Thursday, 26 October 2017


“There are poisons that blind you, and poisons that open your eyes.” ― August Strindberg 

Dysphania ambrosioides (formerly Chenopodium ambrosioides), known as wormseed, Jesuit’s tea, Mexican-tea, payqu (paico), epazote, or herba sancti Mariæ, is an annual or short-lived perennial herb native to Central America, South America, and southern Mexico.

It is an annual or short-lived perennial plant growing to 1.2 m tall, irregularly branched, with oblong-lanceolate leaves up to 12 cm long. The flowers are small and green, produced in a branched panicle at the apex of the stem. As well as in its native areas, it is grown in warm temperate to subtropical areas of Europe and the United States (Missouri, New England, Eastern United States), sometimes becoming an invasive weed.

The generic name Dysphania traditionally was applied in the 1930s to some species endemic to Australia. Placement and rank of this taxon have ranged from a mere section in Chenopodium to the sole genus of a separate family Dysphaniaceae, or a representative of Illicebraceae. The close affinity of Dysphania to “glandular” species of Chenopodium sensu lato is now evident. The common Spanish name, epazote (sometimes spelled and pronounced ipasote or ypasote), is derived from Nahuatl: epazōtl (pronounced [eˈpasoːt͡ɬ]) meaning “skunk sweat”. 

D. ambrosioides is used as a leaf vegetable, herb, and herbal tea for its pungent flavour. Raw, it has a resinous, medicinal pungency, similar to oregano, anise, fennel, or even tarragon, but stronger. The fragrance of D. ambrosioides is strong but difficult to describe. A common analogy is to turpentine or creosote. It has also been compared to citrus, savoury, and mint.

Although it is traditionally used with black beans for flavour and its supposed carminative properties (less gas), it is also sometimes used to flavour other traditional Mexican dishes as well: It can be used to season quesadillas and sopes (especially those containing huitlacoche), soups, mole de olla, tamales with cheese and chili peppers, chilaquiles, eggs and potatoes and enchiladas. It is often used as a herb in white fried rice and an important ingredient for making the green salsa for chilaquiles.

The essential oils of D. ambrosioides contain terpene compounds, some of which have natural pesticide capabilities. The compound ascaridole in epazote inhibits the growth of nearby plants, so it would be best to relegate this plant at a distance from other inhabitants of the herb garden. Even though this plant has an established place in recipes and in folklore, it is wise to use only the leaves, and those sparingly, in cooking. Do not use the flowering shoots or the seeds! Overdoses of the essential oil have caused human deaths (attributed to the ascaridole content). The symptoms including severe gastroenteritis with pain, vomiting, and diarrhoea.

Epazote contains an extensive array of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A,B and C, as well as calcium, manganese, copper, iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, and zinc. It can help relieve cramping, bloating and constipation in addition to enhancing the immune system and protecting the body’s cells against free radical damage to lower the risk of a number of certain cancers and other chronic diseases.

In the language of flowers, epazote sprigs mean: "I am not who I seem." Flowering sprigs carry the message: "Associate yourself with me at your risk."

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