I have so much to tell you about the Ecuadorian food store in my neighbourhood that it was difficult working out where to begin. I’ve travelled in Southern Mexico and I’ve perused many Latin American food stores, yet this store was a treasure trove of exciting food stuffs I had never seen before, primarily from Peru, Ecuador and Columbia. The packaging was delightful, too. But that’s a post in itself.
First up is huacatay, a dark sauce in a jar that had me perplexed. The label identified the main ingredient as “black mint”, but the illustration on the front looked nothing like the black peppermint I am familiar with. If I had to take a guess, I’d say it was a marigold, but even though I eat marigolds (particularly the gem series), I do so in small quantities and could not imagine devoting it to a sauce. Because that seemed illogical, I chalked the illustration up to the sort of packaging that just has any old plant stuck into the design.
Back at home, a quick search online brought up the answer: it is a marigold! According to the Richters Herbs catalogue, black mint or Mexican marigold (Tagetes minuta) is used primarily for its leaves. They are used dried and fresh to flavour soups and meats. It is also planted amongst bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) infestations as the roots secrete a chemical compound that functions as an herbicide against some weeds. Like some other marigolds, it is also an effective insecticide and nematicide (nematode killer). This post can tell you more.
Sounds like a miracle plant, doesn’t it? How is it that I had not heard of it before now? I’ve grown a lot of different marigold species and had naively assumed that I had the whole genus covered off.
Unfortunately, I did not purchase a jar but you can bet that I will be going back as soon as I can to pick one up. Even if the taste isn’t great, I am determined to grow it in the garden this year. We have a bindweed problem in the back along the fence that was difficult to control last summer. The roots are actually in my neighbour’s soil with the plants coming through the fence to choke out my tomatoes, but perhaps I can convince them to grow it, too.
I’ll report back on the taste as soon as I can.