Growing Epazote

I want to thank you for buying this book, ‘Growing Epazote – A Home Gardener’s Guide’ and I hope you will find it informative and useful.

Gardening is a pleasurable and enjoyable hobby. It is also one of those hobbies that require a lot of patience. However, the results are exquisite. It is one of the rare hobbies in which you need to deal with real living things and take care of them. Gardeners love their plants and consider them to be their friends.

Nowadays many gardeners, old and new, are looking out for certain plants and shrubs that were once considered to be weeds. While these plants held special places in various cultures, due to commercialization, their invasive nature and lack of information regarding them had deemed them as weeds. However, most of these plants and shrubs are not only beautiful, but they have various beneficial properties as well. Such a plant, which is often considered to be a weed, is epazote.

Epazote is an ancient plant that holds a significant place in Latin American culture. Nowadays, more and more people want to grow epazote thanks to its pungent but exciting flavor and its anti-flatulence properties. If you are one of these people, this book will help you grow epazote in no time. 

Epazote is quite easy to grow which is why even new and amateur gardeners won’t have any problems growing it. Read on to find out how to introduce this delicious herb into your garden right away!

I hope you will use the information provided in this book to make your home and garden greener and your food tastier.

Epazote – Understanding The Herb

Before moving on to growth and care tips regarding epazote, it is first necessary to understand the plant itself. This chapter will briefly explain the various properties, qualities and certain warnings regarding growing, using and consuming epazote.

Epazote is a commonly grown herb crop in the Yuma area. However, the percentage of growers who grow this crop is quite small. Not many people are aware of Epazote ‘s popularity and importance. Epazote is a leafy vegetable that is often used as an herb for its pungent flavor. It is either used raw or is often cooked along with various other ingredients. It is extremely pungent and resinous. It tastes a bit like fennel, anise or tarragon. However, the taste is much stronger. The fragrance is strong too and it is difficult to describe, as it does not match any other scent.

Epazote sounds like rather an exotic name. However, it is still better than various other names that this herb has. Some people call it goosefoot, pigweed, skunkweed or wormseed. These names are not random, as epazote comes from the Aztec words ‘epatl’ and ‘tzol.’ These two words taken together roughly translate to smelly animal. Other, far better names include Mexican. People rarely refer to it as Chenopodium ambrosioides either. As mentioned earlier, epazote holds a dear and special place in the Central American and Latin American culture. It is commonly used in Guatemalan and Central American cuisines.

As mentioned in the section above, epazote is extremely strong and pungent which is why people often consider it to be an acquired taste. Some people complain of it being too bitter with slight hints of lemon. Certain people tend to replace epazote with Mexican oregano, which is often found to be more palatable for fussy eaters. However, no herb or ingredient can replace epazote and its pungent but appetizing taste.

Different parts of the epazote have different flavors. However, only the leaves of the plant are fit for human consumption. Other parts can prove to be toxic and must be avoided. Young leaves of the plant are richer yet milder in flavor as compared to the older leaves. The flavor becomes more and more intense with age.

Epazote is suitable for tropical as well as sub-tropical climatic conditions. If grown properly it can grow over 3 feet. It is often discarded as a weed in places like Mexico and the USA. It is invasive and a rapid grower and it is possible that you may already have some in your garden, or a local park, though if you plan to consume epazote, it is recommended to plant a new one only for consumption. Do not use leaves from your park or any other public place.

Commercially Available Packets Of Herbs
Commercially Available Packets Of Herbs

Where to Find Epazote

While the main concern of this book is to help you grow epazote, it is always better to try some out before choosing to grow it. Epazote is commonly available in many Hispanic and Latin Markets. It is available in dry as well as fresh forms. If fresh epazote is not available, dry epazote can be used and is every bit as tasty. Dry epazote is available on various e-commerce sites.

Epazote in Mason Jar Filled With Water
Epazote in Mason Jar Filled With Water

Storing Epazote

Epazote is a hardy plant and thus storing it is easy. However, as it is an herb, it is perishable, and thus care must be taken to keep Epazote fresh. Whether you grow epazote or whether you buy fresh Epazote from the market, always take care of the leaves to make them last longer. You should store the fresh stems in a tumbler of fresh water. If you do not want to keep it out in the open, you can keep it wrapped in some moist paper towels and then keep them in the refrigerator. One stem of fresh epazote is about one teaspoon of dried epazote.  

Squash/Pumpkin Blossom Quesadillas
Squash/Pumpkin Blossom Quesadillas

Uses

Epazote has various uses, and thus many people want to grow it nowadays.

Traditionally, epazote has been used to flavor beans and for the carminative properties of epazote. It is often used to flavor other Mexican dishes, such as squash flower quesadillas, as well. For instance, epazote can be used to season soups, quesadillas, eggs, and potatoes, mole de olla and enchiladas.

You will be surprised to know that epazote has been used for thousands of years. The ancient Aztecs used it to flavor their cooking and for its various medicinal benefits.

Epazote can be used to treat hookworms, roundworms, amebic dysentery, small tapeworms, excess mucus, and asthma as well.

Externally, it can be used to treat insect bites and athlete’s foot. It also has insecticidal properties and can be used against mosquitoes and insect larvae.

Epazote is a strong laxative and has various laxative properties. With the help of these properties, it can stop the functioning of parasites and can halt their advancement in the intestines. It has been used as an essential oil since the nineteenth century in diluted and concentrated forms. In the 20th century, pharmaceutical companies started isolating and using it too.

People also use fresh epazote leaves to create wall hangings, floral decorations, etc. You can create wreaths, dried floral decorations, etc. Always be careful while using and handling dried leaves and seeds of epazote as they may irritate the skin. The seeds are known to cause various reactions including dermatitis etc. to people who are sensitive to spicy foods and spices.

Problems

Epazote, while delicious, is a risky condiment just like cinnamon. The risk can be minimized if you know how to use it. Some people believe that epazote’s taste is addictive. However, it is recommended to avoid epazote in large quantities. Only add a couple of leaves to your food to bring out its flavors. If you want to add dried leaves, then add according to the recipe. If you are not sure how to use epazote, you may need to talk to your Latin American friends.

Now you must be wondering where to find epazote, or you must be excited about growing it in your garden. Find out more about how to grow epazote in your garden, home or even in water in the following chapters.

Epazote In Raised Bed With Cilantro In The Background
Epazote In Raised Bed With Cilantro In The Background

Growing Epazote

Epazote is delicious as well as a beautiful plant that can make your garden look fresh and green and your foods are tastier. If you love the taste of epazote, it is best to grow it in your garden to ensure a steady supply.

Growing your epazote is simple. Epazote has large serrated leaves, and it also gives out flowers with tiny green balls. It is recommended to consume only the leaves of the plant. The plant is an annual, and its leaves can be used as an insecticide as well. If you crush the leaves and spread it on paths, it can make ants go away. Dry epazote can be used to get rid of ants as well. While only leaves are fit for human consumption, some people also like to add thin stems of leaves to their food. If you do decide to use the stems, pulverize them and let them cook for a long time.

All about Growing Epazote

Epazote grows well in all seasons if you live in a tropical or sub-tropical region. However, if you live in any other region then it is best to plant epazote in spring after the ‘dangerous’ frosts are long gone. Epazote needs slightly high temperature throughout the day. The temperature should reach at least 50 degrees. Any less and the growth will not be satisfactory. Always grow epazote in well-drained soil and full sunlight.

Seed Sowing Depth

Epazote seeds are small and thus should not be sown too deep. It is recommended to sow them at the surface of the soil. If you live in a windy zone, sow them at 1/16-inch depth. Always keep the soil warm and moist as it helps germination. As said in the last section, the temperature should be around 50 degrees. Epazote grows quickly and can be invasive and it is therefore recommended to allow the area some growing space. If you are not comfortable with the plant taking over your garden, only plant it in containers. This way you will be able to keep it under control.

When to Sow

For subtropical and tropical regions, you can sow epazote seeds throughout the year. For people who live in moderate zones, seeds can be sown in mid-spring when the temperatures are moderately high. Seeds germinate and grow in about 2-4 weeks. Some plants may even grow fully and be ready for harvest in a month or two. If you sow seeds over a stretched period, you will be able to ensure a long harvest. Sow the seeds throughout the spring.

As epazote is native to tropical regions, it grows the best in zones 2-7. It may even grow up to 2 to 4 feet. If you live in colder regions, it is recommended to grow it in containers so that you can bring it in if the temperature drops out of the blue.

Do not plant seeds in loamy soil. Always sow them where the roots will not be submerged in water for long. Sun is crucial for good flavor.

Seedlings Herbs In Starter Pots
Seedlings Herbs In Starter Pots

Sowing Indoors/Outdoors

Epazote grows the best outside, as it requires high temperature and direct sunlight. However, it can also be grown indoors in soil as well as water.

If you want to sow epazote indoors, do it in a place that receives ample sunlight. Windowsills and balconies are the best places for growing epazote. Seeds can be either started in growing medium, tissues or soil as well. Once the seedlings are ready, you can transfer them to containers containing growing media or soil. You can also transfer them to containers containing water. Epazote can grow well in water that is replenished with nutrients sparingly.

It is recommended to grow epazote for at least 4-6 weeks before moving them outside (if you want to). If you do not want to grow them outside at all, you may continue to grow them on windowsills.

While epazote can grow in water, their growth will not be as satisfactory as epazote grown outside in the soil.

Plant Height & Width

Epazote plants are medium length shrubs and can grow up to 4 feet. They have reddish stems with dark green, serrated leaves. They are about 9-10 inches wide.

Epazote Herb Plant Closeup
Epazote Herb Plant Closeup

Leaf Color/Description

Epazote leaves are bright, dark green and come out of the reddish stem of the mature plant. They have serrated edges, i.e., edges that look like teeth. They can also produce tiny flowers that grow right with the stems. These flowers then grow into seedpods.

Growth Habits

Epazotes are rapid growers and quickly gain their standard height of about 4ft. If you continuously harvest the tip of the plant after every couple of weeks, the plant will continue to grow and get more and bushy as well. This will also allow you to harvest the herb throughout the growing season.

Epazotes do the best in warm weather where the temperature does not drop below 50 very often. Do not water the plants too much and a dense watering thrice a week is sufficient. If it does not rain, you may increase the watering. Do not use a forceful stream or pressurized water to water the plant, as its stem is often quite delicate. Do not over water or it will lead to root-rot.

Pests & Diseases of Epazote

Epazote naturally has almost no pests as the texture of the plant and the scent of the leaves act as a deterrent to parasites and pests all over. Epazote can also help you to get rid of pests from other plants, as pests will leave any area where epazote grows.

Crushing and spreading leaves of epazote plant can help you get rid of annoying pests like ants etc. from your house.

How to store Epazote

The beauty of Epazote is that it can be used and stored in a variety of ways. To store your Epazote, you have essentially three options:

  • For short-term storage, you can either store it fresh in the refrigerator,
  • For long-term storage you can:
    • freeze the fresh herbs for later use, which can be accomplished in more than one way,
    • or dry the herbs and store in your cupboard, pantry or root cellar.

Drying Epazote

Some people say that it’s not worth drying Epazote because it loses its flavor when dried, but I disagree. While the flavor may not be as intense as a fresh bunch from the garden, there is still plenty of culinary use for dried Epazote in everyday cooking.

There are several ways of drying Epazote which include

  • Air dry/brown paper bag/solar
  • Food dehydrator
  • Oven Drying

Oven Drying

To oven dry your Epazote, preheat oven to 250-300 degrees F. Lightly coat a cookie sheet with baking spray to help with sticking. Strip the leaves off the stems of the Epazote and spread the leaves in one layer on the cookie sheet. Let, the leaves dry out in the oven for 20-30 minutes, check once. You just want the leaves to lose the fresh green look. Take them out of the oven and cool on the cookie sheet. Use a spatula to scrape off the cookie sheet, and slightly crumble the leaves. Put in an airtight jar and store with spices, use when needed! These will last as long as any other dried herb.

Hanging Air dried herbs
Hanging Air Dried Herbs

Air drying

To air dry your Epazote herbs,

  • Wash, the Epazote under cool, running water and dry it thoroughly, but gently, with a paper towel.
  • Gather the Epazote together and tie the stem ends together with a string for them to be used immediately.
  • Hang the Epazote bunch in a dry area until all the water evaporates from the leaves of the herb.
  • Place the bunch upside down in a paper bag. Tie the paper bag closed and poke several holes in the bag with the tip of a knife to allow for ventilation.
  • Hang the bag in a warm, dry area that is not in direct sunlight.

Open the bag and check the herbs every few days to see if the Epazote is sufficiently dry. The herb should feel crisp and crumble easily in your hand, with no areas of moisture. It should take about one to two weeks to properly dry your Epazote.

Tips:

  • Keeping the Epazote in a bag while it dries allows the leaves to drop into the bag rather than onto the floor or counter.
  • Store the dried Epazote in a sealed, airtight container.
  • Dried Epazote tastes best when added to cooked dishes as opposed to salsas or salads.
  • Select Epazote for drying that has fresh, healthy leaves; avoid Epazote with wilted leaves.
  • Store fresh Epazote until you are able to dry it by placing the stems in 1 inch of water and covering the plant with a plastic bag. Fresh Epazote should keep in the refrigerator for up to one week.
Herbs On Dehydrator Shelves
Herbs On Dehydrator Shelves

Drying with dehydrator

Soak your Epazote herbs in a bowl of water. After they have soaked for a few minutes, put the leaves in a salad spinner or large dish towel and give it a twirl. This helps to make the leaves as dry as possible.

Next, remove the stems of the herbs. Some people prefer to dry their herbs without removing the stems; it is a matter of personal preference. Once the leaves are completely dry, the stems will be minimal, so you decide what’s best. If you plan to grind the dried leaves into powder, the stems will not make a difference.

Once you’ve cleaned and dried the Epazote leaves, lay them on dehydrator trays in a single layer. It is okay to have the leaves touch. They will not stick together when they are dried.

You should process these in your favorite dehydrator at 110° for approximately 1 to 3 hours. They dry fairly quickly so keep an eye out. You’ll know they are done when the leaves are crisp and crumble between your fingers.

Open Storage Jar of Home Dried Epazote
Open Storage Jar of Home Dried Epazote

How to store dehydrated Epazote

To store dehydrated Epazote, place the dried Epazote in an airtight container and keep in a cool, dark, dry place for the best flavor and color.

Use the leaves within a year. Keep the leaves whole; they have a longer shelf life than ground herbs. For the best flavor crush or grind the leaves just before using.

Dried Epazote lasts as long as two years, and you don’t have to worry about freezer burn or other problems that occur when freezing food.

Freezing Epazote

If you have the freezer space or happen to have a second freezer as we did for many years, freezing is a good way to preserve Epazote, which, also, has the benefit of retaining more of the original flavor of Epazote then drying does.

There are three basic methods for freezing Epazote:

  • The Ice Cube Method
  • The Vacuum Sealer Method, and
  • The Cookie Sheet Method
Frozen cubes of herbs

Ice Cube Method

One way of freezing Epazote is to add the leaves or parts of leaves to ice cube trays in water or broth before freezing. This method is useful for adding small quantities to recipes, especially soup, stews, and casseroles.

Equipment Required: 

  • Salad Spinner or two clean spongy kitchen towels 
  • Kitchen shears or sharp knife and cutting board 
  • Ice Cube Trays
  • measuring spoons

Ingredients

  • Entire leaf or hacked Epazote 
  • Fresh faucet water 
  • Pick through the fresh Epazote and dispose of damaged leaves. Spin drying or pat dry between two kitchen towels to remove as much moisture as possible. 
  • Strip off the leaves from the stem.
  • Dice the Epazote and add to ice cube trays.
  • Fill every compartment with leaves. 
  • Top off with filtered water or broth and place in the freezer. 
  • When the ice cubes have frozen, remove the Epazote cubes.
  • Store in water and air-proof freezer bag or container in your freezer. 

How to use cubes:

Vacuum Sealer Method

This method preserves more color and flavor by keeping the leaves sealed.

Equipment Required:

  • Vacuum sealer with proper bag material 
  • Salad Spinner or clean spongy kitchen towels 
  • Kitchen shears or sharp knife 

Method: 

  • Wash and gently spin dry or gently pat dry with kitchen towels to remove excess moisture. 
  • Cut or remove the stems
  • Make a bag large enough to hold the Epazote leaves and allow some headspace between the herb and the seal. 
  • Label bag with herb name and date it. 
  • Place herbs into the bag. 
  • Vacuum seal the bag. 
  • Place flat in the freezer. After the bags have frozen solid, they can be put away upright or stacked to save space.

The Cookie Sheet Method

This method is in common use as most homes still do not have vacuum sealers in their kitchens. The cookie sheet method, also, preserves more color and flavor than drying Epazote.

Equipment Required:

  • Air tight freezer bag or plastic freezer containers
  • A cookie sheet or sheet pan which will fit on your freezer shelves
  • Salad Spinner or clean spongy kitchen towels 
  • Kitchen shears or sharp knife

Method: 

  • Wash and gently spin dry or gently pat dry with kitchen towels to remove excess moisture. 
  • Cut or remove the stems
  • Label bag with herb name and date it. 
  • Line the cookie sheet with parchment paper
  • Spread the Epazote leaves on top of the parchment paper
  • Spread the leaves on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet (not touching one another) in successive layers of parament paper and Epazote. For best results, at most three to five layers are recommended.
  • You can place a final layer of parchment paper and top with a second cookie sheet to gently press the leaves flat.
  • Let the leaves freeze a few hours or overnight.
  • Once the leaves are thoroughly frozen, quickly remove the leaves from the cookie sheet, and parchment paper, and pack the Epazote leaves loosely inside small freezer bags or freezer containers for long-term storage. 

How long can Epazote stored in the freezer?

If properly stored, it will maintain the best quality for about 4 to 6 months but will remain safe beyond that time.

Conclusion

Thank you for buying this book, and I hope you found it useful and interesting.

Gardening is a fun way to relax and enjoy the beautiful and often tasty results of your hard work. Epazote is a brilliant starter plant for everyone who is interested in growing herbs and is an amateur gardener. It is easy to grow and care for the plant and can be grown anywhere.

Epazote is quite potent, and only a small amount is needed to make your dish pop! This means you can grow a couple of plants, and they will last you throughout the season. If you are new to the taste of epazote, use it in various quantities to find one that suits and soothes your taste buds. Remember, it is always better to add less spice than more as it is possible to make up for less but removing more is almost impossible.

Once again thank you and good luck!