Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

Epazote, DYSPHANIA AMBROSIOIDES or Chenopodium abrosioides

from the April 10, 2011 Newsletter issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO

The Epazote next to my coreopsis was so green and luxurious looking that I couldn't bear to pull it up, so each time I watered the coreopsis I watered it, too, not caring what visitors thought about my hut- area "weediness." I like my weeds, which often are more interesting and useful than the planted things. You can see a sprig of my waist-tall Epazote plants above.

Those little pagoda-like things arising from leaf axils are clusters of flowers. As with other species in the Goosefoot/Beet/Spinach Family, Epazote's flowers are tiny. You can see some individual blossoms below:

Epazote, DYSPHANIA AMBROSIOIDES or Chenopodium abrosioides, flowers

In that picture the yellow items are pollen-bearing anthers. Epazote flowers bear no corollas, just four or five green sepals surrounding the sexual parts like a bowl. The ovary with its single ovule is flattish and embedded in the calyx bottom. This configuration matures into a one-seeded fruit enclosed in a dry, persistent calyx. Such a bladdery, one-seeded fruit that doesn't split open when it's mature (it's indehiscent) is said to be a "utricle."

I've always known Epazote as CHENOPODIUM ABROSIOIDES, of the Goosefoot/Beet/Spinach Family, the Chenopodiaceae. But now I see that gene sequencers have shifted it to a different genus and lumped the Chenopodiaceae into the Amaranth Family, the Amaranthaceae. Now Epazote is known as DYSPHANIA AMBROSIOIDES.

from the January 21, 2008 Newsletter issued from Yerba Buena near Pueblo Nuevo Solistihuacan, Chiapas, MÉXICO

I've lost a good bit of weight since arriving here and that makes me think that maybe I have worms. In this part of the world if you want to de-worm yourself you drink Epazote tea. Epazote (eh-pa-ZO-te) is sometimes called Mexican Tea, and it grows as a weed in much of North America. When Raul, a Tzotzil-speaking friend, heard I was looking for some Epazote, the next morning he appeared at my door with a bouquet of young plants he'd just pulled from around his house, shown in my hand below:


"Tomorrow morning before breakfast put these, roots and all, into boiling water and make a tea with them. Drink the tea and wait an hour or so before eating, then drink more before going to bed, and repeat the process the next day."

When you crush Epazote leaves they emit a rank, biting odor, so I'd expected the tea to be bitter. However, it tasted like Spinach, so it wasn't bad at all. In fact, Epazote is the main seasoning in cooked beans and is believed to "remove the air from them" -- it keeps down the flatulence. Here people believe that there are at least three kinds of Epazote: One that's best for beans; another that's best for worms, and; the other is in-between. Since it's such an important feature of traditional culture it's not surprising that distinct medicinal and culinary races may have been developed.

When I supped on my steaming Epazote tea it made my stomach growl and gurgle. Unfortunately I have to use a toilet where everything disappears into a black pit, so I can't confirm that the treatment worked. I'll repeat it in a few weeks, though, and maybe then I can proceed more empirically. Whatever my experience with it, it's known that Epazote contains an alkaloid called Chenopodine, which induces roundworms to release their hold on intestinal walls and pass from the body.

Maximino Martínez's classic Las Plantas Medicinales de México reports several medicinal uses of the plant beyond worm-treatment. You can make a poultice of the leaves for the chests of people suffering from asthma, it helps in digestion, using its tea as a mouthwash eases a toothache, it calms down nervousness, and can be used as a general tonic.