Huacatay is a herb native to south america from the marigold and tarragon family. Huacatay was introduced to Europe during the Spanish conquests. It is often used as a companion plant in gardening because its roots produce a compound which keeps slugs, pests and weeds at bay. Huacatay leaves and oil are used to flavor food, tobacco, alcoholic beverages and soft drinks, including cola. Huacatay goes by many names throughout the world: Mexican marigold, black mint, Aymara wacataya (Peruvian Quechua), Tagetes minuta, Peruvian black mint, and so on...
It is a popular ingredient in cosmetics. The compounds naturally present in the oil have been shown to act as antimicrobial and antifungal agents.
Where used as a spice, Huacatay leaves are choppped or pureed and used as the seasoning that give local dishes a unique herbal flavour. We've never made tea out of the stuff as the Incan's are said to have done, but maybe that'll be a future post.
How to Get it:
There are a few options here:
1.) Buy the ready made paste online. It is hard to find, but here is a currently valid link
2.) Grow the stuff. As we have said, Huacatay goes by many names. Search for "Tagetes minuta" or "black mint" at one of the following retailers: Johnny Seeds Richters Nichols Garden Nursery Horizon Herbs Pinetree Seeds
3.)Pilfer the stuff from somewhere. I you see it in a public garden and happen to have a crimal streak, take a small clipping and grow it with the help of a little rooting hormone.
Because this herb has such a special flavor, there really is no substitute. However, in a pinch, EVERYONE needs substitues. To approximate the unique flavor of Huacatay, mix equal parts mint, coriander, and basil. When using the paste as a substitue, be careful to adjust the salt content of your recipe as the sauce has a 'briney-ness' of its own.