Photo by Melody

PlantFiles: Root Beer Plant, Hoja Santa, Mexican Pepperleaf
Piper auritum

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Family: Piperaceae
Genus: Piper (PIP-er) (Info)
Species: auritum (aw-RY-tum) (Info)

4 vendors have this plant for sale.

45 members have or want this plant for trade.

Category:
Herbs
Tropicals and Tender Perennials

Height:
4-6 ft. (1.2-1.8 m)

Spacing:
4-6 ft. (1.2-1.8 m)

Hardiness:
USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 C (10 F)
USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 C (15 F)
USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 C (20 F)
USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 C (25 F)
USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 C (30 F)
USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 C (35 F)
USDA Zone 11: above 4.5 C (40 F)

Sun Exposure:
Partial to Full Shade

Danger:
N/A

Bloom Color:
White/Near White

Bloom Time:
Mid Summer
Late Summer/Early Fall

Foliage:
Grown for foliage

Other details:
Requires consistently moist soil; do not let dry out between waterings

Soil pH requirements:
5.6 to 6.0 (acidic)
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)

Patent Information:
Non-patented

Propagation Methods:
By dividing the rootball
By simple layering

Seed Collecting:
Unknown - Tell us

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By weeds
Thumbnail #1 of Piper auritum by weeds

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There are a total of 19 photos.
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Profile:

16 positives
8 neutrals
4 negatives

Gardeners' Notes:

RatingAuthorContent
Negative AKA1007 On Nov 6, 2013, AKA1007 from Palestine, TX wrote:

Beware, this plant might start off manageable but will quickly get out of hand. If you enjoy plants that require regular hacking back with a sharp spade and grubbing around for invasive runners then this is your ideal plant. Columbine and other fragile perennials don't stand a chance. This plant will even spread under ground and compete with hardy full sun perennials. Once this plant gets established and begins to spread, good luck.
If you like to use the leaves for cheese wrap or for cooking, consider a large container in a semi shade location with a trellis (even then it will escape the pot, but at least you will be able to keep it in check).

Positive rizard On Jun 8, 2013, rizard from guadalajara
Mexico wrote:

This is a wonderful plant, I love its big heart shaped leaves and deep green color and the almost microcospic flowers are all piled and tucked together in a slender white drooping sprig that you would think this could be the fruit but its the flower. In Mexico I have seen it to grow quite high about 3 or 4 meters and it has been used for wrapping bean tamales in Oaxaca and also the leaves are used for making a tea for cough and flu (this I havent tried yet, but u bet I will). All in all, its a magical plant if u know what I mean. The stems seem a little strange resembling thin-long vegetable bones, amazing isnt it?

Neutral Tuscawilla On Oct 29, 2012, Tuscawilla from Micanopy, FL wrote:

I picked this up from the trash pile behind the UF botany greenhouse. I did not known what I was in for? It grows vigorously in sun and in shade. It has almost becoming a weed and will out compete anything in the same area. I am continually hacking it back to save nearby plants. I just mow it down when it comes up in the lawn. It can get 8 feet tall and has dinner plate sized leaves. It is a very nice looking plant and the aroma is fantastic when you crush a leaf. I have plenty of space but I wish I had planted it in another spot.

Positive gbirdie On Sep 20, 2012, gbirdie from Jacksonville, FL wrote:

In my yard (a mix of 8b/9a) this is invasive through runners but..... it freezes to the ground in winter plus if I get sprouts where I don't want them, I just cut off or pull up. Mine are in some morning sun but mostly shade in the back part of the yard and make a nice umbrella for bromeliads, and a screen or backdrop. Haven't had control problems...yet.

Positive RockportAngler On Jul 31, 2012, RockportAngler from Houston, TX wrote:

We enjoy this plant very much. It is in a pot on our patio. The gets partial sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon. Even in the pot, we have pups coming up.
The question I have is this: We get lots of leaves that turn yellow and wilt. We keep the plant moist to wet and sometimes the plant will droop real bad, but a good watering will cure that problem. What could I be doing wrong to cause the yellowing of the leaves, if anything. We are in Houston, Texas and as I said we like this plant.
Anyone with any ideas?

Neutral rjuddharrison On Sep 21, 2009, rjuddharrison from Houston, TX (Zone 9a) wrote:

I received this plant from a DG friend in Dallas. Other than a brief description and average height, I didn't know much about the plant. I planted it in the ground next to the green house. It seems to approve of the location and kept going through the winter. It's height of 10 feet started to concern me thinking that it might be a tree, so I went to the Plant Files and comments which put my worries to rest. It is much larger than I was expecting.

Positive cam2 On Aug 9, 2009, cam2 from Houston, TX wrote:

I have had this in the same pot for about 13yrs. It dies back in cold weather, but always comes back. It also withers when thirsty, but pops right back up after watering. Mine gets morning sun and afternoon shade. I keep the pot on concrete to keep it from creeping from it's container.

I have used it to wrap chicken breasts for baking, and my husband has used it in poached fish ~ gives a very subtle flavor.

Positive cachecreek On Jul 30, 2009, cachecreek from Davis, CA (Zone 9b) wrote:

Leaves are very tasty. You'd have to eat an awful lot of them to have any negative affect. Leaves used in cooking in Mexico and farther south. Put on tamale masa before enclosing tamale in corn husk, add to a green sauce, other things. Adds a slightly licorice taste.

Negative SouthernGal On Jul 11, 2009, SouthernGal from Naples, FL wrote:

A year ago, I acquired a tiny plant from my father's NW Florida home. While he very much enjoyed them, they did freeze back each year. Well, I do not recommend them for SW Florida. This creature has become 10 feet tall with runners popping up everywhere. It's a lovely plant but needs to be container grown in the South. Never let it loose!

Negative SFF_Corgi On Oct 15, 2008, SFF_Corgi from Miami, FL (Zone 10b) wrote:

I have a back yard that has a lot of marl; somehow this plant got in among an elephant-ear growth, and is staging a full-scale invasion! It may have started in shade, but it's growing all over in the full-sun areas. I think I really am going to need to plow and re-sod to get it under control. The roots only get stronger if the stuff's mowed over or cut down. Anybody have a mule to loan?

Positive JaxFlaGardener On Jul 18, 2008, JaxFlaGardener from Jacksonville, FL (Zone 8b) wrote:

My Piper auritum grows in fairly deep shade under a large old Live Oak tree in my garden in NE Florida (Zone 8b/9a, winter temperatures typically down to about 28 F on a few nights). It dies back about halfway down the stem in freezing weather, but returns vigorously in the spring. It does take a lot of room -- my plant is about 6 ft high and just as wide, competing with large Alocasia elephant ears and several other shade plants for limited space.

The very distinctive root beer aroma of the leaves is always a conversation item when providing garden tours for friends. I am surprised to learn from the comments above the extensive culinary uses of Piper auritum, but then it is a close relative of black pepper (Piper nigrum) so it makes sense that it would be edible.

I noticed recently that my P. auritum has sent out its first sucker offspring about 3 ft from the parent plant. I will start digging these up and potting them up as they are produced to provide to other gardeners.

The flowers, which are typically vertically straight up, about 6 inches long, and a bright white are very elegant against the green leaves.

Jeremy

Negative sugarweed On Mar 2, 2008, sugarweed from Jacksonville & Okeechobee, FL (Zone 9a) wrote:

This plant in my experience is Extremly
I dug out the mama plant when suckers started popping out oof my 90% sand yard as far as 8 feet away from it's mama.
I still have a good 20 pups popping up.
When I give it away I advise keeping it above ground in a container.
I have only had it 2 years and I am aggresively trying to control it.

Positive qs On Jan 28, 2007, qs from San Francisco, CA (Zone 10b) wrote:

This grows wonderfully in my backyard in foggy San Francisco - I use the leaves to wrap tamales (inside the corn husk) and make different Oaxacan moles. It can also flavor pozole and steamed veggies among other culinary uses.

It is, however, a bit invasive here...throwing up shoots several feet from the main plant, and very much more so in tropical areas. I put an ad on Craigslist to give away the overabundant leaves since it's impossible to find in our Latino grocery stores here. Several people have come by to get free leaves for their cooking.

Neutral oaxaca_teri On Aug 26, 2006, oaxaca_teri from oaxaca
Mexico wrote:

I live in Oaxaca and Hoja Santa or Herba Santa as it is more commonly known here, is used widely in cooking. A favorite is an egg cooked on a griddle (or comal) on top of the large leaf. Or even better a tortilla with grilled Herba Santa, black beans, and a little fresh cheese. It does not seem terribly aggresive. Easy to handle the growth. It's really a pretty plant - try it!

Neutral vossner On May 1, 2006, vossner from Richmond, TX (Zone 9a) wrote:

MAY 2006:I love this plant. Like rubbing a leaf between my fingers to get that root beer scent. It is prolific, but seedlings are easy to remove. Mine is close to 2 years old, planted inground, full sun. Did not die back due to mild winter. As of this writing, it is about 2 ft tall, but looking forward to it getting 4-5 tall, to provide a little bit of shade to plants underneath.

NOV 2013. I have changed my rating to neutral, not b/c I don't like the plant, I do, but readers need to know it is a high maintenance plant. It spreads by very strong runners and not only that, it will choke out whatever grows in its path. If planted inground, you cannot let it go unattended for more than 6 months or else it will be your biggest plant regret. After 8 years of growing this plant, I no longer worry about providing supplemental water or protecting during winter. It is enthusiastic enough that I let Nature help me thin it out. Otherwise, after a heavy rain, and I mean heavy, I go out and cut and yank every rhizome that I possibly can. I also shovel prune the ones over 1" in dia. My efforts take about 1 hr every 6 mos. I shudder at the thought of getting sick and not being able to do this chore. It would be a holy mess! As to growing in a container, I think it would be a pain as it has high moisture requirements and you would be either watering constantly or watching it droop all the time. If you don't have the time, stay away from this plant. If you do, enjoy this lovely but watch it very closely.

Positive phyto On Apr 9, 2006, phyto from Lafayette, IN wrote:

I'm in Indiana, so this plant is being grown in a greenhouse. It's doing well (apart from my crappy green thumb), and is growing in leaps and bounds.

Anyhew, for those that are worried about the carcinogenicity... don't be! The small amounts of safrole in this plant that's bad for rat livers, when force fed mass quantities of the substance, is just as "bad" as that found in black pepper (piperonal). So go ahead, cook with it, have a wonderful time with it... Like everything in life, just don't do it every day!!

Positive eav On Nov 21, 2005, eav from Austin, TX wrote:

Both my sister in law and I bought this plant two years ago in 6" pots. She planted hers in her back yard and it is now 7' tall and has spread to about 15' across. She has been mowing it else it would have spread further. I kept mine in a pot and it has grown well. I transplanted it to a two gallon pot about 5 months ago and it put on an amazing growth spurt to the point where it looks like it could already use a larger pot. Next year maybe. It is now about four feet tall. One thing, it really needs alot of water

ed

Positive terrasolsb On Nov 14, 2005, terrasolsb from Santa Barbara, CA (Zone 10b) wrote:

I planted a 1g plant last fall and in a year it has grown to 6' tall and easily as wide. It has also produced 4 new plants which have sprouted up as far as 3' away from the mother plant (apparently the result of some digging I did earlier for summer plantings).
Here in Santa Barbara, I have it planted where it gets sun all morning, but is protected from the hottest afternoon sun. I feed it every 6-8 weeks with an organic fertilizer for tropicals which has kept it lush and blooming from late spring until now (mid Nov.) with no signs yet of it stopping. It does like to stay on the moist side, but is easy enogh to achieve with my drip system.
It has become one of my favorite and certainly most unusual plants in the garden. I'll get a picture of it up as soon as possible.

Positive farfromhome On Nov 22, 2004, farfromhome from Lille
France wrote:

It grows well almost everywhere, from hot wet tropical places to the cloud forests of Mexico and South America, It grew well in Riverside, California under full sun, wilting a little during the hottest hours, but recovering by evening. It has been reported in Hawaii and now is growing well in the north of France in a pot, but I put it inside at this time of the year.
It can become a little bit invasive in some places, if you have the right kind of soil and weather you will end up with many plants in your garden. I think it can reproduce asexually and sends new growths all around the place, it can be hard to pull them by hand and the roots (or underground shoots) can go very deep.
Propagates easily by cuttings.
In Mxico is known as acuyo, hoja santa, hierba santa or tlanepa, it is used in cooking mostly in the center-south of the country.
The leaves are added to corn husk tamales in some places, but especially to banana leave tamales: you put a clean, dry piece of P.auritum (without the central vein) on the corn husk or banana leave then you add the masa mixture and then the sauce and meat. Put another piece of acuyo on the top of it before you wrap the tamale.
In the famous fish in acuyo, a whole fish or filet is wrapped in the large leaves and then grilled or baked.
The sauce for mole verde (green mole) has acuyo, epazote, cilantro, tomatillo, jalapeos or serranos, everything stir-fried (this keeps the green color of the herbs) and then blended with a piece of onion a garlic clove and some cumin, to make it soupy add this mixture to some chicken or beef broth and you can add chicken, pork and beef meat together or one of two of them, as well as green beans, faba beans, pieces of sweet white corn, and zucchini. To make the thick version add some peeled, roasted pumpkin seeds to the mixture before blending add less broth and the meat of your preference and some cut green beans if you wish.

Positive JillGoodwin On May 10, 2004, JillGoodwin from Alpine, TX wrote:

I have not grown this myself because I've had difficulty locating it; also, I live in the high desert of Texas (5000 ft.) so keeping the ground moist might be a difficulty. There is a restaurant in San Antonio (Liberty Bar) that serves a delicious chicken breast entree that is wrapped in hoya santa leaf. It looks to me as if they grill the chicken breast, then wrap it in the leaf and put it back on the grill for a few minutes before serving. It's not something you might like to have every day, but a special treat now and then shouldn't be toxic.

Neutral midsgarden On May 7, 2004, midsgarden from Port Neches, TX (Zone 9a) wrote:

I have grown this plant in two different areas of Texas. One in zone 8 and the other here, in zone 9, and it has remained green all winter in both places. Both ares were moist. It does become invasive though, spreading from the root system. The aroma that it gives off is worth the work of keeping in control.

Neutral Nwokie On Apr 11, 2004, Nwokie wrote:

I have not grown this plant but intend to try it. I want it because it is a common ingredient in the posole verde (a stew of meat-often chicken-and hominy) made in the state of Guerrero, in Mexico. I am mostly interested in growing things to use in cooking. From what I have read here, I think it will have to live in a large pot.

Neutral MotherNature4 On Oct 15, 2003, MotherNature4 from Bartow, FL (Zone 9a) wrote:

This plant sounds very interesting for container culture. It is not listed on the 2003 Florida Exotic Pest Plant List, so it may not be as invasive as some have written.

Positive TerriFlorida On Oct 14, 2003, TerriFlorida from Plant City, FL wrote:

I released this plant in a moist spot that got some shade from a mulberry. It's odor is a delight, and its location kept it fairly well contained so it was not a problem most of the time. However, I have moved to a much more moist part of Hillsborough County Florida, so I am hesitant to plant it here, should I find any again. I remember finding underground runners many feet from the plant!

But the smell...

In "Cornucopia; A Source Book of Edible Plants", the entry for Piper auritum says it is used in many dishes in South America and that it is recommended for aquaculture applications. This book is very good for noting when a plant contains a possible toxin, and specifies when you double-boil leaves and that sort of thing. These plants are probably safe to use in cooking. When in doubt, find a native and ask! :-)

Positive Schoolmarm On Oct 13, 2003, Schoolmarm from Arlington, TX wrote:

This is an amazing plant, especially when allowed to grow in clusters. Its fragrance is unique and wonderful. Its tall stems (ours have grown to about 9 ft.) provide a lot of shade underneath as well as a large-leafed backdrop to other, shorter plants out front. We live in Arlington, Texas and our soil is iron-rich and sandy. As far as we can tell, the hoja propogates by sending out underground roots, similar to bamboo, but not as invasive or as crowded. It transplants well. They need partial shade/dappled sun to grow here in the Texas heat, and it takes a couple of years for them to get established. Mulch well, and they will return the following year. This year we've had the pleasure of some variegated leaves, though how that happened, we don't know. We first saw these plants in Fredericksburg, Texas at an herb farm, in large clusters. Since then, we have also seen them along the San Antonio riverwalk. They look good in pots,too-big pots. We've heard you can cook with the leaves, but have not heard specifically how to do this. We are obviously smitten.

Positive suncatcheracres On Aug 3, 2003, suncatcheracres from Old Town, FL wrote:

I bought a baby plant for a dollar this Spring and it is now about 18 inches tall. The seller told me it was invasive here in Northcentral Florida, zone 8b, and needs almost full shade. She also said it was edible, so I did some research and found this tender perennial is a rainforest plant of Southern Mexico and Central America, growing up to 18 feet tall near stream banks. People there use it for food and medicine, making a supposedly very good tasting tea and wrapping fish or pork in the large leaves like tamales. However, there is some concerns it may be carcinogenic, so I think I will just admire mine ornamentally.

I've found that it truly does not like much sun, so it is still in a pot while I ponder where to plant it, as I have a lot of deciduous trees, and my forest floor becomes much sunnier in the winter. Also I have to consider its possible invasive quality, so it has to be planted somewhere invasiveness won't be a problem, like near a driveway that's mowed a couple of times a year. Also I really like it's bold, tropical effect and may put it behind some of my brugmansias. So, due to my indecisiveness, the plant will probably be potted up into a larger pot to spend the winter, and next spring finally go into its carefully chosen spot so it will have a full warm season to establish itself in the ground.

Positive mygarden On Oct 9, 2002, mygarden from Wharton, TX (Zone 8b) wrote:

Propagation: Seed, possibly spread by birds and bats; suckers profusely.

Neutral Amari On Jun 27, 2001, Amari from Austin, TX (Zone 8a) wrote:

Piper auritum has giant, rounded leaves to about a foot across, light green, and smell just like root beer.

Plants grow 4 to 6 feet tall, and spread to 4 feet. Narrow white 6" spikes of tiny flowers appear in late summer and fall. It forms colonies by underground runners. Bold and beautiful specimen for a shady, moist site. Native to Mexico, it's hardy in zones 8-11.

Regional...

This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

,
Ceres, California
Davis, California
Hayward, California
Los Angeles, California
Palo Alto, California
San Antonio Heights, California
San Francisco, California
San Jose, California (2 reports)
Santa Barbara, California
Temecula, California
West Covina, California
Asbury Lake, Florida
Bartow, Florida
Boyette, Florida
De Land, Florida
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Fort Mc Coy, Florida
Fountain, Florida
Gainesville, Florida
Hollywood, Florida
Jacksonville, Florida (4 reports)
Lynn Haven, Florida
Miami, Florida
Naples, Florida
Niceville, Florida
North De Land, Florida
Ocala, Florida
Old Town, Florida
Pensacola, Florida
Sanford, Florida
St Petersburg, Florida
Titusville, Florida
Wellborn, Florida
Waycross, Georgia
Hawaiian Acres, Hawaii
Pepeekeo, Hawaii
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Bossier City, Louisiana
Chackbay, Louisiana
Covington, Louisiana
De Ridder, Louisiana
Gonzales, Louisiana
Zachary, Louisiana
Vieques, Puerto Rico
Florence, South Carolina
Okatie, South Carolina
Saint Helena Island, South Carolina
Arlington, Texas
Austin, Texas (3 reports)
Baird, Texas
Belton, Texas
Blanket, Texas
Canyon Lake, Texas
Carrollton, Texas
Colmesneil, Texas
Conroe, Texas
Cypress, Texas
Desoto, Texas
Floresville, Texas
Fort Worth, Texas
Houston, Texas (3 reports)
Huntsville, Texas
New Braunfels, Texas
New Waverly, Texas
Olmos Park, Texas
Palestine, Texas
Port Neches, Texas
Richmond, Texas
San Antonio, Texas (2 reports)
Santa Fe, Texas
Scenic Oaks, Texas
Spring, Texas
Sunset Valley, Texas
Tyler, Texas
Waco, Texas
Wichita Falls, Texas



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