I'm following a recipe for Sopa Azteca de Tortilla that calls for Epazote, which I haven't heard of before, let alone tasted (to my knowledge!).

Wikipedia mentions:

Raw, it has a resinous, medicinal pungency, similar to oregano, anise, fennel, or even tarragon, but stronger. The fragrance of D. ambrosioides is strong but difficult to describe. A common analogy is to turpentine or creosote. It has also been compared to citrus, savory, and mint.

If I did swap in something (or a mix of things), for "a sprig of epazote" what would you recommend & in what quantity? Or would I be better off just doing without?

  • 3
    Why not get Epazote? It's not impossible to find, I picked some up in a spice stall in Borough Market. It's available on Amazon.co.uk
    – GdD
    Jul 15, 2017 at 17:38
  • While not exactly the same flavor, I often substitute cilantro/coriander leaf.
    – moscafj
    Jul 15, 2017 at 18:21
  • @GdD Thanks, I am sometimes down that way, so will take a look! Jul 15, 2017 at 21:40

1 Answer 1


Obviously, if you can find real, fresh epazote at a local spice vendor's, go get it, it's a lovely herb. It is definitely not an herb that I would recommend bothering to substitute if you have access to the thing-in-itself (unlike, say, cassia and true cinnamon, or fennel seeds and anise; nothing in my experience is close to epazote, and so epazote cannot truly be substituted).

But since the point of this question is to do that anyway, the main flavor-purpose of epazote is to provide a sharp flavor (that's the part described as "medicinal", or "like creosote") with "smoky", "bitter" undertones. The reason the recipe mentions "a sprig" is because epazote is intensely flavored but loses that flavor quickly under heat, and so is typically added at the end; the small amount is sufficient to permeate the soup with flavor.


The site above records, supposedly from a comment on a page somewhere at the University of Graz, though the link is dead, "a mixture of savory, oregano and boldo leaves". Sadly, I've never tried boldo, though, and cannot attest to what herb would replace it. I also don't know if it's available in England, knowing only that it is Peruvian-native.

For a personal recommendation, boiled pine needle is the closest analogue for the sharp part in my experience; if you have access to pine needles (I've heard Scots pine is native to Britain, be careful of impostor junipers), don't be shy about washing some gathered needles and steeping them like tea (the sharp scent of pine mellows out with boiling into something akin to epazote).

Juniper berries have the same flavor, but juniper is toxic in high amounts, unlike the needles of other conifers; so I have never used it. Also, it makes sense that a food with a flavor described as "like creosote" would also be similar in flavor to boiled pine, since a major source of creosote is pine tar, made from pine wood fired oxygen-free.

My recommendation based on personal experience would therefore be to just add the pinewater right to the soup, together with oregano, thyme, rosemary, and a dash of cumin since all those herbs have resinous, "bitter" notes for the undertones.

...lastly, since, realistically, you're probably not going to be using pine needles either, I would recommend combining these two separate recommendations; some combination of summer savory, oregano, thyme, and perhaps mint, cilantro, or lemon zest for extra sharpness. It won't be epazote, but it should fill the role similarly.

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