Papalo, botanical name Porophyllum ruderale, is an annually growing herbaceous plant.The leaves of this herb are usually used for seasoning foods. The flavour of papalo is something between that of cilantro, arugula and rue. However, there are some people who assert that the smell of papalo is akin to that of soap or a laundry detergent. People in Mexico and some regions of South America grow this herb for using it in salsas. A fully grown papalo plant usually reaches a height of 5 feet and measures about 3 feet across.
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Porophyllum ruderale is considered to be an ancient plant, which is found growing in the wild all over Mexico, South American countries as well as the American southwest. Before the Spanish colonized Mexico in the 16th century, the leaves and stems of papalo were used in the form of a spice.
The flower heads of this herb are slender and erect having brown-hued disks, but they do not have rays. The leaves of papalo are hairless, pale green and appear opposite to each other. The leaves are petiolate and may vary from elliptic to egg-shaped. The tips of these leaves are rounded with scalloped margins that are broad and shallow. The leaves contain oil glands that are very conspicuous. The stems of papalo are also green hued, erect, hairless and branched.
Papalo is an annual plant native to the tropical and sub-tropical regions. This herb grows in a multi-branching spacious manner and bears bluish-green leaves measuring about 1 inch to 2 1/2 inches in length. When grown in extremely hot climatic conditions, the stems of papalo may grow up to a height of 6 feet. This herb produces small oval-shaped leaves having drawn out semi-transparent oil glands at every undulating notch. Translated into English, the botanical name of papalo means "pored leaf". The starburst flowers of this herb are very attractive and their color vary from purple to brownish-green appearing at the branch terminals. Papalo has its origin in New Mexico, Arizona and Texas, in addition to Mexico as well as Central America and South America. Although the leaves of this herb are edible, papalo is considered to be a weed in most of its native places.
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The flavour of papalo is distinctive, while it possesses numerous therapeutic properties. It is an excellent herb, which is found widely throughout Mexico and South America. The name of the plant, "papalo", has been derived from the word "butterfly" because the leaves of this herbaceous plant have the shape of butterflies' wings. In fact, papalo in Nahuatl dialect denotes a butterfly. There was a time when papalo was also known as the Bolivian coriander. However, this herb has no relation whatsoever with coriander. People in the region have been using papalo in their culinary since the ancient times. There is some evidence that the herb was used in the form of a condiment, during the Aztec period. Moreover, papalo possesses a number of therapeutic properties and people in South America, Central America and Mexico have been using it widely as a remedy for high blood pressure and problems related to the stomach.
Papalo is used for therapeutic as well as culinary purposes. The leaves and flowers of this herb enclose essential oils and several active chemical compounds, which are probably responsible for the therapeutic properties of this herb. People of many cultures use this herb to treat a variety of health conditions. In Mexico, Central America and South America, people use papalo for curing infections, problems related to the stomach and high blood pressure. In several regions of Bolivia people consume this herb on a regular basis. In fact, the native Quechua people especially believe that papalo is effective in lowering high blood pressure, in addition to curing liver problems. Chacobo Indians in Bolivia use the leaves of this herb to alleviate swellings associated with infections.
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The aroma of papalo is typically pungent and generally people eat it raw. This herb is never cooked. Instead, it is used fresh and often added in the form of a seasoning to dishes at the very last moment of preparation. People in Central Mexico generally add papalo to the hero sandwich (locally called cemitas). Sometimes, this herb is also included in salads and guacamole. In Mexico, people use fresh papalo in soups, salads, stews, beans and even grilled meat in the same way as they use cilantro. Papalo is a staple ingredient for the Quechua natives of Bolivia. They chop the leaves of the herb finely and add it to several dishes such as gazpacho - a spicy soup containing many raw vegetables.
When added to dishes like salsas, guacamole and fish preparations, papalo enhances their flavour. Similar to the herb cilantro, generally papalo is also used raw and added to dishes as a garnish in the very last moment of their preparation. In fact, this herb is a staple in Mexican cuisines. Although people in many parts of the world are still not familiar with this herb, its popularity is on the rise in several kitchens. Many families as well as restaurants keep papalo in the form of a bouquet on the table enabling people to use the herb in their foods in their desired manner.
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How to use papalo in your dishes: Wash fresh papalo thoroughly in cool water. While you can finely chop the slender stem parts along with the leaves and use them in your food, it is always advisable that you get rid of the thicker stems and discard them. When you chop the leaves of this herb, its flavour is enhanced. Hence, it is advisable that you always chop them finely. If you want to store fresh, unwashed papalo, you should always wrap them in a moist paper towel. You may store the herb in a refrigerator, but it is advised that you use them as soon as possible. On the other hand, you can also store fresh papalo by standing the herb with its stem side placed down in a glass of water.
Papalo or Porophyllum ruderale is found growing in the wild in Mexico. This species is also cultivated. It is essential to always use the herb fresh, because it does not dehydrate well. One can find this herb growing in the wild in several regions of North America including New Mexico, Arizona and West Texas. However, the locals in these areas generally do not use this herb.
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It is possible to easily propagate papalo from its seeds. This species requires well drained soil and full sun. Like in the case of almost all herbs, the seeds of papalo should also been sown after the threat of the last frost in your region has passed. While planting, ensure that you sow the plants at a minimum distance of 1.5 feet to 2 feet away from each other. While papalo can grow in partial shade, the best growth is achieved when it is grown in full sun.
As mentioned before provided the soil is well drained, it is easy to propagate papalo from its seeds. It is essential to allow the plants to dry themselves between two watering sessions. Generally, papalo requires very low maintenance and, at the same time, growing this herb is fairly easy provided you ensure basic level of care all through the year. If you keep in mind the water, soil and sunlight requirements, it will help the plants to grow more healthily.