Botanical and Common Names
- Family Chenopodiaceae
- Chenopodium ambrosioides syn. Teloxys ambrosioides (Wormseed Oil, Mexican Tea, American Wormseed, Jesuits Tea; Spanish: Epazote/Epasote/Ipazote, Pazote, Epázotl [Nuhuatl], Lukum-xiu [Maya])
- Chenopodium vulvaria (Arrach, Stinking Arrach, Stinking Goosefoot, Dogs Arrach, Goats Arrach, Goosefoot, Stinking Motherwort, Netchweed, Orache; Spanish: Epazote del Zorillo, Yerba del Zorillo, Yerba del Perro)
Wormseed is toxic in overdose so must be used under the guidance of a professional. It is known that overdoses will severely affect the central nervous system, causing spasms and signs of paralysis, as well as hearing loss that can last for years.
Do not use during pregnancy.
Note that Wormseed and Wormwood are two different plants.
Native to Central and South America and the Caribbean, wormseed is now extensively cultivated in China and in the US, especially Maryland. The plant is an annual, growing to about three feet, having toothed, lance-shaped leaves and yellow-green flower-clusters. The summer blooms produce small black seeds by autumn. It is found in many places from the forests of Morelos to the trash-strewn empty lots of East Los Angeles. The odours of the two varieties differ like night and day, with the Wormseed plant giving off a pleasant scent while Arrach is decidedly the opposite.
For centuries, the Maya of Central America used Wormseed to expel worms, and hence its name. By the middle of the 18th century, the plant’s medicinal use was firmly established in the eastern US for treatment of worms, especially in children.
The Catawaba peoples of the US used the plant for poultices to detoxify snake bites and other poisonings.
Although the Arrach has long been used as a medicine in Europe, Northern Africa, and the Caucasus to relieve menstrual cramps and promote menstruation, its distinctive unpleasant smell (like that of musty herring brine) often precludes any danger of continued or long-term use. Its name comes from the Nahuatl word for skunk (épatl). Zorillo is the Spanish word for skunk.
Used as both a food and a remedy, the plant was used by the Aztecs, who developed very sophisticated and refined uses to flavour many of their dishes with the herb. Today, it remains a staple in Mexican cooking, spiking a pot of beans with its tangy flavour.
Medicinally, the Aztecs used the plant to treat asthma and dysentery. Mexicans consider it a first-line of defence against intestinal parasites (especially roundworms and hookworms), administering it to adults and children alike, as well as to animals. A tea is used for menstrual cramps, fever, and chills.
- cardiac stimulant
- digestive tonic
- expels worms, especially roundworm and hookworm
- promotes menstruation
- volatile oil (up to 90% ascaridol, geraniol, and methyl salicylate
- triterpenoid saponins
- Aerial parts, flowering tops, seeds
In Chinese medicine, wormseed oil is used for rheumatism of the joints, eczema, and bites.
Wormseed has long been used as an anti-asthmatic and for treating cramps and some types of paralysis.
In Mexico, both species are used for menstrual problems and to expel worms, but it is also used to treat nervousness and depression.
Decoctions or fresh juices are used for gastrointestinal complaints. Washes from the juice used for hemorrhoids and poultices can be applied to speed wound healing or to treat bites.
Some closely realted species are used for foods. C. quinoa is the nutritious Quinoa grain (see Foods section) and C. bonus-henricus is the spinach-like vegetable known as Good King Henry (see Foods section). The seeds of C. rhadinostachyum are used as food by Aborginal peoples in central Australia.