Root beer plant.

Date: Tue, 21 May 1996 21:40:56 -0600
From: Michael Moore <hrbmoore.RT66.COM>
Subject: Re: root beer plant

>Does anyone have any information on what I call "root beer" plant? Is there a medicinial use? Cooking use?

You can download or view a photograph of Root Beer Plant at my website...the url is:

I photographed the plant at the Corpus Cristi Botanical Gardens last December.

The latin name for the plant is Piper sanctum (another Piper is used similarly). The common Spanish name for it is Hoja Santa, and it is native to southern Mexico and Central America. The foliage, when crushed, smells just like Sassafras or root beer, hence the name.

The primary source for the scent is several safrole-based aromatics...similar to Sassafras. Apparently it can be carcinogenic if taken in excess...something like 50 g per kilo (in other words...not VERY). Unlike Sassafras, whose safroles are bound and not bioavailable (in the tea) but bioavailable in the distilled oil, I would have to presume that, with the foliage of plants usually containing substances in simpler and less "bound" a form, the sarfoles in Hoja Santa leaves are PROBABLY biovailable, and therefore potentially harmful.

Nonetheless, it is held in high esteem in many rural parts of Mexico, being used for gastritis, intestinal cramps and disempacho. The tea tastes GREAT...almost too strong...and combines well with a little licorice root, Stevia, and/or Cinnamon. I wouldn't take the safrole thing too seriously, especially if the tea is used in moderation. It would be sort of worrying about the traces of coumarin found in May Wine or Zubrowka Vodka. I'm frankly surprised why it has never been introduced into the US herb and tea trade.

Then again, I am sure the FDA would protect us from the plant by banning it's consumption...we simply can't be trusted.

Ever wonder WHO is targeted by the information on a hair dryer that says "Do Not Use in a shower or bath" or the warnings on cans of lacquer thinner that boldly announce "Do Not Take Internally" or the many labels on a new ladder (even a FOLDING LADDER!) that points "THIS END IS UP"...WHO that can walk and breath at the same time needs these warnings???

(Thin the HERD!!)

Michael Moore (