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Growing and Selling Fresh-Cut Herbs
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Growing and Selling
Fresh-Cut Herbs

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Herb of the Month

Over the next year, the herb of the month feature will focus on those unusual herbs that a professional grower may occasionally be asked to supply.  These profiles are supplied by Herbalpedia


Family:  Compositae

Description:  Stevia is a slender, perennial herb with semi-woody, weak stems.  In cultivation, the plants are much more vigorous than natural populations and may exceed 3 feet in height.  Branching and tillering of cultivated plants are also relatively profuse.  In its native area, purple and white flowers are produced in December and January.  Shoots usually die after maturing, or are killed by frost, with new growth arising by tillering at the base of the plant.  Indigenous to the highland regions of northeastern Paraguay. 

Cultivation: Full sun is preferred but not hot weather, making the Pacific Northwest the ideal climate. However Stevia is very adaptable to most areas of the country. In southern states, stevia will require some filtered afternoon shading.  Prefers good garden soil like a cultivated vegetable garden area is best for Stevia. If soil could be “mounded up” into a “raised bed,” this would be even better. Apply a layer of mulch, such as grass clippings, or bark mulch. This will help keep roots cool, preserve water, keeps the leave clean from soil (prevents dirty taste in green powder) and hold down weeds. Avoid weeding around mature stevia plants as their brittle branches are easily broken. Avoid overwatering after transplanting and in winter as houseplant. Keep evenly moist during summer heat. Drip or soaker hose are very effective for summer watering.  To fertilize use a balanced, slow release organic fertilizer or manure, which is tilled into the soil before planting, provides the ideal nutrition. Avoid high nitrogen chemical fertilizers, as they produce large leaves with little flavor. Stevia (and most other herbs) produce limited quantities of oils or “flavor chemicals” (in the case of stevia it is glycocides) for the expanding leaves. Simply stated, large, nitrogen filled, quickly grown leaves produce a diluted sweet flavor, “spread out” over the leaf. The harvested dry leaves reflect a reduced sweetness as well. Stevia grows best in cooler summer weather, after and before danger of  frost. Plant outside early spring in vegetable garden after danger of frost. Methods which allow a gardener to plant earlier, such as tunnels, hot caps, and such, are very beneficial. Pinch tips out about every 3-4 weeks for first 1-2 months. This will encourage side branching  which will create a bushier plant, that is not spindly. With the last pinching, (about 1-2 months after planting) mulch plants with bark or straw.  Water and fertilize as you would a vegetable garden. Harvest entire plant as flower buds appear.  Harvest only in the morning for highest glycoside /sugar content, whether pinching tips or entire plants. The full harvest will occur in late September or early October. Because it is a member of the “Aster” family, once flowering has begun, not a single normal leaf will be produced. Removing flower heads is not effective. Failure to harvest plants before several flowers have opened, will allow these flowers to impart a bitter/dirty flavor to the leaves.  Harvesting is done by cutting the entire plant at the base. With a rubber band, tie loose branches together and hang upside down to dry under warm, dark, drafty conditions for 2-4 days. Avoid using food dehydrators or open oven doors as this will also tend to cause a bitter flavor. “Rake” fingers through branches to remove crisp-dry leaves. Remove any small branches and grind leaves into powder using an electric coffee grinder for 25-30 seconds. Food processors are not as effective because of their slow RPMs. Store green powder in “Mason” jars, “Zip-lock” baggies etc.   Dried green stevia powder will last almost indefinitely or at least until the next harvest.

Culinary Uses:
Stevia usage is even more widespread with nearly every industrialized country now consuming a portion of the world’s Stevia crop. It is estimated that 650-700 tons of dried Stevia rebaudiana plants were used in 1981 to make Stevioside extracts.  The largest user remains Japan which began cultivating Stevia plants in hothouses in 1954. When the Japanese government banned certain artificial sweeteners due to health concerns in the late sixties, the use of Stevia as a natural alternative increased dramatically. Stevia’s usage has also increased due to the health concerns of Japanese consumers toward sucrose, related to dental caries, obesity and diabetes. By 1987, a total of 1700 metric tons of Stevia leaves were harvested to yield an estimated 190 tons of Stevioside extract. By 1988, extracts of Stevia had captured 41%, by value, of the Japanese high-potency sweetener market. Most of this material was processed through eleven major Stevia manufacturers who have collectively formed the Stevia Association of Japan.  Japanese food processors use Stevia in a wide variety of applications. The major usage is surprisingly with salty foods where Stevioside has been shown to suppress the pungency of sodium chloride. This combination is common to the Japanese diet in such foods as pickled vegetables, dried seafoods, soy sauce and miso products. It is also used in beverages, including (until recently) the Japanese version of Diet Coke. Stevia has also been used in candies and gums, baked goods and cereals, yogurt and ice cream, ciders and teas, and toothpastes and mouthwashes.

Hot Breakfast Porridge
Makes 2 large bowls or 4 smaller servings
2 cups water
1 cup quinoa flakes
  tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
12 drops stevia liquid concentrate
1 Tbs. butter or coconut oil
2 tsp. vanilla flavoring
1 tsp. flax seed oil (optional but very healthy)

Bring water to boil in a 1-quart saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add next five ingredients. Cover and reduce heat to very low. Simmer for 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly before adding vanilla flavoring and flax seed oil.

Lemon Ice Cream
tsp Stevia Extract Powder OR 1  to 2 teaspoons Green Stevia Powder
1 cup milk, skim or whole
1 cup whipping cream
cup fresh lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon lemon extract
           Combine stevia, milk, and cream in a small, deep mixing bowl. Stir to dissolve stevia. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze 1 or 2 hours until solid around the edges. Remove from freezer. Add lemon juice and extract. Beat thoroughly and replace the plastic wrap. Return to freezer. After 2 hours beat again. Freeze some more until consistency is firm but still soft enough to dip. This entire process requires about 6 hours and very little effort. For leftovers, remove from freezer about 1/2 hour before serving to allow for softening. Whip again if desired.

The amount of stevia and lemon extract can be varied according to taste. Equal amounts of lemon extract and vanilla extract can be used. In place of dairy milk use soymilk.


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