Epazote is an herb that you need if you ever cook beans! When added to beans while they cook, this unprepossessing relative of spinach has the almost magical ability to help “predigest” beans – causing them to lose their ability to cause, well, digestive gas production. In other words, epazote is an all natural “Bean-o.”
An easy plant to grow, epazote (formerly Chenopodium ambrosoides, now renamed Dysphania ambrosioides) doesn’t take much garden work on your part. All you need is about 10 leaves per pound of beans. And all you need for some leaves is – some soil, some water, and some seeds. By the way, epazote was once called wormseed because it was used medicinally.
Planting and Care.
Plant epazote from seed in spring once night temperatures rise above the low 50’s. Seeds can take as long as four weeks to germinate. Plants will thrive through the warm season and freeze to the ground at 35 degrees, but often regrow from the roots.
Check the Pima County Seed Library, they often have some. For the seed library you will need your Pima County library card and that’s it. You can even check out seeds online, and have them waiting at your neighborhood library! All they ask is that you try to donate some back at the end of the season – because the best seed to grow in our area is what ever survived and produced seed in our area!
Epazote tolerates poor, even clay soil, but plants grow best in average, well-drained soil. Can be grown in containers that are at least 8 inches deep.
Full sun is ok in the Southwest, but afternoon shade is appreciated by this tropical herb.
Moderate – meaning less than a tomato but more than a cactus.
Not necessary, but once a month with general purpose fertilizer will help make bushy plants. To really keep the plants bushy, you will need to pinch often. This is a technical term, really! (see below).
Habit & Care.
Epazote can reach 5 feet, but will be scraggly. Pinch or clip off the growing tips often to keep it around 2 to 3 feet tall, compact, leafy, and looking attractive in the garden. Usually a single plant provides enough for the household. Epazote reseeds readily, remove the flowering stalks, or be ready to weed excess plants next year. Seed heads turn an attractive bronze in autumn, and finches enjoy the seeds.
Harvest & Use.
Epazote is used fresh for culinary purposes, and loses “digestive” properties when dried. Chop or mince leaves and add early to dishes that require long cooking, like beans, roasts, soups, or stews. Use one tablespoon minced leaves per cup of beans or to a two pound roast. Not used as a garnish, due to bitter taste. If you want to save epazote for winter use, chop up fresh leaves and freeze them.
Read more about epazote in my book “Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today” (Tierra del Sol Press). I hope you will consider purchasing a copy locally at Antigone Books, Magic Garden, Mostly Books, Rillito Nursery, Tohono Chul Park, and Tucson Botanical Gardens. You can buy it on Amazon (here) but it’s out of print and will cost you more! (If you do I will get a few pennies but our local people will not.)