Project: Huertas

Understanding the Food Security of Migrant Farmworkers in Vermont

Culturally Appropriate Food Plants

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By: Sam Rothberg

In addition to almost all of the vegetables and fruits we are used to here in Vermont, there are some estranged plants that seem important to Mexican cuisine. It is important to note that not all of these plants may be able to grow in Vermont given the climate, but further study will reveal better detail on that matter. Below is a better understanding of the many ingredients that make up the diversified and differing cuisines of Mexico.


Coyole (palm fruit): cooked

Chilicayote (Malabar gourd)

Dulce de calabaza (squash)

Calabacita (summer squash)

Zapote negro (sapote, black)

Jicotilla (cactus fruit)

Chicosapote (sapote)

Sapote Amarillo (yellow sapote)


Papa estranjera (oxalis)

Quelite/epazote (pigweed)

Nopal (cactus paddles)

Pochote (kapok)




  • Chile Amarillo/chilcosle*
  • Chile ancho
  • Chile de árbol
  • Chile chipotle
  • Chile costeño*
  • Chilhuacle*
  • Chile guajillo
  • Chile morita
  • Chile mulato
  • Chile pasilla de Oaxaca*
  • Chile pequín


Achiote (Annatto):

  • red seed helped to make paste with other ingredients for meats, poultry and fish as well as to color rice dishes and season pork or chicken

Hierba Santa:

  • fragrant wrappers for fish either steamed or grilled. Also used as for flavor in Mole Verde. Used as a tamale wrapping as well as with chicken and shrimp dishes. It is also used medicinally to cure inflammations, stomach cramps, and skin irritations.

Amaranto (amaranth):

  • used to make candy, drinks, and a special mole.


  • leaves of herb used in tamales and pumpkin seed sauces


  • oaxacan herb very commonly used

Corteza de maguey (century plant):

  • out leaf of the maguey plant is used as a cooking bag for meat and poultry

Epazote (wormseed):

  • leaves used to add flavor to black beans, in quesadillas. Used as an herbal medicine to cure insect bites.

Guajes (cuajes):

  • lentil like legumes that are used to flavor stews. Important to cuisines of Puebla and Oaxaca.

Hierba de conejo (Indian paintbrush):

  • herb commonly added to beans and rice.

Hoja de aguacate (avocado leaf):

  • have licorice-like aroma which help to add flavor to soups, chicken and fish dishes, as well as beans.

Hoja de maíz y de platano (corn and banana leaf):

  • used to wrap tamales to be steamed.


  • herb used in cemitas (type of Mexican sandwich) as well as guacamole and salads

Toronjil (balm-gentle):

  •  herb used in teas and used as a digestive

Verdolaga (purslane):

  • used in salads, or in mole verde as well as stews

**What we have here and are used to, but what is also commonly used in Mexico:


  • Onions
  • Scallions
  • Garlic
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage
  • Beans
  • Squash
  • Tomatoes
  • Tomatillos
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes



  • Albahaca (Sweet basil)
  • Ajonjolí (Sesame seed)
  • Anís (Anise): indispensible ingredient in many moles.
  • Berros (Watercress)
  • Cilantro (and coriander)
  • Cominos (cumin): Used in Mexican soups and stews
  • Hierba Buena (spearmint)
  • Laurel (bay leaf)
  • Manzanilla (chamomile)
  • Mejorana (marjoram)
  • Menta (peppermint)
  • Orégano (oregano)
  • Perejil (parsley)
  • Quelitas (lamb’s quarter): sautéed with other vegetables
  • Romero (rosemary)
  • Te límon (lemon grass): used in novelle Mexican cuisine and a popular tea.
  • Tomillo (thyme)
  • Clavo de olor (Cloves)
  • Comino (Cumin)
  • Pimienta (Allspice)
  • Canela (true cinnamon)


Other ingredients that seem essential to the cuisine:

  • Lard
  • Capers
  • Olives
  • Raisins
  • Cacao/chocolate



Martínez, Zarela. The Food and Life of Oaxaca, Mexico. New York: Macmillan

Publishing, 1997. Print.

Graber, Karen. “A culinary guide to Mexican herbs: Las hierbas de cocina.” Mexconnect.

Mexconnect, 01 Apr 1999. Web. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.

Whitaker, Thomas, and Hugh Cutler. “Food Plants in a Mexican Market.” New York

Botanical Garden Press. 20.1 (1966): 6-16. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.


One thought on “Culturally Appropriate Food Plants

  1. Wow, the wide variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs and dairy products common in Mexican cuisine is really interesting. As you mentioned, not all of the plants would be suitable for growing here in Vermont, but it certainly would make a significant difference for the participants of Huertas if they were able to get access to the seeds of some of the plants suitable for growing in Vermont’s climate. With access to nutritious and culturally appropriate food, migrant workers can lead healthier, less food insecure lives. It will be interesting to see if you can find any information on if any of these plants have had success growing in a climate like Vermont’s and how the seeds were acquired.

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