Epazote is an effortless ‘erb that loves our Southwestern summer heat. And it’s not too late to plant some now.
Why Grow Epazote?
This is an herb you need if you ever cook beans. When added to beans as they cook, epazote has the almost magical ability to help predigest” beans. This causes them to lose their ability to cause – ahem – digestive gas production. In other words, epazote is an all natural “Bean-o.”
Epazote doesn’t take much 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.
Epazote (formerly Chenopodium ambrosoides, now renamed Dysphania ambrosioides) is strongly scented in the garden and is reported as a deer repellent. I can report that javalina, jackrabbits, cottontails and quail all avoid eating the plants. Don’t worry, the strong scent does not translate into any flavor at all when cooked!
Planting and Care of Epazote
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.
I have found seed through Renee’s Garden Seed (here). There are a number of other seed companies that offer seed good for our area. I have a whole list of them under the menu tab called “Zones, Pets, & More.” (here)
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!
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 and 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.
More about epazote – it’s history and uses – in next weeks post on Savor the Southwest (SavortheSW.com). On that site I put on my Ethnobotanist hat, and then my chef’s hat. This week on SavortheSW we talk about using the native sunflowers in tasty ways.
Learn More about Southwest Gardening
Sign up for my newsletter and I will send you the latest free PDF guide to some aspect of gardening here in the Land of El Sol. Topic changes several times a year and all subscribers get the latest one!
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, and Tucson Botanical Gardens. Call first to make sure they have copies left.
You can also buy Father Kino’s Herbs on Amazon (link). If you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute will get a few pennies – at no extra cost to you.
© Article copyright Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. You must ask permission to republish an entire blog post or article. Okay to use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit. You must include a link to the original post on our site. No stealing photos.