There are approximately 26,000 edible species of plants, which are used for different purposes like: wrap, aromatize, season, infuse, cook or use them fresh. Here you will only get to know some of those plants – the most important ones.
If you are going to use fresh leaves we recommend selecting leaves that are totally green. If you have the complete plant with roots put them in water or if you only have the leaves cover them with wet cloths to keep them fresh for longer time.
If you are going to use dry leaves we recommend choosing whole leaves not the ones that are broken because they tend to be older. Store them in a glass container in a dry and dark area.
– If you want to dry fresh leaves place them in a warm place and away from humid environments.
Now, let’s explore the herbs and spices that have been part of the Mexican food since its ancient beginnings. All these herbs and spices are native to the Mesoamerican region, and it was until the arrival of the Spaniards that these herbs and spices were introduced to the world.
This herb is also known as papalo which comes from the Nahuatl “papaloquilitl" which means papalotl = butterfly and quilitl = edible herb. This name is very precise because the shape of the Bolivian coriander leaves’ have the shape of a butterfly and it definitely is an edible herb.
From this herb only their leaves are edible, which are very aromatic whereas the taste is slightly acid similar to coriander and to the arugula. The leaves are normally used fresh because when they are cooked they loose fragrance and flavor.
You can use the Bolivian coriander to reduce the grease smell of the meat and also to add a special touch to guacamole, quesadillas, tacos al pastor, steaks, pork rind, etc. It is also used medically to relieve high blood pressure and to combat infections.
The chaya is a great Mayan legacy as it was the first Civilization to incorporate it in their kitchen. As one can expect this herb is native to the Yucatan Peninsula and only the leaves are edible.
Nutritionally it is high in proteins, vitamins (specially vitamin C), mineral salts, iron, calcium and potassium. Medically it offers health benefits as it helps with the circulation, increases calcium retention, combats arthritis, lowers cholesterol, improves memory, combats hemorrhoids and other diseases. This leaf is truly amazing!
– Be very careful because chaya’s leaves are TOXIC – if eaten raw.
For this reason chaya leaf must go through a cooking process in water for about 20 minutes. In this way its toxicity is eliminated. It is also important not to use aluminum saucepans, in the cooking process, because aluminum reacts with chaya’s toxic agents.
In the cuisine the chaya is used like spinach, although it is far more nutritious than the spinach. Chaya’s flavor is very similar to the spinach and is widely used in the Yucatan food and it was also widely used by the Mayans.
With the chaya it can be prepared: dzotobichay (a type of tamale with chaya), chaya soup, chayadas (chaya water), juices and it can also season rices, meats, salsas, etc.
...within Mayan legacy there is a recipe which consists in the combination of chaya with maize and pumpkin seeds. This food is very nutritious and it is believed that the man can live for many years only of this food.
The epazote is the herb that transforms the simple flavor of a meal into an elaborated flavor full of Mexico. Whenever you want to add a unique Mexican touch to one of your dishes this is the ideal herb.
The epazote comes form the Nahuatl “epazotl", and we rather don’t give you the translation so you won’t get frighten. From the epazote plant only the leaves are consumed, which are sharp and they come in two versions green and purple (typically the greens are used). Normally the leaves are used fresh but they can also be used dry.
The smell of the epazote leaves is intense similar to a lime and to the mint. Its flavor is very difficult to describe, because there’s nothing like it, but it is dry, slightly bitter with a touch of lime and oregano.
As one can imagine this leaf is widely used in the Mexican cuisine like in beans, adobos, tamales, chilaquiles, quesadillas, huitlacoche, esquites, etc. This herb is not only used as a condiment it was also used as a medicine to kill stomach and intestinal worms.
The guava leaf is mainly used for desserts to aromatize cakes, muffins, cookies, etc. The aroma that the guava leaf offers is fresh, sweet and slightly acid. It also add a soft sweet taste with bitter notes.
– If you are going to infuse these leaves don’t do it for more than 3 minutes because they become bitter.
This leaf also has healing properties as it combats bacterias, relieves intoxications and is a good remedy against diarrhea.
...in Spanish this leaf is called sacred leaf and one may wonder where does that name come from?
Mexico is a land full of legends and a legend has been attributed to this herb. The legend says that Virgin Mary wanted to dry baby Jesus diapers and she chose the Mexican Pepperleaf bush due to its sweet aniseed fragrance. For this reason it was given the name Sacred Leaf.
– That is the legend the reality is that the plant did not exist in Bethlehem in the time of Jesus. In Nahuatl is known as “tlanapaquelite" which means fragrant and edible herb.
The Mexican pepperleaf is large, measuring approximately 8 inches and it is very pretty due to its heart shape ♥ For its dimensions it is excellent to wrap food like tamales, meat and fish.
Its flavor is complex and similar to anise with hints of pepper, nutmeg and mint. This extraordinary flavor is used to seasonsoups, eggs, liquors and the famous green mole. Also used to aromatizebeans and barbecues.
– In the traditional medicine is used as a stimulant, analgesic, diuretic, anesthetic and as a remedy for bronchitis, laryngitis and fever.
The word quelite comes from the Nahuatl “quilitil" that means edible herb. This herb really tastes like Mexican tradition.
When someone eats different dishes mixed with quelite such as: eggs, salsa stews or guacamole; one knows that is tasting Mexico... well, to be a little more precise – quelite’s flavor is similar to that of the spinach but more elaborated.
– The quelite is high in calcium and iron and it’s a good remedy for stomachache and diarrhea.