Growing and Selling Fresh-Cut Herbs
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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
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.
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.
Hot Breakfast Porridge
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
The comprehensive revised edition of Growing and Selling Fresh-Cut Herbs is available from author, most internet booksellers, bookstores, and in libraries. It can be ordered from the distributor, Independent Publishers Group.
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