Crop of the Week: Epazote
• Like most herb crops grown in the Yuma area, epazote acreage is small yet significant.
• Epazote is used as a leaf vegetable and herb for its pungent flavor. Raw, it has a resinous, medicinal pungency similar to the licorice taste of anise, fennel or even tarragon, but stronger. Epazote's fragrance has been compared to citrus, petroleum, savory, mint or event putty.
• The taste is strong as well, slightly bitter with hints of lemon. It is often compared to cilantro as both are acquired tastes. While epazote has no comparable substitute, many have found using Mexican oregano in its place provides pleasing results.
• Epazote has been used in Mexican cuisine for thousands of years dating back to the Aztecs who used it for cooking as well as for medicinal purposes.
• Native to Central America, especially Mexico and Guatemala, epazote is common to those cuisines. It is now used to season a variety of dishes including beans, soups, salads and quesadillas. Young leaves can be wilted and added to soups or stews or combined with other greens, just as chicory or sorrel would be used in early spring. It is often used with other herbs, like Mexican oregano and cilantro, and, of course, chilies.
• Epazote grows well in tropical and sub-tropical climates and will reach a height of over 3 feet. It grows in the wild in Mexico and America, and you may even have it growing in your own backyard. It is hearty and sometimes is referred to as a weed.
• It is easy to grow your own epazote if you like it enough to want a steady supply. The shrubby plant is an annual with large leaves with pointed with serrated edges while the flowers are tiny clusters of green balls.
• You might find fresh epazote for sale at Mexican grocery stores. It is recommended to store the fresh stems in a glass of water, like a bouquet of flowers, or refrigerated wrapped in damp paper towels. Dried epazote is available chopped or as whole stems. Recipes will occasionally call for a stem of epazote, roughly equal to a teaspoon of the dried chopped product.
• Epazote is also known as wormseed because of its effects on preventing worms in animals. It is often added to animal feed for this reason. It has been used externally for athlete's foot and insect bite. In addition, it has insecticidal properties and is used as a fumigant against mosquitoes and in fertilizer to inhibit insect larvae. The crushed leaves are said to send ants scattering if placed in their path.
Source: Kurt Nolte is an agriculture agent and Yuma County Cooperative Extension director. He can be reached at email@example.com or 726-3904.