Epazote (Dysphania ambrosioides) is a unique and pungent herb commonly used in Mexican cuisine. It grows as a perennial herb in its native environment of South America, Central America, and southern Mexico, but in cooler climates, it acts as an annual. Epazote is drought-resistant, sun-loving, and easy to grow.
If you want to get your hands on this scrumptious herb, try growing it yourself! This guide will teach you how to grow epazote in your herb garden.
Before you start, you’ll need some tools, including:
- Epazote seeds or plants
- Pots or garden beds
- Potting soil
- Soil tester
- Soil additives
How to Grow Epazote
You can grow epazote in your backyard or in your container herb garden. Both are simple and effective ways to enjoy this herb.
If you live in a cooler climate, you’ll want to start your seeds indoors or in the greenhouse in early spring. To prepare soil mix for seedlings, mix equal parts coconut coir, vermiculite, and a small amount of sand. Water the soil thoroughly before planting to avoid disturbing the seeds.
Using a dibbler, or your finger, poke shallow holes in the soil. Plant the seeds 2 to 3 inches apart at a depth no greater than a ¼ inch. Epazote seeds need lots of light and warmth to germinate. Cover the seeds lightly with soil.
You should see sprouts poking through in a few weeks. Thin out any stragglers and give them lots of water throughout the germination period.
If temperatures are consistently above 59 degrees Fahrenheit, you can directly sow epazote in your garden in the spring.
Prepare the Soil
Epazote likes lots of sun but isn’t particularly picky about its soil, growing even between the cracks in sidewalks. However, if you’re growing your own, you want it to thrive. Epazote prefers well-draining soil with a pH range between 5.2 and 8.3. Before you make any amendments to your garden beds, it’s always a good idea to test the soil.
Once you’ve determined the pH of the soil, till it up. Add an aerating additive, such as vermiculite, and a small amount of compost. Exact measurements will vary depending on soil composition, garden size, and pH. Water thoroughly beforehand if you are direct sowing.
If you started your seeds indoors or in the greenhouse, move them outside or transplant them in the garden once the chance of frost has passed and daytime temperatures are above 59 degrees Fahrenheit.
Using a spade, dig a small hole in the garden bed. Gently remove the epazote seedlings from their pot(s), and separate any plants as needed. Since epazote can grow up to 1 ½ feet wide when mature, ensure the plants have adequate spacing (at least 3 inches).
Growing Epazote in Your Herb Garden
If you don’t have the space to add epazote to your backyard garden, don’t worry! Epazote is a fantastic addition to your windowsill or container herb garden. One of the number one reasons to grow this herb is its ability to help manage pests. The pungent-smelling plant attracts certain predatory insects and masks the smell of surrounding flowers that may attract pests. You can also use crushed leaves to deter ants. Since pests cause many diseases, reducing their numbers will also decrease the chance of disease.
The slight toxicity in the plant also helps with keeping the weeds down. The toxins in the leaves that keep away the weeds will also stunt the growth of nearby seedlings. Be careful not to plant epazote too close to newly established crops. Try epazote near perennial herbs, such as lavender and mint.
The stench from the epazote will mask the scent of these other strong-smelling herbs, keeping pests away. Although, epazote is like all plants where you could find aphids or moth larvae where you don’t want it. Always check your plant and keep up with pest control.
A little bit of epazote goes a long way in the kitchen, so in the herb garden, unless you’re using it for pest control, you likely won’t need to grow too much. Epazote can also become invasive, so might be best grown in containers if you live in a warmer climate.
Luckily, epazote needs very little care to thrive and can handle a fair bit of neglect, but it prefers temperatures between 59 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Seeds and transplanting plants need lots of water until established, but after that, epazote is drought tolerant.
However, regular watering will encourage growth and make for a larger harvest. Water your epazote when its soil feels dry to the touch.
Your epazote plant probably won’t require fertilization, but if your soil is lacking, fertilize once or twice in spring and early summer.
Epazote will reach maturity approximately 50 days after sowing, but you can harvest it earlier. As soon as the plant is well established, you can start to pick the leaves. Pick the bigger leaves first, leaving enough remaining to support the plant. Pruning the tips of the stems will encourage new growth and a more compact plant, as well as stave off bolting. At the end of the season, collect the seeds for the following year.
Epazote is toxic to cats, dogs, and horses and can harm humans in large amounts, especially the seeds and flowers. When you try the leaves for the first time, start with a small amount. One plant can produce up to 2 ounces, so once you start growing epazote, you’ll never be in short supply! If you find yourself with too much, you can also dry it and use it all year.
Add Epazote to Your Herb Garden
Epazote is a versatile plant to add to your herb garden. You can use it in the kitchen and the garden to ward off pests and keep weeds away. The uses are endless, and it’s easy to grow!
Have you tried growing epazote? Share your experience in the comments!