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Herb to Know: Papaloquelite

| April/May 2005

Genus: Porophyllum ruderale

• Hardy to Zone 5

Other names for this plant include papalo, quinquilla, quillquiña, (translated it means “buzzard’s breath”) skunk weed and summer cilantro. The genus name means pored leaf; the oil sacs that offer papaloquelite its fragrance are visible on the taller, mature plants.

This plant came to me from a neighbor who travels to Bolivia and found the plant in a remote region in the interior of the country. He was told that it is a necessary ingredient, along with peppers, to make traditional Aztec dishes. I’ve since learned that Bolivians use papaloquelite in many dishes, including sauces and traditional salsas and that it grows from Texas south into South America.

It’s difficult to imagine how this plant’s haunting minty/cilantro fragrance earned it the unattractive monikers of buzzard’s breath and skunk weed. It’s not quite like cilantro, although it’s used in similar ways. A chef at the Kansas City Country Club uses papaloquelite in fresh salsa with ripe, diced avocados. Bolivian cooks chop the fresh herb and sprinkle it generously over a variety of traditional dishes, and in that country sprigs of the plant are set on tables in restaurants as floral bouquets. Diners pull off the leaves and sprinkle them on their food as the dishes are served.

The plant is easy to grow from seed or plants. Papaloquelite will grow 4 to 6 feet high, producing an abundance of bluish green leaves. It prefers full sun, growing in the same conditions pepper plants or tomatoes require. Like most herbs, the flavors are best if you prune the plant often, using the newer growth. In late summer, it goes to seed with heads resembling dandelion puffballs. The flowers are so tiny they’re barely noticeable.

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