Papalo – A Better Herb than Cilantro?  A Full Guide 

Papalos Herb Plant - Papalo - A Better Herb than Cilantro?  A Full Guide 

Do you have Cilantro (Coriander) plants in your garden? Have you become frustrated when your plants bolt in the summer? Why not try growing the lesser-known Papalo herb?

Plants bolt when temperatures are too high – herbs prefer cooler weather. Papalo is a summer plant and not as likely to bolt. It tastes like Cilantro (Coriander) and gives a good but strong flavor. A very potent herb – Papalo is not necessarily better, it just has different advantages.

Papalo – a Good Substitute to Cilantro

Some dishes may not taste as delicious without seasoning them with Cilantro (Coriander). Cilantro is an essential herb in many dishes. What happens if you cannot find Cilantro in the supermarket?

Cilantro is known as a versatile herb. It is an essential ingredient in many Middle Eastern, Indian, Mexican, and Asian recipes. Summer is the ideal season to grow herbs for your salsa. The best alternative, then, is to grow Papalo – the summer Cilantro. 

The taste of Cilantro (Old World herb) is like Papalo (New World herb). The taste of this herb seems to be a combination of Cilantro, rue, lemon, and argula.

Use this Mexican the same manner you would use Cilantro. Be careful, though, not to place too much of it in your dishes until you are used to its flavor.

What is Cilantro? 


Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum), a herb that comes from the fresh leaves of the coriander plant, is part of the parsley family. It is also known as Mexican parsley In other places, Cilantro is also called fresh coriander leaves.

Cilantro is typically always fresh because it does not dry well. Many people love the unique flavor of Cilantro, but there are also others who avoid it.

Cilantro is commonly used in salsas of Mexican dishes, Yemeni zhug (hot sauce), and Moroccan chermoula (a fish marinade). It is also sprinkled on top of Indian dishes.

While Cilantro is native to the Mediterranean, it is always associated with Mexican food.

You can buy fresh Cilantro in bunches next to parley in most markets. Fresh Cilantro has a bright green color. Its stems can stand on their own when you hold a bunch of it in your hand. Dried Cilantro is also available in the spice section.

Cooking with Cilantro

Fresh Cilantro tastes bright, pungent, a bit peppery, and lemony. Some think it also tastes soapy because of the natural aldehyde chemical content in its leaves.

Wash Cilantro well before adding it to your dish to remove grit and dirt.

Cut the leaves to your desired size. It is best to add Cilantro when your dish is close to being done.  Cilantro losses most of its flavor when cooked. You can also use Cilantro as a top dressing.

You can also use Cilantro in your sauces and pesto by grinding the leaves and stems with a food processor.

Cooking with Papalo 

Part of the flavor and aroma of the Papalo herb is seen in its oil glands that look similar to spots on the base of the leaves. The fragrance of these glands is responsible for repelling insects to prevent them from eating the leaves.

If you want to have a more palatable and pungent herb than Cilantro, use the broadleaf Papalo variety. When substituting Cilantro with this herb, begin by using about ¼ or 1/3 less of the herb than Cilantro in your dish.

The narrow leafy or poreleaf Papalo variety tends to have a soapy flavor, just like Cilantro. It is a little bit more pungent than the broadleaf variety and can come as a shock to your palates.

You can eat this herb raw. Simply harvest, wash, remove the leaves.  You can toss whole leaves to your salad or mince and add them to your taco. When used in cooking, add the leaves when your dish is almost cooked.

Papalo was introduced first introduced than Cilantro in Mexico. It precedes Cilantro by about several thousand years. While it is a lesser-known herb than Cilantro, it has a more vibrant and stronger flavor. The taste of this herb will surely remind you of the Cilantro herb.

When Cilantro is not in season Papalo is in season. Thus you can alternately add these essential herbs to your dishes the whole year.

If you cannot tolerate the heat of Cilantro, Papalo is an ideal substitute in terms of flavor and texture. Both herbs have similar tastes although Papalo is more robust.

So, if you are substituting Cilantro with Papalo, use a 1:3 ratio or 1 tablespoon of Papalo for 3 tablespoons of Cilantro.

Why Grow Papalos? 

If you are not yet too familiar with the Papalo herb, here are some great reasons to try growing them:

  • Best when Fresh.  This herb is best eaten when fresh from the plant. You do not need to simmer this herb. All you need to do after tearing the leaves from the plant is to wash and serve them fresh.
  • Enjoy the Heat. Cilantro and other herbs are sensitive to heat. They also bolt. Papalo is always ready to use, with their intact, even when they are past their prime.
  • Easy to Grow in Pots in Pots and Garden Beds. This herb can be grown from seeds and in some cases from transplants.
  • A Natural Insect Repellant.  Grow this herb and you will not be bothered by insects while enjoying meals on your patio.
  • Has Anti-bacterial Properties. This herb is a healthy seasoning.

There are many more reasons to grow Papalo. Try growing them and see for yourself!

How to Grow Papalo

If you are a Cilantro fan, you can get frustrated because it is not available the whole year. During the months Cilantro is not in season, Papalo is the best substitute.

Since this herb can grow very well in the wild, it’s extremely easy to grow in your garden.

It can be a bit tricky to grow this herb from seeds because it has a fast rate of germination. The seeds need to be gently covered with a thin layer of soil to give them a successful start.

Papalo has variable and very low germination when the seeds are packed in typical seed packets because the umbrella from the stem may break. Broken seeds will have a10% fall in germination rate. With the seeds intact, the rate of germination can be as high as 90.

The herb’s seeds look similar to dandelion seeds. They have an umbrella and stalk making them easily flown by the wind to germinate elsewhere.

Papalo can be grown in pots covering the bottom with some soil. Top your soil with a layer of gravel. Place the seeds and top them with a layer of soil. Water the seeds and in a few days, your herb should start to sprout.

Choose a pot with a good depth – about 10-12 inches because the roots of this herb can go deep. 

You can also opt to grow this herb on the ground. Sprinkle some seeds on the ground and cover them with some soil. Water the seeds and in a few days, they will sprout.

A few days after blooming, your plant will start to develop small green leaves. The leaves will, later on, turn red. When fully matured, the herb’s leaves will have a slightly deep, rich green color. They will also have medium thickness.

Avoid Bolting 

Plants bolt when the earth’s temperature is too high for them. It’s as though Nature is telling them to bear fruit or flowers or whatever they should do. All the plant’s energy is directed at being fruitful and the rest of the plant becomes woody.

Whatever process is involved in bolting, once it begins, the plant is inedible as it changes to an acrid flavour and woody texture quite rapidly and must be binned.

Your Papalo plant will bloom if you allow it to bolt. There will be a burst of purplish brownish and green flowers at the tip of the branches. The blooms are beautiful, but many find the smell un-appealing, thus they avoid allowing their herb plant to bolt.

Oil glands, which are responsible for the herb’s aroma, are spread across each leaf. After harvesting your Papalo herb, it will grow again because it is a biennial plant. This herb grows as an attractive plant and can be as high as three feet tall.

If you live in a cold area, start planting this Mexican herb during the warmest season. If you are growing it indoors, transplant it to its permanent place when it is about 5 – 6 inches tall.

It takes about 7-21 days for your plant to grow when grown in the right conditions.


This Mexican herb is not picky. Plant it in well-draining soil to prevent standing water after a heavy rain. You can even grow this herb in poor soil.


This plant thrives on heat and light because it is native to Mexico. It will, therefore, need full sun for bountiful and delicious growth.

Climate and Temperature 

This plant grows and thrives well in hot climates. You will have no problems growing all year round if you live in a warm region.

If you live in colder regions, avoid moving your plant to the garden until after the last frost is gone. Your plant will not grow well in temperatures below 480F to 500F.


This Mexican herb does not need too much water. Water your plant only when the soil is dry. Avoid keeping the soil too moist because it can tolerate drought. Make sure you water your plant deep and infrequently.


This plant typically does not need any fertilizer because it can grow even in poor soil. Even when planted in high-quality soil, you can add a slow-release organic fertilizer or compost once per season to boost its growth.


When you harvest some Papalo, you are automatically pruning the plant. Your plant will become droopy if you allow it to grow without pruning. To prune, snip off the leaves. Start at the top growth. This way you will promote bushiness.


Harvesting this herb is an easy “cut and come again” process. Cut off some fresh leaves. Go for the older leaves because they have more pungent flavors. Conversely, the younger leaves will have a milder taste.

Harvest these herbs as you need them because they taste better when fresh.


Planting seeds of this herb is the best way to propagate this Mexican herb. It can be close to impossible to find transplants in nurseries because it is not a well-known plant.

If you propagate this herb anytime if you live in a frost-free climate. Spring and summer, though are ideal seasons to propagate this plant.

Papalo Is An Insect Repellant

Problems with pests are not common for this Mexican herb plant because it is a natural insect repellant. It is also resistant to pests that attack many other plants.

What is Papalo? 

Papalo, pronounced as “PAH-pa-low,” is also known as Yerna Porosa, Quilquiña, Papaloquuelite, and Killi. In English, it is also known as Broadleaf. This herb is recognizable by its egg-shaped and green leaves.

This herb is part of what is called Quelities (keh-lee-tez). Quelities are edible wild plants that are versatile and essential to traditional Mexican dishes. They are not very well-known outside of Mexico. This Mexican herb tastes like Cilantro.

The term Papalo originated from the Nahuati word “butterfly” and Papaloquelite word that is believed   to mean “butterfly leaf.” In Spanish, it is referred to as mampuito, which means “spunk.”

Butterflies feed on the nectar of these herb plants. Their pollens also attract bees and other pollinators.

This plant grows even if you do not plant them. They tend to sprout with field irrigation and the first rains. They can provide a second or even a third harvest without any additional work or cost.

There are two varieties of Papalo: the broadleaf variety and the narrow-leaf variety. The size of their leaves distinguishes both varieties. The broadleaf variety is the most common. Many, however, find the narrow-leaf variety as being spicier than a strong Cilantro.

Papalos are rich in nutrients and vitamins. You can add chopped Papalo to your tacos, salads, salsas, chili con carne, guacamole, and fish dishes.

This herb is always added to a dish raw and at the last cooking minutes to bring out its piquant and signature flavor.

The unique aroma of this herb is released the moment you touch its leaves. This is the same aroma you will get from home-grown Cilantro.

A sprig of this herb is often placed in a jar of water alongside salsas, salt, and pepper ready to be tossed and sprinkled raw to tortas, tacos, soups, and beans in many restaurants in Puebla, Mexico.

Many of the narrow-leafed Papalo variety can taste a bit soapy and more pungent than the strongest Cilantro.

You can buy this herb only in Mexican produce markets. If you love this herb, you can grow them in your garden.

Final Thoughts on The Papalo Herb

Many refer to this Mexican herb as a “heat-loving” alternative to Cilantro. Both herbs have almost similar tastes, but the Papalo has a more robust taste.

You should use a 1:3 ratio when substituting this Mexican herb for Cilantro (1 tablespoon of Papalo to replace 3 tablespoons of Cilantro.

We can’t wait to start growing ours – what about you?

Jenny Marie

Tribal Writer

Edited By

Patricia Godwin


Patricia Godwin

Patricia has many years of experience as a content writer on various subjects, but her first love is gardening. She’s never met a plant she didn’t like and, consequently, she writes about every type of plant you can think of. Once an avid gardener with a herb garden, a succulent rockery, and a rose garden – to mention a few. Nowadays, she’s constantly on the move searching for interesting plants to bring to your attention; and explain to you all the details you need to grow, care and maintain these plants.

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