Piper auritum, Hoja Santa seeds
Piper auritum belongs to the family of the Piperaceae, the peppers. The plant is also known as Mexican Pepperleaf and Eared pepper. P. auritum is native to Mexico and Central America.
The Mexican Pepperleaf grows as an evergreen shrub reaching a height of about 5 m. It is first herbaceous and lignifies the older the plant gets.
The leaves are simple and heart shaped. They get 30 cm long and have an aromatic taste resembling anise and pepper. The young leaves have a stronger aroma than the older ones. The leaves of the Mexican Pepperleaf are slightly pubescent at the bottom side. They look a bit like ears and therefore the Mexican pepperleave got its nickname eared pepper. The leaves alternate at the shoot.
The leaves of P. auritum are a popular spice in Mexico. They are used dried or fresh. The “mole verde” a green sauce is made up mainly of pureed leaves of the eared pepper. They can be also used as incense and are used in medicine against diarrhea and sickness. P. auritum contains like most pepper species Safrol. Safrol is said to be toxic for the liver. This was proved experiments with rats. But if one consumes the Mexican leaves in normal amounts it should be uncritical.
The small whitish creamy flowers stand in inflorescences. Those spikes can get up to 30 cm long.
The fruits are very small and are eaten by bats that distribute the seeds in that way. The fruits of Piper auritum are not eaten like those of Piper nigrum.
It is also known as root beer plant, because it smells like Sassafras. The roots of Sassafras are used to produce root beer.
Cultivation of Piper auritum from seeds:
The seeds of Piper auritum should be only pressed slightly on the substrate. They need light to germinate. The substrate should be kept moist at a temperature of about 25°C. Then germination occurs quite fast. P. auritum is well suited to be kept in a container. It is not winter hardy and should be placed inside during the cold season. If the temperature in the house is too deep it can happen that the evergreen plant loses its leaves. But they grow again in the next spring. P. auritum is quite robust.