How to Grow and Use Papalo (w/Recipes & Sources)

Once I got frustrated with cilantro’s reluctance to grow at the same time that I have piles of fresh tomatoes to turn into salsa, I started researching heat-loving substitutes for it. Papalo is a frequent recommendation and it certainly survives our hot summers.

Papalo (Porophyllum ruderale) is also called papaloquelite, poreleaf, mampuito, summer cilantro, and Bolivian coriander. It doesn’t taste identical to cilantro but if you just want a vibrant herb substitute, it’s excellent! I think it tastes like a mix of nasturtium flowers, lime, and cilantro. If you haven’t tried nasturtium flowers, they taste exactly like papaya seeds. If you haven’t tasted papaya seeds, I don’t know what to tell you. Papalo is unique.

Papalo is a beautiful herb with a flavor that reminds me of cilantro, lime, and nasturtiums.

Photo Caption: Papalo is a beautiful and large (6′) annual herb with a flavor that reminds me of cilantro, lime, and nasturtiums. Another plant with similar flavor is “hot tuna” plant (houttuynia), but few people have tried that one.

It’s also generous with its leaves. A single plant can reach 4′ – 6′ by the end of the season! I give mine a full square foot of space per plant in the garden. It’s so pretty that I recommend surrounding it with edible flowering herbs such as pineapple sage.

I haven’t seen this one in the local nurseries yet, even in the obscure herb racks. I start mine from seed that I got from the Johnny’s catalog in 2006. This year I didn’t get great germination, only 2 seeds out of 36 came up. The shelf life for them seems to be about 2 – 3 years. The seeds look a little like marigold or cosmos seeds. I bury mine horizontally about 3 x the depth of the seed and keep them moist and warm until they germinate.

When starting them as transplants make sure they are extremely warm. The germination rate is much higher if they think it is early summer. It’s easier to direct seed them in May or later, but if grown in pots I harden them off and plant them into the garden when they reach about 6″ tall. While still young I pinch off the growing tips to get them to bush out into a sturdier plant, otherwise they can be spindly and flop over. Papalo prefers full sun but I had great luck in spots that only got about 4 hours of sun a day.

Here’s some places where you can buy seeds:

Though the leaves have the succulent and tender look of new spring foliage, this plant can take whatever our southern weather dishes out. I love it as an edible ornamental because it seems oblivious to drought, pests, or disease.

Photo Caption: Though the leaves constantly have the succulent and tender look of new spring foliage, this plant can take whatever our southern weather dishes out. I love it as an edible ornamental because it seems oblivious to drought, pests, or disease. **Edit: In 2012 it had some insect damage.

If you can’t grow your own your may be able to find it in Mexican groceries or at local farmer’s markets.

In Bolivia, Mexico, and other areas of Central America papalo is so popular it is often kept fresh in vases on restaurant and kitchen tables. Diners pluck the leaves and shred bits of the pungent herb onto their food before eating it. It doesn’t dry well, but it can be frozen if it is pureed with water or oil and put into ice cube trays.

You can use papalo as a substitute in any recipe that calls for cilantro. Papalo is more strongly flavored so you may want to use 1/3rd the measured cilantro amount recommended by your recipe.


Guacamole with Papalo

  • 1 or more (to taste) jalapeno or serrano chili, finely minced (optional)
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons finely diced white or vidalia onion
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons finely chopped papalo
  • coarse salt to taste
  • 3 – 4 avocados
  • 1/2 cup finely diced garden tomatoes
  • topping: 1/4 cup finely diced garden tomatoes, 1 tablespoon finely diced onion, 1 teaspoon finely shredded papalo leaves
  • whole papalo leaves to garnish
  1. Crush the onions, the chilis, the salt, the lime juice, and the papalo in a mortar & pestle or a molcajete until they are paste-like.
  2. Add the avocado flesh and mash it roughly into the paste until well mixed.
  3. Stir in the tomatoes and then put the guacamole in a serving dish (or serve in the molcajete).
  4. Mix the tomatoes, onion, and shredded papalo that were reserved for the topping and pile it on the surface of the guacamole.
  5. Garnish with whole papalo leaves and serve.

Papalo Guacamole Tacos

  • Papalo Guacamole (see above recipe)
  • Soft or hard taco shells
  • Shredded lettuce (romaine or other non-iceberg types recommended)
  • Shredded cheddar, Monterray Jack, Queso Blanco, or other cheese
  • Optional olives, sliced
  1. Put a hefty dollop of guacamole with toppings into your taco shell.
  2. Top with shredded cheese, lettuce, and optional olives.
  3. Eat it up!

Fruit and Papalo Salsa

  • 5 garden paste tomatoes
  • 1 – 3 small chilies (serrano suggested)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 avocado, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped papalo
  • 3 – 5 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup of any fruit, diced finely (peaches, mangos, pear, melon, pineapple, etc.)
  • Optional 1 – 3  teaspoons fresh grated ginger (if pineapple is the fruit used)
  • Optional 1 – 3 teaspoons finely chopped fresh mint
  • Optional large pinch of sugar
  • Whole papalo leaves to garnish
  1. Put onions and chilis in a bowl with lime juice and set aside for at least 5 minutes
  2. Add salt, papalo, avocado, and optional sugar, mint, and/or ginger to the mixture
  3. Add diced tomatoes (last, because salt draws out the juices)
  4. Garnish with whole papalo leaves and eat immediately!

Citrus Salsa with Papalo

  • 1 pound of tomatillos, husked and diced finely
  • 1 – 3 tablespoons finely chopped papalo
  • 1 – 3 jalapeno chilies, finely minced
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 fresh orange, cut into small pieces
  • salt to taste
  • Whole fresh papalo leaves for garnish
  1. Mix tomatillos, jalapenos, and onions in a bowl
  2. Add the chopped papalo and orange juice
  3. Mix in the chopped orange pieces and salt
  4. Garnish with whole papalo leaves and serve.

Fresh Tomato Salsa with Papalo

  • 5 paste tomatoes, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup onion, finely diced
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1 – 3 jalapeno or serrano chilies, finely diced
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh papalo
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Whole fresh papalo leaves to garnish
  1. Mix the onions and chilies in a bowl.
  2. Add the lime juice, salt, and chopped papalo to the mix.
  3. Add the tomatoes to the mixture just before serving (salt draws out the water and will make the salsa watery).
  4. Garnish with fresh papalo leaves and serve.

Papalo Pesto

  • 2 cups of papalo, large stems removed
  • 1/2 cup blanched almonds or pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 1 teaspoon (or less, to taste) chopped and seeded serrano or jalapeno chile
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Optional juice of 1 lime
  1. Mix the papalo, nuts, onion, chilies, optional lime juice, and salt until paste-like (food processor or mortar & pestle required).
  2. Slowly mix in the olive oil and continue working into a paste. If using a food processor, add the oil in a slow, steady stream.
  3. Makes around 1 cup, whatever you don’t use right away you can freeze in ice cube strays. Pop the cubes into a freezer bag or long-term storage container.
  4. Recommended as a sandwich spread, mixed with cubed Monterrey Jack or Queso Blanco as a salad topping, or on pasta served with fresh garden tomatoes.

Papalo Recipes on Other Websites

Eliza Lord

I'm a Greenville, SC native (the Appalachian foothills) who wears the hats of Greenville Master Gardener & Upstate Master Naturalist. I love to write about food and sustainability.

20 thoughts on “How to Grow and Use Papalo (w/Recipes & Sources)”

  1. Pingback: How to Grow Vegetables (Archive Directory) | Appalachian Feet

  2. Dave@TheHomeGarden - May 7, 2010 2:12 pm

    Very interesting! I’ve never tried it but we love guacamole so it might be worth a shot. Our cilantro is already bolting and like you said we won’t have any to go with the fresh tomatoes this summer!
    .-= Dave@TheHomeGarden´s last blog ..Propagating Rosemary in Water (The Herbs) =-.

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - May 10, 2010 1:24 pm

      I don’t think I’d been gardening for more than a year or two before I started hunting for more salsa herb options. I just look at cilantro salsas as a thing to look forward to in October. :)
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Grow and Use Amaranth Greens (w/Recipes & Sources) =-.

  3. Meredith - May 9, 2010 8:47 pm

    What a useful post, Eliza! Thanks for passing that along to us. I am going to have to order some seeds (hope it won’t be too late to start) because the cilantro is already looking a bit pitiful and threatening to bolt. I do love cilantro — but I also love nasturtium flavor, so it’s definitely worth a shot. :)
    .-= Meredith´s last blog ..a hint of joys to come =-.

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - May 10, 2010 1:24 pm

      Have you ever made nasturtium butter? I should do a post about it once mine start flowering this season. Very yummy!
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Grow and Use Amaranth Greens (w/Recipes & Sources) =-.

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  5. jose alvarez - June 7, 2011 11:24 pm

    My name is Jose I live in Wisconsin I grow papalo its growing in popularity. Email me if you want to know information about papalo.
    Its better than cilantro

  6. Pingback: ¿qué es esto? PAPALO « Southside CSA

  7. Sand Mountain Herbs - November 28, 2011 8:18 pm

    We have these seeds in now at We were out for a while, but they are back in stock.

    -Larry Chandler

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  9. Jim
    Twitter: superfoodpro
    - September 16, 2012 11:39 am

    Haven’t read much about papalo before. Those sound like some good recipes though. Wonder if parsley would substitute in some? I have a bit of that at the moment.

    Papaya seeds have a really strong flavor but they’re actually very good for improving your digestion. Especially after a big protein meal.
    Jim´s last blog post ..Triphala Benefits for Better Health

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - January 16, 2013 10:11 am

      I suspect cilantro would be the most similar common herb to substitute in those recipes. I think parsley would taste great, though.

  10. Jim
    Twitter: superfoodpro
    - October 16, 2012 4:13 am

    Like your recipes. Papaya seeds have a pretty strong taste so if papalo tastes similar it’s probably not for those who like mild food. That said, I’d like to try some of these if I could find it.
    Jim´s last blog post ..How to Make a Triphala Eye Wash

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - January 16, 2013 10:07 am

      It’s definitely not mild. I often only use a small leaf in a recipe.

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  12. Jose alvarez - August 21, 2013 12:57 am

    HEllo everyone!
    I have created the Facebook page for all you’re papalo information.
    fun recipes photos and much more
    like my page

  13. Rosa Bermejo - May 2, 2014 10:44 am

    Hey, I just found this page today I’ve been looking for papalo seeds for a while (6 years actually) do you know where I can buy some?

  14. Pingback: Papalo (Porophyllum ruderale spp macrocephalum) | eatingflorida

  15. Brenda Henderson - August 1, 2014 8:29 pm

    Papalo a great tasting herb. Grows and tastes better than cilantro. Would like the best way to preserve this herb. This is first year I have grown this.. It’s very good.

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