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The large, tender leaf of the hoja santa plant, native to Mexico, is traditionally used as a wrapper, much as one might use a corn husk or a banana leaf. It imparts a subtle though curious flavor that is easily discerned but not so easily described. Hoja santa (Piper auritum, synonymous with Piper sanctum) is an aromatic herb with a heart-shaped, velvety leaf which grows in tropic Mesoamerica. The name hoja santa means "sacred leaf" in Spanish. A Mexican legend says that the Virgin Mary dried diapers of the infant Jesus on the bush of this plant, hence the name. It is also known as yerba santa,hierba santa, Mexican pepperleaf,root beer plant,and sacred pepper. I love this plant, and have three patches of it in various parts of my yard, we love to cook with it (minus the diapers) - favorite recipe later.

Here is the plant in its full glory, it grows to 8-9 feet in a season (pic taken at the end of last 
Summer). This bed still has Hoja Santa in it as well as three recent additions of Giant Timber 
Bamboo - we needed some winter evergreen foliage (the Hoja Santa dies back to the ground 
in the winter). The bed is situated under a couple of large Pecan trees with good soil and buried
soaker hoses for the Summer months. This plant tells you when it is thirsty, its leaves droop in
a rather overly dramatic manner and with a little water, bounce right back up like nothing 
had happened. I grow it in partial shade and full shade. It is quite invasive in a nice way - so watch out.

Hoja Santa and Giant Timber.         Garden Spider and baby having some barbeque in the Hoja hood.

Another local resident doing some hunting beneath the foliage

The bold foliage of Hoja santa offers great contrast in a companion planting with Arizona Cyprus and the lacey, burgandy Japanese Maples.

Here is the main bed of Hoja santa taken today - the leaves are perfect for cooking right now. The stalks
of the plant resemble bamboo. I dry them out and save them every year. Hoja santa looks really bad
after a cold snap, actually, come to think of it, it looks like a whole bunch of soiled diapers or 
hankerchiefs draped over old twigs . . . nice! 
At this point it is time to get the saw out - unless of course you like that look.


One leaf of Hoja Santa
One filet of Talapia per leaf
One small stalk of lemon grass
One stalk of Cilantro
One finely sliced serrano pepper
Juice of half a lime
(we grow all of the above except the Talapia)
Salt and pepper to taste and a splash of good olive oil

Wash leaf well under gently running cold water, pat dry -  place seasoned Talapia, lemon grass, cilantro and serrano peppers into Hoja Santa leaf, with a splash of oil. Fold leaf into a neat package and secure with toothpicks. Grill indirectly, - it doesn't take long!.

Leaf detail - the leaf imparts a subtle flavor to the fish.              Another transplanted patch

Other yard heroes right now:

Coneflowers,  Rosmary and Sage
Anyone know what this vine is? I got it at the Big Red in Sun in
Austin 4 years ago - it has done brilliantly.

This is it blooming right now - bees go crazy over it!

All material © 2008 for east_side_patch. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Stay tuned for:
"Wind Chimes and my Post Oak" - a Darwin Award Nominee


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 18th, 2008 02:17 pm (UTC)
Little bamboo monkey?
Guess he's more into bamboo than a plant that can resemble a wet diaper...
May. 20th, 2008 05:28 am (UTC)
Re: Little bamboo monkey?
He is a funny little monkey, sometimes he nips down the Giant Timber just to get a diaper. He then struggles to put it on then off he goes again, up to the higher canopies at lightening speed, screaming as he goes.
Hope you are enjoying the madness.
thanks for commenting,
May. 26th, 2008 09:44 pm (UTC)
Hello East Side Patch,

It's always good to find another Austin gardenblogger!
I found you at the Sun is Killing Me blog - you have lots of fun plants! I've also got some Hoja Santa and first knew it as Rootbeer Plant.
Your lovely vine is one I tried to get an ID for last year after seeing it at the Hartman Dinosaur Garden. [here's that post so you can compare the photos:

It's definitely a Bauhinia... my current guess is Bauhinia corymbosa.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose
May. 27th, 2008 01:23 am (UTC)
vine identification
Hi Annie.
Thank you for identifying my vine - you are absolutely right in your guess!. I have had this plant for 5 years now, and it is doing very well. It dies back just a little in the Winter then quickly fills in when the heat comes on. When it is really hot the leaves just close up until dusk. Mine has spread down the fence-line about 30 feet and it is dense.
I am glad you found me at the Sun is Killing Me blog, and I hope you will stay in touch.

Thanks again for solving the mystery vine.

My regards,
Jun. 6th, 2008 01:37 pm (UTC)
Hoja santa
Wow, your rootbeer plants is enormous. I have two in my front yard that are barely a foot all. Wonder what I am doing wrong.

Jun. 7th, 2008 03:08 pm (UTC)
Re: Hoja santa
Hi Vertie,
thank you for commenting. Most of my rootbeer plants are situated under two large Pecan trees, so they receive a lot of shade. They like shade. I also have been amending the soil in this bed for the last 5 years - it gets mulched once in the early spring and once late fall, so it is quite rich. I have sucessfully transplanted this plant in three other places in my yard.
What light conditions do you have them in?

Sep. 29th, 2008 05:48 pm (UTC)
Do you cut back your hoja santa in the winter?
Hello! I also live in east Austin and have recently planted hoja santa. Do you recommend cutting it back in the winter? Thanks for the advice. :)
Oct. 9th, 2008 04:05 pm (UTC)
Re: Do you cut back your hoja santa in the winter?
I do cut it back, yes, usually when the first frost has made the leaves look like used hankerchiefs, it is time to get the saw out. This plant likes well composted soil, good shade and sufficient water - it will let you know when it needs refreshment!

One last thing - you can save the stalks that you cut down, they become petrified over time - if stored vertical, I have a whole pile of them, not any real use, they just look interesting.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )



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