Papalo (Porophyllum ruderale ssp. macrocephalum) is a traditional Mexican herb commonly used fresh with salads, sandwiches, soups, stews, meats or beans. It is only used fresh, or added to cooked foods at the end of cooking. It is never dried.
Many restaurants in Mexico keep a vase of this cut herb on the table so patrons may pull off some leaves and add it to their meal as desired.
In the garden it's a fast-growing annual that can reach 7 feet tall in a season, if not cut back. If you're using it regularly in the kitchen, you'll have no problem keeping it trimmed down to size. In fact, it's better if you do cut it regularly; tall slender plants are more prone to being blown over or simply bending under their own weight.
The leaves are rounded and about 2 inches in diameter. It grows best in full sun, but will tolerate partial shade.
Also known as papaloquelite, yerba porosa, or poreleaf (the undersides of the leaves have large visible pores).
As the days shorten in the fall, the plant ceases leaf production and starts to bloom. At first the buds point downward, but as they get ready to open they point up.
The flowers look like brushy stubble on the end of an elongated bud.
The blooms are pollinated by bees and are prolific seed producers. After a couple of months, the seedhead splits open to reveal a buff-colored fluff-ball that releases seed onto the wind, floating to new growing locations.
Papalo is native to Mexico, but can be found growing wild in the Southwestern U.S. Many websites list various health benefits associated with this herb, but I am unable to find any scientific documentation to support these claims. Eat it because it's good, and maybe it's good for you!
Read about the closely related subspecies, Quilquina.
Buy Papalo seeds