH: begonia, begonia del monte, meón de montaña, pajte, pajte’, shtulon’kot (Totonac), shyash poshil, skutnilapanet (Totonac), toyotasu (Otomí), xocoyole, xocoyoli (Nahuatl), xocoyolillo, xocoyolin, xocoyolito, xocoyolli, xocoyul blanco de mata, xocoyul del ancho, xocoyule
USES/NOTES: Edible petioles are sold in markets of northern Puebla, Mexico.
NATURAL RANGE: East-central Mexico to Colombia, naturalized in Puerto Rico

I have mentioned the words “stems” and “stalks” when describing the part of this plant being used for food. Technically though I am referring to the petioles which are the slender stalk by which a leaf is attached to the stem; or, as is the case in the image below, the stolon (a creeping horizontal plant stem or runner that takes root at points along its length to form new plants).

Now the petioles of this species can vary widely from one another. Xocoyoli has smooth stems but, as you can see below, some varieties can have almost furry petioles. So, as I note in the recipe section, some might indeed require peeling before cooking.

The begonia is also medicinal. It is a valued plant in Traditional Chinese medicine.

Begonia grandis
The tuberous roots and fruits are anodyne, antiphlogistic and antispasmodic. Stimulates blood circulation. A decoction is used in the treatment of traumatic pain, haematemesis, gonorrhoea, post-partum vaginal discharge, amenorrhoea and snakebites.

other medicinal Begonias in TCM.

“Ohuaxocoyolin” Begonia gracilis.

It is a herbaceous plant, with fleshy and juicy stems and reddish lines on the stem. The leaves are wing-shaped, with wavy edges. The flowers are pink. It lives in semi-warm and temperate climates, in temperate humid forests.

Its use has changed to that recorded in the De la Cruz-Badiano codex for glaucoma. Currently the juice of this plant, which is acidic, is used as a purgative. In some regions of Mexico, its stems are eaten as quelite, added to beans when cooked.


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https://nj.gov/health/eoh/rtkweb/documents/fs/1445.pdf – Oxalic acid safety data sheet







Oxalis pes-caprae in the city (for Wiki) Image by Zachi Evenor via Flickr : https://www.flickr.com/photos/zachievenor/12987844883

Raphides – Image by Agong1 – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10858734


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