I planted the huacatay seeds in pots (using regular potting soil) around the beginning of April of this year. These were seeds collected from last year’s crop. Most of them (70%) sprouted in about 5 days. I transplanted the seedlings to the garden when they were about two or three inches tall.
It’s mid-October now, and the huacatay plants have started to bloom. Most of them are six to seven feet tall. Strong winds a few weeks ago made some of them fall over or break at the middle, so I propped them up with stakes and string, and weeks later they seem none the worse for their mishap.
Their tiny white flowers attract bees and small flying insects.
Pluck a few leaves and chew on them, and your tongue is greeted with a robust, mint-like flavor. The leaves are gently fragrant, reminiscent of mint and basil, with a hint of lemon.
Huacatay is the Peruvian cousin of the marigold. Its leaves are ground into a paste (usually with a mortar and pestle) to add flavor and depth to many Peruvian-Andean dishes. The strong flavor complements meat and poultry dishes well.
Here’s a recipe for Aji de Huacatay sauce, used with poultry or meat (source: MyLifeInPeru.com):
- 1 cup of aji amarillo paste (use jarred, or make your own from roasted peppers for the best flavor!)
- 4 tablespoons of huacatay leaves
- 2 tablespoons of chopped onion
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- Salt to taste
Put all the ingredients in a blender and blend!…”
Other recipes use huacatay leaves with milk, cream, cheese and/or peanuts. This sauce is poured over potatoes to make a dish called ocopa.
Huacatay leaves are also traditionally used to brew a flavorful tea for medical benefits, such as a remedy for the colds, respiratory inflammations, or stomach problems.
Huacatay makes a tall and pretty addition to any garden, and is said to repel nematodes.
Here’s my method for starting them in pots:
- If you want to keep them in pots, use large pots and fill them with good potting soil like Miracle-Gro. If you want to transplant them to the garden later on, start them in small pots.
- Water the potting soil thoroughly, until water comes out of the drain holes.
- Sprinkle several of the seeds on top of the wet potting soil.
- Press the seeds into the soil.
- Set a spray bottle to mist and water the soil.
- Water regularly with the spray bottle to keep the soil wet, until seedlings are about 1″ high.
Continue to water regularly (you don’t have to use the spray bottle when the plants are over 1″ tall). Place the pot(s) in a sunny area. Huacatay does best in full sun but will tolerate partial shade.
You can get huacatay seeds at my Etsy store here.