Sweet Stevia

The gardens have overflowed with beauty this week, from glowing fall leaves and airy anemones to evening grosbeaks at the feeders. Paradise!

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Near this feeder and its flock of visitors lies our hillside herb garden or kitchen garden, where we currently grow sage, oregano, varieties of mint, lemon balm, rosemary, cilantro, chamomile, salad burnet, thyme, and stevia. Stevia is pictured on the lower left of this north-facing plot which gets sun for at least half the day.

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The stevia or Stevia rebaudiana began as two 2-inch pots I transplanted back in April. I love the robust nature of herbs! This photo was taken right after I harvested the leaves by cutting the bush to half its height.

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This lanky herb originated in Paraguay and is named after Pedro Jaime Esteve (1500–1566), a Spanish botanist. Stevia has been used to sweeten teas for roughly 1500 years.

When I planted the stevia I first tasted a leaf by nibbling it. This plant packs an incredibly sweet punch! Estimates claim stevia is 100-300 as sweet as cane sugar; a tiny bit goes a long way. North America has seemingly just jumped onto the stevia bandwagon by offering processed and packaged stevia as a sugar substitute in the last couple of years. I planned to use the the plant as a natural and calorie-free enhancement to hot beverages. Cutting down on sugar is always high on my list.

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I thoroughly dried the leaves, whirred them  into a powder in my food processor, stored the green powder in a jar, and will simply add it to loose tea blends and possibly ground coffee. It’s also possible to make a liquid sweetener by infusion:  Add a handful of leaves to a cup of boiling water, remove from the heat and let sit at least an hour or up to a day. Strain the concentrate through a sieve or coffee filter, and store in the refrigerator.

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Stevia is a tender perennial, a summer herb, but I’ll attempt to keep cuttings going indoors to replant next spring. I’m interested to watch the progress of stevia in the scientific community; the newest research links stevia with a reduction in hypertension, which is great news, but may require quantities I’m unable to grow or unwilling to consume!

So stevia is sweet, and autumn is sweeter still. It’s no wonder this is my sister Melissa’s favorite season. Today I wish her the happiest of birthdays! I am immensely thankful she is my sister, and now that I have ceased borrowing her clothes without asking, I think she’s glad I’m her sister, too! She is a loving mom and wife, a faithful daughter, my go-to person for advice in so many areas, one of the best gift givers anywhere, and she is wonderfully tender-hearted to boot. We share so much more than just our childhood bedroom including a love for gardens, similar taste in fragrances, a great many genes, and our wonderful family. I love you, dear Melissa. Happy Birthday!

2girls

 

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