The Root Beer Plant

Posted by on May 21, 2009 at 5:34 pm.
Hoja Santa and Coleus

Hoja Santa and Coleus

This is the Hoja Santa (Piper auritum), from Central America.  It is commonly known as the “Root Beer Plant” because it tastes and smells, well, like root beer.  This one is pictured at the beginning of the growing season and will get much larger by the end of summer – to about 4 or 5 feet tall and the leaves can be as big as 10 to 12 inches across.

Hoja Santa has soft, fuzzy heart shaped leaves.  If flowers during the summer, but the flowers are a very odd long white spike (no petals).  It is very easy to grow.  Maybe too easy so make sure you like it.  It will spread by underground stolons.  It is damaged by high winds and can be killed by a hard freeze but, so far at least, it has acted like a perennial in my garden.

Hoja Santa is considered an herb is been used in Guatamalan and Mexican cooking to flavor soups and eggs, fish or meat (wraped in a leaf), and chocolate drinks.  Even so, there is some confusion over whether it is safe to eat.  This is from Wikipedia:

The essential oils in the leaf are rich in safrole, a substance also found in sassafras, which has been shown to be carcinogenic in animals. In 1960, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned sassafras bark along with sassafras oil and safrole as flavoring agents because of their carcinogenic properties[14] and the Council of Europe imposed the same ban in 1974,[17] although toxicological studies show that humans do not process safrole into its carcinogenic metabolite.[18]

Moderation would probably be the best policy if you plan to use it for cooking.  I would grow mine anyway just because I like the look (and touch and smell).

The same Wikipedia article says that the reason it is called “Hoja Santa” is because legend says that the Virgin Mary dried the diapers of baby Jesus on the leaves.  Oooh gross!

-- Weather When Posted --

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  • Humidity: 32%;
  • Heat Index: 86°F;
  • Wind Chill: 86°F;
  • Pressure: 29.97 in.;


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