Friday, September 11, 2009

Elsewhere in the Garden

My kitchen window looks out over a raised bed built up next to a block wall. That bed is home to a few interesting plants. Here is Hoja Santa (Piper auritum), the common name means "sacred leaf" in Spanish. Another common name for this plant is Rootbeer Plant for the fragrance of its leaves.

From Wikipedia:
The leaves can reach up to 30 centimeters (12 in) 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.

More from Wikipedia:
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.

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, although toxicological studies show that humans do not process safrole into its carcinogenic metabolite.

In warmer climates than mine this plant can be invasive. Winters here are cold enough to knock the plant down to the ground but the roots survive and send up new growth in late spring. It isn't warm enough here for it to be a vigorous grower so I don't worry about it taking over.

My favorite use for the leaves is as a wrapper for grilled fish.

The plant is actually growing in a large pot set on top of the soil, I'm sure the roots have gone through the drain hole in the bottom of the pot and are well established in the ground. Sharing space with the Hoja Santa in its pot are a volunteer cherry tomato and wild oregano.

Next to the Hoja Santa is my prolific Meyer Lemon Tree. The tree has all phases of fruit on it right now, from buds and blossoms, to just set fruits, to small green lemons, to ripening lemons, to huge thick skinned very mature lemons.

And on the other side of the lemon tree is another pot-bound exotic, cardamom ginger (Elettaria cardamomum or perhaps Amomum species, the plant was labelled as Amomum cardamomum, but that's a synonym for Elettaria c. true cardamom). Regardless, the plant will never bloom in my climate so I will never get any cardamom seeds. The foliage does have a nice spicy fragrance to it, with hints of ginger and cardamom. The poor plant would be much happier and prettier if it were in the ground.

And look down here, below the bed, next to the house, growing in almost complete shade... another volunteer cherry tomato.

With tomatoes. Such a nice healthy looking plant.

And here to entertain us is Stella. One of those plants volunteering in the gravel is catnip.

Which explains the blissed-out look. Must be some good stuff...


  1. HI Michelle,
    I like the name of your blog. Great photos and cute kitty relaxing there in your garden.
    Glad I found you, by way of commenting on randy's site.

  2. Hi Rosey, Miss Stella and I thank you! Glad you came by and joined in the fun.

  3. I envy that lemon tree of yours. It isn't something I can grow in my climate.

  4. Daphne, there are so many Meyer Lemon trees languishing in unappreciative owners gardens in California, too bad you can't adopt one.

  5. Love the pics of the zonked-out cat!


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