Epazote

Dysphania ambrosioides

Epazote is an herb that I had never heard of until six months ago, when I received a jar of it for Christmas. Kyle expertly chose a wonderful gift for me last year, and he presented me with Penzeys Spices “Taste of Mexico” box on Christmas Eve.

This gift was perfect for a few reasons.

  1. Obviously I enjoy cooking and writing about it.
  2. For a few years I visited Mexico every January, and I miss those trips so much. Kyle brought a little piece of Mexico to me this year.
  3. I love to try new things, and this box was full of them.

We cook our own version of Mexican food a lot in this house, and I have really enjoyed trying out the new spices and herbs in this set. The most intriguing one to me was epazote because I had never heard of it before. Upon researching the herb, I discovered that after at least five annual trips to Mexico, I have probably eaten it dozens of times. It is most commonly cooked in black beans, which I eat a ton of when I am south of the border.

I have delayed writing this post for awhile because I wasn’t really sure how to handle this subject delicately. I sometimes fail at subtlety and instead approach sensitive topics like a literary wrecking ball. I have finally determined that the best way to say it is simply and boldly.

The most commonly reported benefit of epazote in the diet is the prevention of flatulence.

There, I said it. But there are other more intriguing properties too. The most interesting tidbit I found on epazote is that, in large quantities, it is poisonous to humans. In small quantities, it relieves abdominal discomfort. What I did not find was a specific quantity at which you go from relief of abdominal pain to calling the poison control hotline. It looks so non-threatening to the naked eye, however we were playing with fire when we pulled out the epazote.

Do not worry; this story does not end at the hospital. Kyle and I have both survived several dinners with epazote-seasoned black beans since cracking open this jar. I think the dried epazote smells like bay leaves, but it tastes totally different. The taste is really difficult to describe, as it is not like any other herb I have tasted. It is kind of sweet and earthy, with this one zesty note that I can’t put my finger on (similar to anise and tarragon). I am sure I did not do epazote any justice in that poor description. All I know is that taco night in our house is even better since epazote came into our lives.

A few more facts for you ingredient geeks like me:

  • epazote is derived from Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, like avocado, chocolate, chile, and coyote
  • it contains a carminative agent, meaning it reduces gas
  • it has been added to pet food because it is said to expel intestinal worms in our furry friends
  • some people have found it helpful in the treatment of asthma, malaria, and other diseases (however you should check with your MD first before incorporating this or any diet change into your treatment plan)
  • epazote can be used in beans, soups, chili, tacos, quesadillas and salads (and more!)

We did not conduct an experiment in our house to test the carminative properties of this common Mexican herb. Mainly because I come from a bit of a science background, I felt that I would quickly be in over my head if I tried to design and perform any type of scientific experiment measuring diet and flatulence. I have a feeling we would develop a new hypothesis that epazote either promotes or hinders the optimization of upstairs living space, as one of us would certainly get a lot of use out of the guest bedroom during that study.

So I have to ask: has anyone else tried epazote? What did you think?

Epazote can be purchased from specialty herb and spice shops, and from most Latin markets or grocery stores.

Advertisements

Gardenology

I don’t exactly have a green thumb. If killing house plants was a crime, I’d be public enemy #1. When I used to have office plants, I always knew it was time to water them when. . . I caught my coworkers watering them, while shaking their heads in disapproval (or pity?). Twice I have tried to grow a window sill herb garden from seeds. The first time, the dry soil yielded a sickly looking sprout that died within 24 hours of poking itself through the surface. The second time, I grew a few sprigs of cilantro, and then a bit of mold.

I have never had any land of my own, so it doesn’t bother me much that I can’t grow a garden. I tell myself it’s not my lack of gardening skills, it’s my lack of space that holds me back. The outdoor space that I can call my own (temporarily, in exchange for monthly rent) includes a 3’x5′ spot on a shady fire escape (shady in two senses of the word) and an 8’x10′ covered balcony. I never really thought it was possible to grow anything in my space, so I didn’t fret about it. However I recently realized that there is about an 8’x4′ space between my balcony and my neighbor’s that gets about 6 hours of sunlight per day (a completely unscientific estimate). So, despite my poor track record, I am starting a patio herb garden!

Laugh all you want. I’m sure you seasoned gardeners can find all the things that are wrong with this picture and are willing and able to point out ten gardening sins I have already committed just by potting these starter plants. Please share any tips you have, because I really desperately want to be a good plant mother. Don’t call social services yet – I can change!

But honestly I believe I’ve done a good job so far. I picked up these starter plants at Ellwood Thompson’s and the Home Depot, along with some organic potting mix. I think I spent way too long over-analyzing the ingredients in the potting mix (as if I knew the first thing about plant nutrients) but I think I’m off to a good start. In two pots I have planted cilantro, rosemary, parsley and basil.

In two more I have planted jalapenos (middle of the 3-pot photo) and patio tomatoes (below).

I will let you know how it goes. When it poured rain all day today and I got to thinking about my exposed plants drowning in the deluge, I already started brainstorming an alibi. Here’s hoping we won’t have to add six more plants to the long list of veg-garden-ology victims.

Wish me luck!