An annual herb, epazote (botanical name Dysphania ambrosioides) grows up to a height of 1 meter. While the stems of this herb are reddish and overlaid with small, sharply jagged leaves, the plant has numerous branches. Epazote produces several tiny yellow hued flowers in group along the stems. The flowers give way to small fruit clusters and each fruit contains several thousand minuscule black seeds. This herb can be propagated very easily from its plentiful seeds. This is one reason why people often think that epazote is an invasive weed. The entire epazote herb emits a potent and typical smell.
Epazote is indigenous to Mexico as well as the Central and South American regions having tropical climatic conditions. In these places, epazote is generally used in the form of a culinary herb, in addition to a medicinal plant. This herb has been naturalized extensively across the globe and it can now be found growing naturally in various regions of southern United States. In Brazil, people have named the plant mastruço or erva-de-santa-maria, while it is called paico in Peru. In Mexico and all over Latin America, this herb is known as epazote. This herb is also known as siona, which denotes a "worm remedy".
Apart from the tropical regions, epazote is also cultivated in several regions in Europe and North America where the climatic conditions are warm and temperate. In these places, the herb often turns out to be an invasive species. In the kitchen, this plant is employed in the form of a leafy vegetable as well as an herb, as it is valued for its particular therapeutic properties. Often this herb is served together with beans, because it helps to put off flatulence. While fresh epazote is ideal for culinary purposes, you may also use the dried herb as an alternative.
When raw, epazote possesses a very potent odour that has been compared to a variety of substances, including lemon, mint, savory and even petroleum. The plant's name 'epazote' has its origin in the Nahuatl term for "skunk sweat". The plant is also known by several other names, which mainly refer to its smell.
Leaf, whole plant, seed.
Epazote has an assortment of so-called therapeutic properties. This herb may be consumed raw or used in the form of a tea for curing digestive disorders, blocked sinuses, asthma, hysteria, menstrual problems and even malaria. The essential oil obtained from this herb is believed to possess abortifacient (a medicine that induces abortion) and antispasmodic properties, in addition to the ability to kill and expel worms. Traditionally, epazote has been used as a vermifuge (ability to expel worms) to treat humans as well as animals. However, when taken in large doses, this herb may prove to be toxic.
Precisely speaking, the importance of epazote is more as a remedial herb compared to a culinary plant. Generally, the leaves of this plant are employed in cooking with a view to overcome the flatulence and indigestion caused by beans, protein-rich and high fiber foods. However, this herb encloses several inherent phytonutrients, which are beneficial for our health and wellness in general, provided they are used optimally. It is worth mentioning here that the calorie content of epazote is extremely low, so you need not worry about putting on weight when you consume this herb.
Some parts of this herb, particularly its young and tender leaves, are a wonderful resource of folic acid. In fact, consuming this herb provides us as much as 54 percent of our daily recommended intake of folic acid. Folic acid is vital for DNA synthesis as well as cell division. However, it is advised that pregnant women should stay away from epazote greens because it often results in uterine cramps and thereby enhances the chances of terminating pregnancy.
Epazote also contains very little amounts of vitamin A as well as some quantities of flavonoid phenolic antioxidants, for instance beta-carotenes. Working in combination, these nutrients work in the form of defensive scavengers protecting us against the detrimental free radicals as well as reactive oxygen species (also known as ROS), which have a vital function in combating the aging process, in addition to protecting us from a wide range of diseases.
Epazote encloses sufficient amounts of essential minerals including calcium (which is about 27 percent of our daily recommended intake), potassium, manganese, zinc, copper, iron and the trace mineral selenium. Our body utilizes the ingested manganese in the form of a co-factor for superoxide dismutase - an antioxidant enzyme. In addition, it also encloses different B-complex vitamins in little, but sufficient amounts. The main B vitamins enclosed by this herb are riboflavin and pyridoxine. All these vitamins also act in the form of co-factors in metabolizing the enzymes in our body.
In the Yucatan Peninsula (located in south-eastern Mexico), native Indian tribes have been traditionally using epazote since long to treat asthma, chorea (a form of rheumatic fever which has an effect on the brain), intestinal parasites, too much mucus as well as different nervous conditions. In the Amazon region, Indians have been using this herb to force out intestinal worms and also in the form of a gentle laxative. In South America, the Indian populace also use epazote to treat intestinal worms. They generally drink one cup (250 ml) of a decoction prepared with the herb's leaves every morning for three days at a stretch prior to taking their meals.
Traditionally, the Creoles (descendents from the colonial settlers in Louisiana, particularly those of French, Spanish, and African descent) have been using this herb as an herbal remedy for treating worms in children and as a cold remedy for adults. On the other hand, Wayapi Indians in Brazil employ a decoction prepared with epazote leaves to get rid of intestinal gas. They also use the decoction in the form of a gentle purgative, an insecticide as well as a natural medicine for treating parasites, intestinal worms, gout, cramps, hemorrhoids and even nervous problems. A number of native tribes also bathe with the epazote decoction with a view to reduce fever. Sometimes, they also put in some fresh uprooted epazote plants in their fires with a view to repel mosquitoes as well as flies.
All over Latin America, epazote is a popular herbal remedy and is employed to expel intestinal worms, amebas and parasites in children as well as adults alike. In addition, people in this part of the world also use this plant in their cooking. They believe that consumption of epazote helps to put off formation of intestinal gas, especially when it is cooked as well as consumed along with beans and other foods that are responsible for intestinal gas formation.
Since a long time now, people in Central as well as South America have employed the epazote leaves and seeds in the form of an herbal medicine (vermifuge) to force out intestinal worms. Epazote forms an important part of Brazilian herbal medicine and is used for treating several health conditions related to worms, including round worms, hookworms, and tape worms. In addition, in Brazilian herbal medicine, this herb is also employed for treating asthma, coughs, bronchitis as well as other disorders related to the upper respiratory tract. It is also used to treat angina (chest pain), remove intestinal gas, in the form of a general digestive tonic and for inducing perspiration.
This herb is also used extensively in neighbouring Peru for therapeutic purposes and is used to treat similar health conditions. Natives inhabiting the Amazon in Peru also use this herb to alleviate arthritis pain. They soak the entire epazote plant in water for many days and, subsequently, use the water topically to treat arthritis. In several other South American countries, this herb is a popular herbal remedy for various different conditions, such as bronchitis, asthma, dysentery, and diarrhea in addition to treating menstrual problems. This herb is also used externally in the form of a wash for wounds, bruises, hemorrhoids, fractures and contusions.
The essential oil present in the seeds of epazote is said to be responsible for the herb's aptitude to force out intestinal worms. In fact, throughout the world, people have been using this oil for many centuries in the form of a remedy for intestinal worms. There was a time when this oil was listed in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia as a medication for treating hookworms, amebas and roundworms. Even when used in therapeutic doses, this essential oil has a number of toxic effects. As a result, since several years ago, this oil is no longer preferred for internal use. It is reported that taking 10 mg of this essential oil may lead to convulsions, cardiac problems, respiratory troubles, debility, vomiting, drowsiness and even untimely death.
In vitro studies have shown that a number of chemicals enclosed by epazote have an influence on specific cancer cell lines. In addition, it has been reported that these chemical constituents have an extremely carcinogenic effect on rats. However, in 2007, a team of scientists in Nigeria concluded that epazote is neither cytotoxic nor mutagenic.
In Honduras and several Latin American nations, people grind the entire herb or its leaves and add it to water. Subsequently, people in these places drink the solution to treat worm infections. In some Latin American regions, people also use epazote for curing animals.
In addition to its therapeutic uses, epazote is also used as a culinary herb. It is mainly used in the form of a leafy vegetable and an herb as well as an herbal tea owing to its pungent taste. When raw, the herb possesses a resin-like medicinal astringency, akin to that of fennel, anise, or even tarragon. However, its flavour is much stronger. The smell of epazote is very strong, but difficult to particularize. Commonly, the fragrance of epazote is compared to that of creosote or turpentine. Some people have also compared the potent smell of epazote to that of mint, citrus and savory.
Traditionally, epazote is served with black beans, mainly for its flavour as well as carminative (anti-flatulence) attributes. Occasionally, it is also employed to add essence to a number of conventional Mexican dishes too. In addition, epazote can also be used for seasoning a variety of foods including soups, sopes (particularly those enclosing huitlacoche), quesadillas, tamales together with chilli and cheese, mole de olla, eggs and potatoes, chilaquiles and enchiladas.
Although epazote is often used together with black beans, this herb is a very ingenuous ingredient. This herb is used extensively in the cuisines of South Mexico as well as Guatemala. For instance, epazote is a vital ingredient in a dish called mole verde.
Chemical analysis of epazote has revealed that this herb contains elevated levels of natural chemicals known as monoterpenes. The fruit as well as seed of this herb also enclose high amounts of an essential oil whose primary active chemical is called ascaridole. A German pharmacist residing in Brazil was the first to isolate this chemical in 1895. In fact, ascaridole enclosed by epazote is said to be responsible for most of the vermifuge (ability to expel worms) attributes of this herb. It has also been documented that ascaridole possesses analgesic (pain relieving) and sedative properties, in addition to anti-fungal actions. A clinical trial involving guinea pigs has shown that external application of this oil is very effective in treating ring worm in just 7 to 12 days. Several other studies undertaken in laboratories (in vitro) have documented that ascaridole works against a particular parasite found in tropical regions and known as Trypanosoma cruzi. In addition, this chemical also has potent insecticidal as well as anti-malarial activities.
In fact, ascaridole is a comparatively exceptional constituent of epazote. Boldo is another plant that owes much of its attribute to monoterpene peroxide. However, it is important to note that ascaridole is not only toxic, but also has a strong as well as unpleasant flavour. It is said that the content of ascaridole in epazote cultivated in Mexico is lower compared to the plants cultivated in Asia or Europe.
To treat intestinal parasites, you should drink half cup (250 ml) of a decoction prepared from epazote leaves once every day on an empty stomach for three consecutive days. In addition, the decoction prepared with the herb's leaves is also used to treat digestive, respiratory, and menstrual disorders. The standard dose for treating these conditions is half cup (250 ml) of the decoction taken when needed.
The essential oil enclosed by epazote should never be used by pregnant women and nursing mothers. While this herb definitely has specific toxic activity, traditionally it has also been employed to encourage abortions.
The indigenous tribes in Mexico and Central and South America have employed the plant for various therapeutic purposes, including a contraceptive. However, this use has not been substantiated by any clinical trial and, hence, it is advisable that you should not depend on the herb for this purpose. Nevertheless, young couples trying to become pregnant should avoid using this herb, as its use is contraindicated for them.