Huacatay: Pronounced 'wah-kah-tie', it is sometimes called Peruvian black mint. This herb is central to much Andean cooking and is the Peruvian cousin of the marigold, a version of tagates minuta. Huacatay has very aromatic leaves which are ground into a paste (usually with a mortar and pestle) that adds flavor and depth to many Peruvian Andean dishes.
Tagetes minuta is used as a culinary herb in Peru, Ecuador, and parts of Chile and Bolivia, where it is called by the quechua term huacatay. It is commonly sold in Latin grocery stores in a bottled, paste format as black mint paste.
Delicious FRESH Ají de Huacatay can be made in minutes and it keeps for quite some time. Try to make it in advance of using it as the flavor improves with time. Put in squirt bottles or simply put in bowls as a dipping sauce. As a condiment, it is at home along-side Pollo a la Brasa as it is Beef, Pork, and Fish.
A little goes a long way. Most huacatay sauce & pesto recipes use about a half cup to a cup of chopped leaves. It can be dried, used as a medicinal tea, steam distilled for essential oil, and made into a spray for organic gardening pest control, which is what I’m mostly growing it for.
The New World peoples have been using Tagetes minuta as a flavorful beverage, a medicinal tea, and a condiment since pre-contact times (Rees 1817). The local names vary by region, most commonly found in the literature as; chinchilla, chiquilla, chilca, zuico, suico, or the Spanish term anisillo.
A beverage is prepared from Tagetes minuta by steeping a "half-handful" of the dried plant in hot water for 3 to 5 min. The beverage may be consumed warm or cooled, and may be sweetened to individual taste (Neher 1968).
For medicinal use, a decoction made by steeping a "double handful" of the dried plant in boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes is used as a remedy for the common cold; including upper and lower respiratory tract inflammations, and for digestive system complaints; stomach upset, diarrhea, and "liver" ailments. The decoction is consumed warm, and may be sweetened to individual taste (Neher 1968; Parodi 1959; Cavanilles 1802).
Tagetes minuta is used as a condiment in Chile and Argentina. It is popular in rice dishes and as a flavoring in stews. In northern Chile suico is so highly prized that many people actively collect wild populations to dry a sufficient supply to last the winter (Kennedy pers. commun.).
Tagetes minuta is often referred to as a weed. Cabrera (1971) states that ".... Spegazzini mentions that this plant is a common weed of cultivation in the lower Rio Negro Valley...." Spegazzini and Cabrera appear to not understand the native outlook on "weeds." The farmers view the "weeds" as a second crop. Many of the Latin American farmers who do not practice industrialized agriculture will leave volunteer plants of Tagetes minuta in their fields. This second crop is beneficial in several ways: first, rapid growth of T. minuta quickly shades out other plant species that may be of less use to the farmer, second, it can be harvested for personal use, or for sale in city markets, and third, has been reported to aid in the retention of humidity in the field (Jimenez-Osornio 1991).
Tagetes minuta is commercially grown and harvested for its essential oils which are used in the flavor and perfume industry as "Tagetes Oil." The oil is used in perfumes, and as a flavor component in most major food products, including cola beverages, alcoholic beverages, frozen dairy desserts, candy, baked goods, gelatins, puddings, condiments, and relishes (Leung 1980). Brazil is one major producer of T. minuta for Tagetes Oil (Craveiro et al. 1988). Worldwide production of the oil was around 1.5 tonnes in 1984 (Lawrence 1985).
Tagetes minuta is rich in many secondary compounds, including acyclic, monocyclic and bicyclic monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes, flavonoids, thiophenes, and aromatics (Rodriguez and Mabry 1977). There is evidence that the secondary compounds in Tagetes are effective deterrents of numerous organisms, including: fungi (Chan et al. 1975), fungi pathenogenic on humans (Camm et al. 1975), bacteria (Grover and Rao 1978), round worms in general (Loewe 1974), trematodes (Graham et al. 1980), nematodes (Grainge and Ahmed 1988), and numerous insect pests through several different mechanisms (Jacobsen 1990; Saxena and Koul 1982; Maradufu et al. 1978; Saxena and Srivastava 1973). Many closely related plant secondary compounds have demonstrated medicinal value in humans (Kennewell 1990; Korolkovas and Burckhalter 1976) In vivo human studies of the secondary compounds of T. minuta have not been reported, although other Tagetes species have proven medically safe and efficacious (Caceres et al. 1987).
Hudson (1990) tested the many different secondary compounds for anti-viral activity, and determined that thiophenes demonstrated the greatest anti-viral action at the lowest doses, and with the least toxicity overall. Of the thiophenes, molecules with two or more thiophene units showed the highest activity. In all cases, the best success was against viruses with envelopes. Hudson tested 32 thiophenes, evaluated their efficacy and determined the 10 most effective ones. Atkinson et al. (1964) first reported the thiophenes found in Tagetes minuta. A comparison of Atkinson's results to those of Hudson, shows that 7 of the 10 most effective anti-viral thiophenes are found in Tagetes minuta.
The work of Hethelyi et al. (1986) and that of Hudson (1990) indicate that the use of Tagetes minuta as a medicinal beverage by indigenous people may have a valid biological basis, although in vivo work has not been published. Further work is warranted, and could be used to aid in the marketing of herbal products of Tagetes minuta.