Epazote is a native plant to the tropical climates of Central America, South America and southern Mexico and grows as a perennial in zones 8 to 10, but in zones 2 to 7 it behaves as an annual. Epazote thrives in full sun and likes well drained, average condition soil. It can grow between 2 to 4 feet tall when mature and is a narrow plant that spreads only about 1.5 feet. Epazote has been found growing wild in the southwestern United States and Mexico. The flowers epazote shows are known to attract predatory wasps and flies and will even mask pungent smells from flowers that are prone to insect damage. For this reason, it is beneficial to plant epazote near fragrant plants that have infestations. It is important to know that epazote will spread quickly and may be come invasive in some unmaintained gardens. Due to its invasive characteristics, epazote is a good candidate for containers. Pruning the center stalk will make it bushy, and clipping off the flowers will promote more leaf production. Ascaridole in the leaves inhibits the growth of nearby plants, so keep epazote away from plants in need of greater establishment (1). If ants are a problem in your garden, scattering crushed epazote leaves in your garden may help to repel them. For maximum flavor, place epazote in full sun late spring when threat of frost has passed. To harvest, pick epazote leaves any time after the plant has been well established and after morning dew dries (2).
Culinary or Medicinal Uses
Although epazote can be poisonous in large doses (in particular the plant's oil, seeds and flowering stem tips), it is an edible herb and common in Mexican (Yucatecan) and Caribbean cuisines. Epazote is said to be an acquired taste because of its strong smell and flavor (3). When added to stews, sauces and soups, epazote adds distinct flavor some describe as peppery and minty. In Mexican cuisine it is used in "frijoles de la olla", or beans simmered in a pot with water and onion. It is also said to reduce flatulence (4).
Significance to Cultural Communities
The name epazote is derived from the Aztec (Nahuatl) name, epazotl, combining words for "skunk" and "sweat" (1). Aztecs use epazote as both a culinary and medicinal herb-medicinal qualities focus on its carminative properties (antigas), but it has also been used to expel intestinal hookworms. Epazote has also been used for nervous disorders, asthma and menstruation (4).
(1) Spurrier, Jeff. “Epazote, A Wild Herb Worth Taming in the Garden.” Los Angeles Times. January 17, 2012. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/home_blog/2012/01/epazote-wormseed-.html
(2) Trimble, Kelly Smith. “Growing Epazote.” Bonnie Plants. July, 2012. http://bonnieplants.com/growing/growing-epazote/
(3) Danze, Tina. “Mexican Magic: Epazote’s Special Flavor.” Chicago Tribune. February 4, 1998. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1998-02-04/entertainment/9802040360_1_mexican-herb-black-beans-yucatecan-dishes
4) Bowman, Barbara. “ Epazote.” Gourmet Sleuth. http://www.gourmetsleuth.com/Articles/Exotic-Herbs-Spices-and-Salts-639/epazote.aspx