Acuyo, Mexican pepperleaf, sacred pepper

What is an acuyo plant?

Acuyo characteristics (Piper auritum)

Common English name: Root Beer Plant, Anison, Mexican Peeperleaf, Makulan, Hoja Santa (sacred leaf), Sacred Pepper, False Kava.

Sometimes called Yerba Santa, or Holy Leaf, although this name is also applied to many plants used since ancient times for its medicinal properties such as fennel, mugwort, vervain, etc.

Spanish: Acuyo, Root Beer Plant, Anison, Mexican Peeperleaf, Makulan, Hoja Santa (sacred leaf), Sacred Pepper, False Kava.

– Santamaría (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras)

– Junapa, Juniapa (Guatemala)

– Santa Marta (Nicaragua)

– Chicavarilla, Hinojillo, Hoja de estrella (Costa Rica)

– Juanico. Hierba Santa Momo, Cordoncillo (Panamá).

– Totonaco (Mexico): Kankaputuwan, Tlanepaquelite.

German: Mexikanischer Blattpfeffer, Ohrenpfeffer, Makulan.

Scientific name: Piper auritum Kunth.

Taxonomic synonym: Piper sanctum (Micah) Schlecht.; Piper auritum var. amplifolium C. DC.

Family: Piperaceae

Habitat: Native from Tropics and Mesoamerica (southern Mexico, Guatemala, Panama, northern Colombia), now extended from Mexico to Florida.

It grows spontaneously and permanently in moist woodlands, at altitudes up to 1,300 meters. Easily identifiable by their large aromatic leaves that can be up to more than 30 inches long.

Used to live in the canopy of the trees, the grass grows best with shade or partial shade. It does not tolerate frost, so in climates with winter season can lose the aerial part of the plant. It does not resist drought and must have permanently moist soil.

However, in tropical climates where the temperature and weather conditions are favorable, it can be an invasive plant, as it has become in Hawaii, due to growth in rhizomes able to form large colonies.

Botanical description of Acuyo

Acuyo (Piper auritum) is an herbaceous plant that grows in tropical and remains evergreen. Shrub or small tree up to 2 meters high.

Stem erect and thick with knots, which in some areas is debarked and eaten as a vegetable.

Leaves petiolate, alternate, oval, pointed, hairless and with long ribbed nerves. Size 15 to 25 (to 38) 12 to 21 centimeters long (up to 25) cm wide, with short hairs which gives it a slightly velvety touch. The leaves are edible and have a peculiar taste of lemon.

Inflorescence made of axillary spikes, pedicels and rachis between 12 to 28 inches long. Flowers tiny, closely packed in spiral, which provide the spike a mouse tail appearance.

At maturity, the spike is filled with tiny fruits in drupe of 0.8 – 1 mm in diameter, glabrous, pale yellowish-green, reserving each a seed inside.

Stem and leaves of acuyo are edible.

Acuyo composition

  • Calories: like all vegetables, acuyo is a delicacy, low in calories and very aromatic, rich in fiber and vegetable substances that benefit and balance our diet. It contributes between 5.7 and 32 Kcal/100g.
  • Carbohydrates: the acuyo contains complex carbohydrates and contains only simple sugars. In addition, some carbohydrates can not be absorbed because they are fiber. Being low in sugars, (between 8.2 and 56g. of carbohydrates/100g.) it a suitable food for diabetics.
  • Fat: This vegetable is very low in fat (1.4 to 7.9 g. Fats / 100g. acuyo leaves), so it is highly recommended for people with cholesterol and low-fat diets.
  • Protein: protein intake of acuyo leaves is not remarkable, so it is recommended to add as food to other protein sources.
  • Fiber: We should highlight its fiber content that can help people with constipation.
  • Vitamins: Vitamin C, beta carotene, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin.
  • Minerals: calcium, phosphorus, iron.
  • Phenylpropane: safrole.

* More information about: Properties of acuyo

Composition of acuyo leaves(Piper auritum)
ComponentsContents(en ppm.)
Carbohydrates82.500 – 567.000
Proteins39.000 – 219.000
Fats14.000 – 79.000
Fiber22.000 – 124.000
Ash24.000 – 135.000
Ascorbic acid490 – 3.370
Beta carotenes34 – 193
Niacin9 – 100
Calcium2.570 – 14.440
Iron48 – 35

punto rojoMore information about black pepper and other types of peppers

Botanical classification

Vascular plants


Seed plants


Flower plants



SpeciesP. auritum Kunth.

punto rojoMore information about black pepper and other types of peppers

This article was endorsed by Julián Masats - Technical agricultural engineer specialized in horticulture and gardening.
Written by Editorial Botanical-online team in charge of content writing

21 February, 2023

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