Root Beer Plant, Hoja Santa, Mexican Pepperleaf

Piper auritum

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



Tropicals and Tender Perennials

Foliage Color:

Unknown - Tell us

Bloom Characteristics:

Unknown - Tell us

Water Requirements:

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

Where to Grow:

Unknown - Tell us


4-6 ft. (1.2-1.8 m)


4-6 ft. (1.2-1.8 m)


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



Bloom Color:

White/Near White

Bloom Time:

Mid Summer

Late Summer/Early Fall


Grown for foliage

Other details:

Unknown - Tell us

Soil pH requirements:

5.6 to 6.0 (acidic)

6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)

Patent Information:


Propagation Methods:

By dividing the rootball

By simple layering

Seed Collecting:

Unknown - Tell us


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


Ceres, California

Davis, California

Hayward, California

Los Angeles, California

Palo Alto, California

San Francisco, California

San Jose, California (2 reports)

Santa Barbara, California

Temecula, California

Upland, California

West Covina, California

Bartow, Florida

Deland, Florida (2 reports)

Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Fort Mc Coy, Florida

Fountain, Florida

Gainesville, Florida

Green Cove Springs, Florida

Hollywood, Florida

Jacksonville, Florida (4 reports)

Lynn Haven, Florida

Miami, Florida

Naples, Florida

Niceville, Florida

Ocala, Florida

Old Town, Florida

Pensacola, Florida

Riverview, Florida

Saint Petersburg, Florida

Sanford, Florida

Titusville, Florida

Wellborn, Florida

Waycross, Georgia

Kurtistown, Hawaii

Pepeekeo, Hawaii

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Bossier City, Louisiana

Covington, Louisiana

Deridder, Louisiana

Gonzales, Louisiana

Thibodaux, Louisiana

Zachary, Louisiana

Vieques, Puerto Rico

Florence, South Carolina

Okatie, South Carolina

Saint Helena Island, South Carolina

Arlington, Texas

Austin, Texas (4 reports)

Baird, Texas

Belton, Texas

Blanket, Texas

Boerne, 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

Palestine, Texas

Port Neches, Texas

Richardson, Texas

Richmond, Texas

San Antonio, Texas (3 reports)

Santa Fe, Texas

Spring, Texas

Tyler, Texas

Waco, Texas

Wichita Falls, Texas

show all

Gardeners' Notes:


On Mar 31, 2015, Jarochos from Richardson, TX wrote:

Being a native from Veracruz, Mexico where this Acuyo plant grows profusely and is used regularly in many delicious recipes, I am kind of surprised to know that some people is afraid to eat it! In the Mexican culture, this plant has been consumed for centuries. It grows in warm tropical areas and needs little to none maintenance. Yes, you need to contain it, if you do not have space to let it flourish wide and tall.

Since I moved to Dallas, I have been actively looking for the Acuyo leaves EVERYWHERE to be able to cook our traditional recipes. However, the Mexican stores seldom have them, and if they do, the leaves are dried up in small pieces. No good for cooking. We use these green wide leaves to wrap meats, blend them in some dishes, or just to put them on top of our c... read more


On Sep 13, 2014, BayAreaTropics from Hayward, CA wrote:

In the bay area,the more sun the much more water it needs. In shade,old plants get by on little really,simply growing slower and smaller. That's how a friend grows hers in our present drought.
You cant beat telling kids about the "Root Beer plant".

I wonder- does it make a root beer ice tea?


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).


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?


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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!


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?


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.
... read more


On Mar 2, 2008, sugarweed from Okeechobee, FL (Zone 10a) 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.


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.


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!


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... read more


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!!


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



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.


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 t... read more


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 ... read more


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 Frederick... read more


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 f... read more


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

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


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.