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Epazote (Chenopodium ambrosioides L.)


botanicalTeloxys ambrosioides (L.) WA Weber, Dysphania ambrosioides (L.) Mosyakin & Clemants
pharmaceuticalHerba Chenopodii ambrosioidis
CatalanTe bord, Te fals
臭杏 [chau hahng]
Chau hahng
臭杏 [chòu xìng], 土荆芥 [tǔ jīng jiè]
Chou xing, Tu jing jie
CroatianCjelolista loboda
CzechMerlík, Merlík vonný
DutchWelriekende ganzenvoet, Amerikaans wormzaad, Wormkruid, Wormzaad
EnglishSkunkweed, Wormseed, Mexican tea, West Indian goosefoot, Jerusalem parsley, Hedge mustard, Sweet pigweed
FrenchÉpazote, Thé du Mexique
GermanMexicanischer Traubentee, Mexicanisches Teekraut, Karthäusertee, Jesuitentee, Wohlriechender Gänsefuß
Hebrewכף-אווז ריחנית
Kaf-Avaz reyhanit (?)
Hindiसुगंध वस्तूका
Sugandha vastuka
HungarianMirhafű, Libatop
ItalianAmbrosia, Farinello aromatico
Japaneseアメリカアリタソウ, ケアリタソウ, エパソーテ
Amerika-ritasō, Amerika-ritaso, Kea-ritasō, Kearitaso, Epasōte, Epasote
Korean에파조테, 토형개, 양명아주, 냄새명아주
Epajote, Tohyeonggae, Tohyonggae, Yang-myeongaju, Yang-myongaju; Naemsaem-yeongaju, Naemsaem-yongaju (Chenopodium ambrosoides var. anthelminticum)
LithuanianVaistinė balanda
Malayalamകടുഅയമോദകം, ചെള്ളു കൊല്ലി
Kadu-ayamodagam, Chellu-kolli
Manipuri (Meitei-Lon)মোনশাওবী মানবী
ꯃꯣꯅꯁꯥꯎꯕꯤ ꯃꯥꯅꯕꯤ
Nepaliरातो लट्टe
Rato latte
PolishKomosa piżmowa
PortugueseErva-formigueira, Formigueira; Erva-de-santa-maria, Mastruço, Mastruz, Mentruz (Brazil)
RomanianTămâițăTămâiţă, Tămâioară, Spanac tămâios
RussianЭпазот, Марь амброзиевидная
Epazot, Mar ambrozievidnaya
SlovakMrlík voňavý
SlovenianDišeča metlika, Vratič
SpanishYerba de Santa Maria, Epazote
TurkishMeksika çayı
VietnameseCâ đầu giun, Câ dầu hôi, Thổr kinh giới, Dầu giun, Rau muối dại, Kinh giới đất
Ca dau giun, Ca dau hoi, Thor kinh gioi, Dau giun, Rau muoi dai, Kinh gioi dat
Yiddishשמוכטיקע גענדזן־לאָפּקע, װערעם־זױמען
Shmukhtike gendzn-lopke, Werem-soymen

Chenopodium ambrosioides: Epazote plant
Epazote plant
Chenopodium ambrosioides: Epazote leaf and flowers
Leaf and flowers of epazote
Used plant part

Leaves, flowers and unripe fruits; the latter have the strongest flavour. All of these are best used fresh, but since the fresh herb is available only for those with their own garden, the dried herb is also common. Its aroma is still satisfactory.

The seeds contain even more essential oil (about 1%) and are chiefly used because of their vermifuge powers (see below).

Plant family

Chenopodi­aceae (goose-foot family).

Sensory quality

Epazote’s fragrance is strong, but difficult to describe. People would often compare it with (in no particular order) citrus, petroleum, savory, mint or putty. I think it smells like epazote.

Note that there are different chemotypes; I have seen plants that indeed posses a refreshing citrus odour (see also lemon myrtle for a survey of lemon-scented plants), but in my regular plants I could not find any citrus quality (others could, amazingly, before I told them what the plant was supposed to smell like).

Chenopodium ambrosioides: Epazote inflorescence
Epazote inflorescence
Chenopodium ambrosioides: Epazote plants
Epazote plants
Main constituents

All aerial plant parts contain an essential oil (0.7% in the leaves, 2.5% in the unripe fruits) which is composed of various mono­terpenoids (α-pinene, α-phell­andrene, thymol, myrcene, p-cymene, terpinene, campher, trans-isocarveol) and ascaridole, a mono­terpenoid peroxide. Oils from Latin American plants often contain com­paratively less ascaridole (10%), while some mono­terpenoids (limonene, trans-isocarveol, α-pinene, α-phell­andren) may reach levels of 30% and more; this results in a less intensive, but complex flavour. On the other side, plants grown in Europe or Asia have a much stronger taste due to the high levels of ascaridol (70%, one source even states 86%).

Ascaridol (1,4-peroxido-p-menth-2-ene) is rather an uncommon constituent in the essential oils of of spices; another plant owing much of its character to this monoterpene peroxide is boldo. Ascaridole is toxic and has a pungent, not very pleasant flavour; in pure form, it is an explosive sensitive to shock.


The plant is indigenous to Central and Southern México, but is today a common neophyte in the warmer parts of Europe and the US. I have found it quite frequently in various mountains in Sri Lanka, Nepal and India (Western Ghats, Nilgiri, Himalaya), but despite it remarkable pungency, it seems to get unnoticed by the local population.


The English genus name, goose-foot, is a translation of the scientific genus name Chenopodium: Greek chen [χήν] goose and pous [πούς] foot; it is motivated by the threelobed leaf shape characteristic of several plants belonging to this group. The alternate genus name Teloxys also refers to leaf shape; in that case, the pointed ends of the leaves enshrouding the inflorescence are indicated (Greek telos [τέλος] end, purpose and oxys [ὀξύς] sharp, acidic, acute).

Chenopodium ambrosioides: Epazote flowering plant
Epazote flowering plant
Chenopodium ambrosioides: Epazote (flowering tip)
Epazote (flowering tip)

The species name ambrosioides ambrosia-like probably refers to the strong odour. Ambrosia [Ἀμβροσία] is, according to Greek mythology, a nourishment reserved for the Olympic gods, as is implied by its name: a- [ἀ-] (negation, cognate with English un-) and brotos [βρότος] mortal (earlier mrotos [μρότος], cf. murder, all from the Proto-Indo–European root MR̥TO dead). Both conceptually and etymologically, Greek ambrosia [ἀμβροσία] is closely related to Indian amrita [अमृता].

A very closely related variety (var. anthelminticum) is cultivated in the Southern States of the US for its potency against intestinal worms; thus the name wormseed for the plant. To prevent confusion, the variety used in the kitchen (var. ambrosioides) is usually called epazote in English. This name is taken from Náhuatl, the tongue spoken by the Aztecs before the arrival of the Spanish; it is still a minority language in México and in use among the Indios living around México City. The Náhuatl name of the plant, epazōtl, is due to the potent smell of the herb, which many find disagreeable (epatl skunk and tzotl sweat, dirt, excrement).

A rather different attitude towards epazote’s aroma (or a different aroma in a cooler climate, see also southernwood for a similar phenomenon) is made clear by the Scandinavian names: Finnish saitruunasavikka, Swedish citronmålla and Norwegian sitronmelde contain the name of lemon as first element. As second element, we find in the Finnish name the name of the botanical genus (goosefoot) and in both the Swedish and the Norwegian the name of the closely related genus Atriplex (orach), which is not distinguished from Chenopodium in these tongues. The word melde or målla is related to English mill and has in many Germanic languages relatives meaning flour and grind; several species of genus Atriplex show a pale green, somewhat dusty leaf surface, as if covered by a layer of fine flour.

In quite many languages, that spice is termed tea, referring to the use as a substitute for true tea in preparing aromatic infusions. For example, we have German Jesuitentee and Spanish té de los jesuitas Jesuit’s tea, Catalan te fals false tea and several names meaning tea of México (French thé du Mexique, Turkish Meksika çayı).

Chenopodium ambrosioides: Mexican tea plant
Epazote plant

Tea is the dried foliage of the plant Camellia sinensis, which was first used to prepare aromatic infusions in China. The main types are green tea (lü cha [绿茶]) and the fer­mented black tea (hong cha [紅茶], literally red tea); half-fer­mented tea is known as oolong tea (wu long cha [烏龍茶], literally black dragon).

Oolongs may feature surprising flavours, from chocolate to nutty to fruity; my personal favourite is the milk-flavoured golden lily tea (naixiang jinxuan cha [奶香金萱茶]) from Taiwan which has a distinct, creamy strawberry note. Another favourite is the famous hyacinth-scented tie guanyin cha [鐵觀音茶] iron Guanyin tea from Fujian. Guan-yin is the name of that Lady whom the Vietnamese name Quan Am [Quan Âm] and is and often referred to as the Goddess of Mercy. She is identified with the (male) Boddhisatva of Mercy, Avalokiteshvara [अवलोकितेश्वर] or Chenresig [སྤྱན་རས་གཟིགས་].

Since more than a millennium, the word tea is written in Chinese, which has become the source of the names of tea in almost all contemporary languages. The etymology of tea becomes slightly complicated, however, by the presence of two groups of names exemplified by the modern English name tea and the older term chaa.

In the Mandarin, the Northern dialect of Chinese, the logograph tea is pronounced as cha; consequently, this form was borrowed by languages spoken in those countries that imported their tea by inland traffic via the silk route, which originated from the Northern region of China. Examples are Tibetan cha [ཇ་], Hindi and Urdu cha [चा, چاء] or chay [चाय, چاۓ, چائے], Farsi chay [چای], Arabic shay [شاي], Dhivehi sai [ސައި], Amharic shayi [ሻይ], Tigrinya shahi [ሻሂ], Russian and Macedonian chaj [чай, чај], Georgian chai [ჩაი], Turkish çay, Greek tsai [τσάι], Romanian ceai and Czech čaj.

Chenopodium ambrosioides: Mexican tea plants
Flowering epazote
Chenopodium ambrosioides: Epazote
Epazote plant

Some nations neigh­bouring China have similar names for tea: In Thai [ชา], Korean [] and Japanese [, ちゃ], the name is invariably cha. These names might have proceeded also from the Mandarin form or from some other Chinese dialect with similar pro­nunciation of that word. For example, in Cantonese the sign is pronounced as chah, rather close to the Mandarin form. This Cantonese form probably also underlies Portuguese chá, because Portugal imported its tea from the Cantonese-speaking sea-port Macau.

Yet in most countries where tea entered by seabound trade, the word took a different shape defined by the Amoy (Minnan) dialect, which is spoken in the coastal Fujian province in the East of China and in Taiwan. In that area, the glyph is pronounced te. Thus, the name of tea is teh in Indonesian and Malay, thee in Dutch and tea in English, where the vowel was originally pronounced as in lay. The Dutch and English forms became the predecessors of most names of tea in the tongues of Western Europe, e. g., French thé, Italian , Norwegian, Swedish and Welsh te, Finnish and Estonian tee, Latvian tēja, Yiddish tey [טײ] and also Hebrew teh [תֵּה]. Also, some South Asian names fall into that pattern, e. g., Sinhala te [තේ] and Telugu teyaku [తేయాకు] tea.

Some languages have forms of both types, e. g., Kannada chaha [ಚಹಾ] and te [ಟೇ] tea or Tamil chaya [சாய] tea and teyilai [தேயிலை] tea leaf. In Vietnamese, the plant is denoted che [chè] and the beverage tra [trà] (spoken approximately cha in the South).

A few languages feature independent terms for tea, e. g., Lithuanian arbata and Polish herbata, with both indirectly derive from Latin herba herb, medicinal herb.

Selected Links

A Pinch of Epazote ( Francesco Sirene: Spices & Herbs (Catalogue) World Merchants: Epazote American Spice Company: Epazote Penzeys Spices: Epazote The Spice House: Epazote Ascaridol Pacific Islands Ecosystems at Risk: Wormseed Gourmetsleuth Rain-Tree: Epazote Desirable Herb and Spice Varieties: Epazote Recipe: Black Bean Tortilla Casserole ( Recipes: Refried Beans ( Ricetta: Frijoles Refritos ( Recipe: Frijoles ( Recipes: Frijoles de Olla and Frijoles Refritos ( Poisonous Plants of North Carolina: Wormseed World Atlas of Language Structures: Tea

Chenopodium ambrosioides: Epazote flowers
Epazote flowers. Given enough light, the plant may develop an intensive purple hue.
Chenopodium ambrosioides: Epazote
Epazote plant with unripe fruits
Epazote’s strong taste is charac­teristic of the Mayan cuisine in the South of México and Guate­mala. Center of epazote usage in México is the Yucatán pen­insular.

The herb is used fresh in soups, salads and meat dishes; it appears in the recipe for mole verde, a Mexican herb sauce (see Mexican pepper-leaf). The most common usage is, however, in bean dishes, where the strong anti­flatulent powers of epazote addi­tionally motivate its usage. The most commonly epazote flavoured food are Mexican refried beans (frijoles refritos), beans that first get boiled until tender and then are fried in pig’s lard to give a coarse mash. Refried beans can be made of any type of small beans, with or without epazote; in Southern México, however, cooks would usually use epazote, especially for black beans. Yet epazote works well of other kinds of beans, e. g. pinto beans, which are more popular and more easily available in the US and elsewhere.

To prepare frijoles refritos, the beans are first cooked in water with epazote and other spices (garlic, onion, cumin and dried Mexican chiles or paprika). When softened, they are fried with additional epazote and maybe other spices in some pig lard until they become a smooth puree. Refried beans are often served in Tex-Mex-style restaurants, but in restaurants outside of México and the Southern US this dish is rarely prepared in the traditional way, and hardly ever contains epazote.

The dried herb is considered inferior to the fresh one, but outside Central America and the southern parts of the US, fresh epazote may be hard to find. A common substitute are coriander or long coriander leaves, even in México; but, to my taste, epazote’s taste is simulated more successfully by a mixture of savory, oregano and boldo leaves. Furthermore, dried epazote is not as bad as most sources state.

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