Inspired by Jozef Youssef’s enthusiasm for Mexican cooking I began experimenting with a recipe involving pork fillet.

Most ingredients were straightforward and easily found. And then I came to epasote…. what the hell was that?

Epasote (or epazote, ipasote or ypasote) is a herb, used widely in Mexico, in cooking and as an infusion. It’s also known as Mexican tea, wormseed, Jesuit’s tea, paico, herba sancti Mariæ …. and by its scientific name dysphania ambrosioides. It comes from the same family of plants as amaranth, spinach, beets and quinoa.

It has a pungent, resinous smell, a bit like turpentine, which is perhaps the reason for the Spanish name, which is derived from the Aztec epazōtl (which means skunk sweat). The taste of the mature leaves is also pungent, unlike anything else, the nearest substitute being aniseed, dill or fennel.

The mature leaves go well in a salsa; with fried rice; or added to black beans (it’s supposed to reduce flatulence). Young shoots and leaves can be added to soups. Wash first in cold water and then chop – but beware, it’s strong so you don’t need much. In Europe it’s hard to find fresh leaves, but you can buy dried leaves and plants, guess where? Yes, on Amazon.

It’s easy to grow in a warm climate, being classified as a weed in some places.

Medicinally it’s known to aid digestion, but an overdose can kill, and it should not be ingested by expectant or nursing mothers.

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