Stevia – sweet as

Stevia (Stevia rebaudia) is a great addition to any Northland garden. Although the plant is of tropical South American origins, it grows well here. It is a perennial that dies back in Winter, but in my garden, regrows every spring. The plants can handle some frost, so most Northland sites are okay. In these situations the website recommends recommends cutting the plants back to 100mm of stem to set them up for next season’s growth.

bee on stevia
Bees love the white flowers that appear in mid-Autumn.

Health benefits

Refined white stevioside, extracted from leaves is hundreds of times sweeter than sugar. The leaves contain about 10% stevioside. This level intensifies as the growing season progresses.

Remarkably, stevia not only is free from the downsides of sugar, it can also remediate some of the problems associated with sugar. This page from the Greenmedinfo website references studies that reveal the efficacy of stevia in treating type 1 and 2 diabetes, hypertension and other health issues. One study identifies anti-inflammatory and antitumor properties.

This article, advises that green leaf stevia is the best option. As products become more processed, there is more potential to reduce benefits, or to generate harm. The author ranks stevia as his third preference as a sweetener after raw honey and dates. There are some cautions about side effects from using stevia.

Eating stevia

I use stevia in smoothies and salads. As I forage around the garden for salad ingredients, stevia is a favourite choice. The leaves have a slightly bitter after-taste when consumed alone, but in a salad they provide a sweet burst of flavour that really compliments the bitter flavours from salad greens.
This video explains the harvesting and drying process.

Food for Thought

Rita Shelley

I grew up in the most urban of environments. We didn’t have land. We didn’t grow things. Most of my life I couldn’t understand the pleasure in gardening. Recently, I’ve begun to change. I got there through food. You see, my partner and I love to eat and we are enthusiastic cooks. I guess It finally dawned on me that, for me, gardening is about growing food in our lush Northland soil and climate.
This year I bravely planted seeds (rather than purchased seedlings) for the first time. Some seeds were commercial. Others I got from the Heritage Food Crops Research Trust in Whanganui. I heard their research director, Mark Christensen, on radio and contacted him. They work with heirloom seeds that produce highly nutritious plants. I especially enjoyed Janet Bradbury’s delightful children’s book created for the Research Trust, Jessica and the Golden Orb. It’s about growing golden tomatoes and is available as a free download. The book advised planting borage near your tomatoes to attract bees. They pollinate both the borage and the tomatoes. I found borage at Northland Plants in the Whangarei Grower’s Market and now watch bees buzzing from one borage plant to the next. When the basil seeds in the garden didn’t sprout (I don’t think I gave them enough water) I planted basil intended for eating. The roots were still attached and the basil thrives near the tomatoes.

ritas tomatoes
In addition to tomatoes and a few beans. I am also growing parsley, basil and chives in pots from seed. What surprises me is my intense emotional involvement with these plants. People describe me as reserved. OK, I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve.
But it seems I do wear my heart on my garden gloves. Before my seeds sprouted, I checked them many times a day (yes I really do have a life!) When some of the tomato plants got blight after heavy rains I leapt onto the internet to find a natural cure, exactly as I would do if my partner took ill. I’ve done some serious surgery and several rounds of spraying with a baking soda mixture to save them. Perhaps my feelings will level out as I lose my novice status. Right now, it’s a tumultuous ride. My fondest hope is that the tomatoes that are on the healthy vines will ripen into golden orbs. Who’d have guessed back in my youth in the concrete jungle?