Piper auritum (Hoja Santa) - A bold and attractive evergreen herbaceous colony forming shrub to 8 plus feet tall and spreading wide by rhizomes, often popping up aways from the original plant with stout vertical rough textured stems holding aromatic heart-shaped velvety leaves that can be up to a foot long or more and in mid to late summer through fall appear pencil thin 6 inch long spikes bearing tiny flowers which are at first upright and later gracefully drooping and look particularly attractive against the large leaves.
Plant in sun or shade and irrigate occasionally to regularly. Hardy to light frost but knocked to the ground with temperatures much below 27 °F and then comes back in the spring - it is root hardy to around 10 °F so useful in USDA Zones 8-11. This is a great looking bold shrub in a shady location where it needs little water in coastal gardens gets a bit taller and with darker green leaves but also grows well in full sun if given regular irrigation. Plant in a contained space of occasionally root prune extremities of the planting to control spread.
Piper auritum is native to from Columbia in South America through Central America and throughout much of Mexico to as far north as San Luis Potosi. The name of the genus is the Latin word for Pepper (Piper nigrum) and the specific epithet is from the Latin word 'auritus' meaning "with ears", "having large ears" in reference to the shape of the base of the leaves, which is described as cordate. The common name Hoja Santa means holy or sacred leaf in Spanish, and it is also commonly called Acuyo, Yerba Santa (holy herb), Mexican Pepperleaf, Veracruz Pepper, Sacred Pepper and Root Beer Plant. It is used in Mexican cooking for wrapping tamales, fish or meat or including as an ingredient in sauces such as the Oaxacan mole verde or to flavor soups such as pozole and used to flavor egg dishes. In Central Mexico it is used to flavor chocolate drinks, and in Tabasco and Yucatán it is an ingredient in a green liquor called Verdín. It complex flavor is compared to many other plants such eucalyptus, licorice, sassafras, anise, nutmeg, mint, tarragon and black pepper. The essential oils within the leaf are rich in safrole, a substance also found in sassafras and is most concentrated in young stems and leaf veins. Of note, safrole was banned in the US after studies in the 1960s found it to be a weak carcinogen.
Information about Piper auritum displayed on this page is based on our research about it conducted in our library and gathered from reliable online sources. We include observations made of this plant as it grows in our nursery gardens and in other gardens that we have visited, as well as how the crops have performed in containers in our own nursery field. We will also incorporate comments that we receive from others about this plant when we feel it adds information and particularly welcome hearing from anyone who has any additional cultural recommendations that would aid others in growing it.