Posted on August 19th, 2013
It’s only my first summer as a backyard gardener, but I’m already anthropomorphizing my plants. I think of the tomatoes as the Mary Tyler Moore of the backyard plot — perfect, pure, sweet, and understandably popular. An informal poll of my social group indicates that most people (including me) would give up nearly anything — cheese, chocolate, even gluten — before submitting to tomato abstention. They’re just that lovable.
If my precious heirloom tomatoes are Mary Tyler Moore, then the nearby potted epazote plants are the equivalent of Rhoda, Mary’s spunky (and underappreciated) best friend.
Epazote doesn’t get much in the way of summer lovin’. It’s never had a glossy layout in a culinary magazine and, unless you’ve worked in a Mexican restaurant or are well-versed in Oaxacan cuisine, you’ve probably never heard of it. The plants came to me as a gift from my mother-in-law, who discovered it while living on the Mexican-food-rich West Coast. If you google epazote, the Internet offers up the following summary:
1) Epazote is a weed that grows wild throughout the southwestern United States and Mexico.
2) The word epazote is a combination of the Aztec words for “skunk” and “sweat.”
3) Some people describe the flavor as being reminiscent of “ turpentine or creosote.”
4) It can reduce intestinal gas.
Skunk sweat? Turpentine? Intestinal gas? Sure, there are benefits to growing an underappreciated herb (stumping more experienced gardeners, being able to say I Did It Before It Was Cool), but mostly it just makes me sad. The poor thing could really use a public relations agent.
It wouldn’t be a difficult job; the talking points practically write themselves. Epazote is easy to grow (go weeds!), and imparts a rich, deep flavor to black beans, mole sauces, and stews. You can even fold whole leaves into quesadillas for an instant blast of umami flavor. And – most importantly – it’s still outside the mainstream. Heading off to a fancy dinner party? Stick a sprig in your soup and BOOM you’re instantly hip and culturally aware.
Get ready, epazote. You’re gonna be a star.