Epazote or Chenopodium ambrosioides is one of the important Latin American herbs.

The medicinal leafy plant belongs to the Amaranthaceae species along with amaranth, spinach, beets, and quinoa. [1]

Epazote is a flavorful and aromatic spice in many Latin American dishes. But excessive consumption of the herb may lead to serious side effects.

However, you don’t need to worry as there are some closest epazote substitutes that you can use in your cooking.

Epazote herb plant grows up to 4 feet and yields green blossoms. The annual plant grows extensively in Central America — in Mexico and Guatemala.

The dark green Epazote leaves have a slender and pointed look. The leafy spice is also known as goosefoot, Hierba honda (“stinky weed”), Ipasote, Pazote, Pazoli, Apazote, Pilate, wormseed, or Mexican tea.

Both fresh and dried epazote leaves are used to season a variety of dishes. Guatemalan and Mexican dishes use fresh leaves and stems of the herb.

Epazote goes well with potato dishes, egg recipes, soups, quesadillas, enchiladas, and moles. It has a pungent taste and aroma similar to anise, mint, Mexican oregano, cilantro, and citrus flavor.

Epazote has good therapeutic benefits as well. It has numerous uses in folk remedies to treat parasitic infections, stomach cramps, gas, bloating, and liver disorders. [2]

Chefs recommend using epazote sparingly in the dishes as it has a strong flavor. You should also use it towards the end of the cooking process because too much heat can distort the flavor of the herb. Another good way to consume epazote is to drink its tea.

Epazote has a toxic substance chenopodium that has adverse effects on human health if consumed in a large amount. This and the fact that many do not like its strong pungent flavor are reasons to look for epazote substitutes.

Here are some of the best epazote substitutes.

1. CilantroCilantro

Cilantro or Coriandrum sativum belongs to the Apiaceae plant family along with parsley, carrot, celery, and 3,700 other species.

All parts of the annual herb are edible and have versatile uses in the culinary world. Cilantro is also known as Chinese parsley. In the U.S. the cilantro seeds are called coriander and the leaves- are cilantro.

The most ancient use of cilantro as a spiced date back to 6000 years BC in Israel. Cilantro is an important ingredient in many savory dishes, soups, salads, etc. Mexican and Latin American dishes use cilantro as a popular substitute for epazote.

Cilantro flavor isn’t really similar to epazote but both the herb share a slight citrusy note. You can easily get fresh and dried cilantro in local groceries in the US.

Cilantro is a powerful antioxidant and has numerous health benefits. [3]

However, this substitute cannot provide the digestive benefits of epazote. The carminative effects of epazote can help digestion of beans items, relieve excessive gas formation, etc. which cilantro may not do.

The chefs recommend substituting 1:1 cilantro for epazote.

2. Fennel

Fennel has a licorice-like flavor and is not associated much with Mexican or Latin American cuisines. Fennel is native to the Mediterranean regions but it may grow in most parts of the world. Fennel seeds, leaves, bulbs, and stalks are used to flavor various dishes.

Fennel has a wide range of health benefits due to its rich nutrition value. [4]

Fennel is a good substitute for epazote for numerous factors — it has a popular licorice flavor note, it’s flavor is not as strong as epazote. Fennel too has beneficial effects on the digestion process like epazote.

You can alternate epazote with fennel in a 1:1 amount or adjust it according to your taste.

3. Mexican OreganoMexican Oregano

Traditional oregano belongs to the Lamiaceae mint plant family. It has a minty flavor note and is famous in Italian cuisine.

Mexican oregano comes from the Verbenaceae plant family along with Lemon Verbena. It has a citrusy, earthy, or grassy flavor note.

Mexican oregano is one of the most popular herbs in Mexican cuisine. Even though the citrusy note of this herb is quite different from epazote, Mexican oregano is a good spice for seasoning and other savory dishes that call for epazote.

The best reason to use Mexican oregano as a substitute for epazote is perhaps to keep intact the authenticity of the Mexican dish.

You may use a similar amount of Mexican oregano as an alternative for epazote in the recipes.

4. Lemon VerbenaLemon Verbena

Lemon verbena is a South American herb. It belongs to the same plant family Verbenaceae as Mexican oregano. [5]

The lemony or citrus flavor of the herb makes it a good substitute for epazote. Lemon verbena is popularly used in meat and fish recipes. Many kinds of desserts, tea, and beverages also use lemon verbena as one of the primary ingredients.

There is evidence to support the beneficial effects of lemon verbena in relieving inflammatory conditions. [6]

However, the herb may have negative effects on digestive health contrary to epazote.

5. Other Possible Substitutes for Epazote

Few other herbs and spices may work as alternatives for epazote in your Mexican dishes. These include — tarragon, anise, boldo, and dried epazote in case you don’t have the fresh ones.

Bottom Line

Epazote is one of the necessary ingredients in Mexican dishes — tortillas soup, beans, potato, egg recipes, etc. The herb is known for its strong pungent flavor which many people don’t like. Its toxic compound may affect health as well.

Many other herbs such as cilantro, Mexican oregano, fennel, lemon verbena, etc. may work as good substitutes for epazote. These alternative herbs may save the authenticity of the dishes due to their similar citrusy, earthy flavor note and health benefits.

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