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Peru Herb: Huacatay

Huacatay, Tagetes minuta, is a Peruvian cousin of the marigold and is in the Asteraceae family. It is a herbaceous plant that can grow .6-1.2 meters tall. It has small yellow and green flowers that grow on terminal spikes. It has a highly branched stem and the leaves are slightly glossy green. The seeds of this plant are black in color and the name for this species is sometimes referenced as Peruvian Black mint. It is native to temperate grasslands of the southern part of South America, which include Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Paraguay. At present, its cultivation has spread to the United States and other countries such as Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, India, Hawaii and Madagascar.

Traditional use goes back to the ancient Inca civilization. This plant contains anthelminthic, carminative, diaphoretic, antispasmodic, bactericidal, emmenagogue, fungicidal and stomachic properties. The dried flowers and leaves are traditionally the parts used for medicine. The leaves are brewed as a tea for colds, respiratory inflammation or stomach problems. It is also used for the treatment of asthma. The plant contains thiophenes which have an anti-viral effect. It is very effective against Ascaris and hookworms. The Ancient Incans recognized the herb's anti-viral properties and used it medicinally in Peru. Marigold essential oil can be extracted from the plants leaves and flowers.

Huacatay is also used as a culinary herb and many dishes are prepared with it. Some of the recipes include Huacatay pepper cream, a cheese sauce and Black Mint paste. This herb adds flavor to many dishes and is central to much Andean cooking by simply grinding the fresh leaves into a paste. It has a very potent flavor and aroma most likely due to a high volume of aromatic oils and the flavor hints of mint, basil, lime and tarragon.

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