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Seasonal Eats: The Pungent Flavor of Epazote

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A change of pace this week brought me to the Old L.A. Farmers' Market in Highland Park, a decidedly smaller market, with more of a local focus. One seller always seems to have a great selection of non-commercial greens, and this week was no exception, he was carrying epazote, also known as wormseed, Jesuit's tea and Mexican tea. I've heard of it, but never really worked with it, so I took the opportunity and bought a bunch.

Epazote is a particularly pungent herb, having an aroma of gasoline or turpentine with slight citrus notes, and the same sensation in the mouth as some of the other volatile oil-containing herbs like mint, eucalyptus, or tea tree oil. One reason is that its essential oil contains several compounds that are toxic at high levels, and have been used to expel parasitic worms from plants, domestic animals and humans. Extracts from epazote have been used as a natural pesticide, and it makes a great natural pest repellant as a companion plant in the garden. Nutritionally speaking, epazote is a good source of vitamin C and a very good source of dietary fiber, riboflavin, vitamin B6, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese.

Most commonly, though, it's known for carminative properties, which is to say, it reduces intestinal gas and flatulence associated with eating beans. It's often paired with cilantro in seasoning beans, soups, mole, cheese & green chile tamales, chilaquiles and quesadillas, or taken as a tea. My own recipe will focus on an herbal tea blend that uses its medicinal properties, leaving the traditional dishes to the experts.

5 ways to make the most of fresh epazote: