Piper auritum 'Kunth' (Hierba Santa)
Piper auritum 'Kunth' (Hierba Santa)

Piper auritum 'Kunth' (Hierba Santa)

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Piper auritum grows in tropical forests from Mexico to South America and its spicy leaves are used for various culinary and medicinal purposes.  The leaves of P. auritum contain safrole, which imparts a spicy flavor to its leaves, making it valuable as a seasoning. Safrole is a carcinogen and the same compound that gives sassafras root beer its spicy taste.  Plants in the Piper genus used as medicinal plants in cultures throughout the world, and pharmacological studies have demonstrated that they contain a variety of bioactive compounds.

The aromatic, peppery leaves of P. auritum are used to season soups, stews, wild meats, and other dishes in Central America and Mexico.  In Guatemala, snail soup seasoned with P. auritum is considered a delicacy; its local name, Hoja de Jute, reflects this usage. In the Yucatan, the large leaves of the plant are used to season tamales, and may be used as a wrapping for tamales in place of banana leaves or cornhusks (Salazar et al., 2012).  The leaves and stems are also eaten raw in salads.  People living along the Río Indio in central Panama use the leaves of P. auritum as bait to catch fish.  They use the leaves as bait in traps in small pools in the river, and allow the fish to feed on the P. auritum leaves for two weeks so that their flesh is seasoned by the flavorful leaves (Joly, 1981).

This beautiful plant will provide plenty of joy even if you have no desire to use it for food, seasoning, or medicine. Feed regularly, allow to dry slightly between waterings, and give plenty of bright gentle light.