Phyla Dulcis, Lippia Dulcis, Aztec Sweet Herb
Phyla dulcis is a species of perennial herb that is native to southern Mexico, the Caribbean (Cuba, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico), Central America, Colombia, and Venezuela. It is known by several common names, including Aztec sweet herb, bushy lippia, honeyherb, hierba dulce, and tzopelic-xihuitl (Nahuatl). Its buds are also sold as dushi or dulce (sweet in Papiamento and Spanish respectively) buttons.
Aztec Sweet Herb
Botanical Name: Phyla scaberrima
Aztec Sweet Herb is a low growing creeping and trailing perennial reaching 50cm high and with a 50cm to 1 meter spread. The 2.5 cm dark green leaves are toothed with clear veins and are held in opposite pairs. The egg shaped leaves may turn brown-purple in bright sun and have a dark crimson stem. The tiny white flowers are held in a 6mm circular cluster which has a centre, formed by tiny green bracts peeling away to reveal new flowers of barely 1.6 mm in size.
Aztec Sweet Herb is from the Verbenaceae family and may also be known by the common names Mexican Lipia, Bushy Lippia and Honey Herb. Lippia dulcis is the most often used botanical name and Yerba dulce less commonly. However the most recent taxonomic reclassification of this plant is to Phyla scaberrima. The Greek word for tribe is ‘phyla’ referring to the cluster of flower heads and ‘scaberimma’ is Latin for ‘most rough’. It is native to Central America, Southern Mexico, Colombia and the Caribbean.
This plant was used as a culinary and medicinal herb by indigenous tribes and the Aztecs and was later introduced to the Spanish. It has a history of use as a sweetener in Central America, with use recorded as far back as 1570.
replanting yearly 2017, 2018
Diseases and Problems
Aztec Sweet Herb cannot take frost, but it makes a good container plant. We have taken cuttings a replanted it in the spring.
Aztec Sweet Herb requires several hours of sunshine per day, but can grow well in part shade and most soil types with adequate moisture. Once established it does not have high water requirements. Temperate to sub-tropical regions provide an ideal climate for this evergreen perennial. It is heat tolerant but may not do well in frost prone areas and may die back in cold winters. This creeping plant may be propagated by seed, but best results are achieved by layering because where the branches touch the ground they will form roots.
Although from a different plant family, this plant is much like mint in looks and character, so it should be kept contained to prevent undesired spreading. This small creeper is an ideal plant for hanging baskets where it is able to trail over the edges. This also allows clean leaves to be easily collected as used as desired.
This plant has historically been used as a natural sweetener and medicinal herb in its native Mexico and parts of Central America. It was used by the Aztecs and introduced to the Spanish when they arrived.
The sweet taste is caused by a sesquiterpene compound called hernandulcin, which was discovered in 1985 and named for Francisco Hernández, the Spanish physician who first described the plant in the sixteenth century.
Aztec Sweet Herb was used traditionally as a natural sweetener by Aztecs and indigenous people in Central America countries from at least 1570. It is up to 1500 times sweeter than sugar, but should be used sparingly. The sweet taste is accompanied by the camphor content, which has a bitter taste and is toxic to the nervous system especially for children and small animals. It may cause nausea, vomiting, coma and depression of the central nervous system.
The toxicity of Aztec Sweet Herb means that its use as a sugar replacement, or as an alternative to Stevia, is not viable in the average modern diet or on a commercial level. The amount consumed daily would be far above recommended dosages and the active constituents may be carcinogenic in large quantities.
Leaves are picked and used fresh or dried as needed as a sweetener in herbal teas. Some people have likened it to tasting a sweet camphor moth ball. It is not recommended for children or pregnant women due to the potential antispasmodic effects.
Aztec Sweet Herb has historical significance as a medicinal herb for the Aztecs, tribal cultures in Central American countries and later the Spanish were introduced to the plant. It has a soothing and calming effect on mucosal surfaces and today may be used by some herbalists as an expectorant for coughs, bronchitis and respiratory ailments. The plant is boiled and the vapours inhaled by placing the head over the bowl. Afterwards, the infusion is strained and sipped slowly. For toothaches the plant may be chewed or placed directly on the gums. This herb has many other traditional or folk uses which were first applied by the Aztecs and Central American indigenous people. These included use for indigestion, liver disorders, dysentery, hypertension, and to induce miscarriage with its spasmodic effects.
Modern medical research has started preliminary investigations into the usefulness of the plant as an anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory agent. However it should be noted that the active constituents have shown carcinogenic activity and camphor is toxic in sufficient doses.