Types & Cultivation

Hoja santa

Hoja santa

 

Hoja santa is an aromatic herb with a heart-shaped, velvety leaf which grows in tropic Mesoamerica. The name hoja santa means "sacred leaf" in Spanish. It is also known as yerba santa, hierba santa, Mexican pepperleaf, root beer plant, and sacred pepper.

The leaves can reach up to 30 centimeters (12 inches) or more in size. The complex flavor of hoja santa is not so easily described; it has been compared to eucalyptus, licorice, sassafras, anise, nutmeg, mint, tarragon, and black pepper. The flavor is stronger in the young stems and veins.

It is often used in Mexican cuisine for tamales, the fish or meat wrapped in fragrant leaves for cooking, and as an essential ingredient in Mole Verde, the green sauce originated in the Oaxaca region of Mexico. It is also chopped to flavor soups and eggs. In Central Mexico, it is used to flavor chocolate drinks. In southeastern Mexico, a green liquor called Verdín is made from hoja santa. While typically used fresh, it is also used in dried form, although drying removes much of the flavor and makes the leaf too brittle to be used as a wrapper.

The essential oils in the leaf are rich in safrole, a substance also found in sassafras, which has been shown to be carcinogenic in animals. In 1960, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned sassafras bark along with sassafras oil and safrole as flavoring agents because of their carcinogenic properties and the Council of Europe imposed the same ban in 1974, so the safety of flavoring food with hoja santa remains questionable.


Cultivation of Herb Hoja santa

Site: Grows best in light sun with afternoon shade or shade in rich well drained soil. Hardy to zones 9-10. Will die back with a freeze, but new shoots appear in the spring. Can be treated as a tender perennial in areas with hard freezes. Requires a lot of water. 
Propagation: It can be planted from root divisions any time of the year but fall through spring is the best. Container plants can be installed year round.

Growing: Space 3 to 8 feet apart. Can be treated as a tender perennial in areas with hard freezes. Requires a lot of water.

Harvesting: Pick the large leaves as needed and use fresh. It can be stored dry or frozen if needed for the winter months. As with all herbs, it’s best to store in glass containers. A better plan is to have at least one plant in a container to protect and have leaves year round.

Culinary Uses: Hoja santa is used extensively in Mexican cooking. The flavor of hoja santa is reminiscent of licorice and the plant is sometimes known as the "rootbeer plant". 
The leaves are used in the cooking of its native Southern Mexico, although experts state it has carcinogenic properties and is also toxic to the liver. It is often used in Mexican cuisine for tamales, the fish or meat wrapped in fragrant leaves for cooking, and as an essential ingredient in Mole Verde, the green sauce originated in the Oaxaca region of Mexico.
It is also chopped to flavor soups and eggs. In Central Mexico, it is used to flavor chocolate drinks. In southeastern Mexico, a green liquor called Verdín is made from hoja santa. 
American cheesemaker Paula Lambert created "Hoja santa cheese", the goat's milk cheese wrapped with the hoja santa leaves and impregnated with its flavor. 
While typically used fresh, it is also used in dried form, although drying removes much of the flavor and makes the leaf too brittle to be used as a wrapper.

 

 

 

Types of Herbs