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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


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.



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