In Mexico, Epazote is an indispensable herb, or weed, depending on your point of view. In English it is known as Wormseed, Mexican tea, West Indian goosefoot, Jerusalem parsley, hedge mustard, Jesuit’s tea, and sweet pigweed. In Spanish it is often called yerba de Santa Maria. It is native to Mexico and South America, and has naturalized as far north as Missouri, New England, and the Eastern United States. It is now cultivated in large quantities in Baltimore. In parts of California, Texas and Arizona, farmers rip it out, plough it under, and curse it. Mexican’s grow epazote in pots and lovingly cultivate it in their herb gardens. Most indigenous languages don’t have a word for “weed.” “We only have plants,” say the shamans.
In a Mexican covered-market where refrigeration is available, you must ask for it, and they will get a bunch of it for you out of the refrigerator. It is best used fresh as it looses its potency soon after being harvested. Upon first whiff of this powerful plant, it may seem counterintuitive to put a branch of it in your bean pot. In fact, the name comes from Náhuatl, epatl meaning “skunk” and tzoll, meaning “sweat,” or “dirt.” Skunk sweat in your beans? Hmmm.
The main ingredient of epazote is ascridole, known for its potency to combat intestinal worms and while it is not as commonly used in central Mexican cuisine as an ingredient in soups and beans as it is in the south, especially the Yucatan Peninsular, it is taken as a tea in most households in Mexico. You can buy small plants and they will naturalize in your garden, or plant epazote in a big maceta in a sunny spot. Then, next time you make frijoles de la olla, snip off 2 or 3 branches, about 8 inches long and let them teach you just how flavorful your beans can get. Be sure to pull them out and discard them before you serve the beans.
Want to know how to purchase, cure, and use an earthenware bean pot (olla) to make the best frijoles you will ever make? Find out in next weeks Comida Mexicana.