Stevia

*from an email i sent to my co-worker today. Thought I’d share the information since it may be useful to some folks. Note that Stevia is a powerful calorie free 100% natural sweetner that is starting to make an appearance on the american market as an alternative sweetner. It’s been used as a sweetner in europe for some time, but the FDA has held up it’s use/approval in the food supply for the US for 50+ years for a myriad of reasons I don’t understand*

Herbal medicine is part of my zombie apocalypse survival plan as is home brewing. When the world’s days are numbered and we’re all living in small conclaves to avoid the roaming hordes of zombies you keep the guy who knows how to make the beer and the medicine (or the medicinal beer) safe at all costs.

I have my bigger plants in 2 gallon black buckets from the dollar store with holes punched in the bottom for drainage. That’s plenty of room for most office plants. My Ivy is currently attempting to take over my office.

I have a bit of a green thumb, but I have to confess Stevia is a new plant for me so I’m still on the learning curve. In fact, I’ve recently discovered a few things relevant to those cuttings. It seems the plant has an annual life cycle such that once it blooms/flowers it seems that it will never again (at least not without serious coaxing) go into vegetative growth mode again. That means that while the cuttings will probably survive indefinitely if watered they’ll likely never fully take root like they should or go back to a vigorous growth mode. The plant is programmed for 1 annual cycle.

The good news is those blossoms give off tons of little puffy floaters with seeds. If you put the seeds on a shelf to mature for 2-3 months you should be able to grow fresh stevia plants. (you have to wait a few months for the seeds to mature / be viable. )

Here’s a great link on the basis of preserving herbs: http://www.wikihow.com/Preserve-Herbs

Decoction:
Instead of drying you might also make a decoction so that you could basically liquefy the sweet elements in the plant so that it’s convenient to use in the kitchen or for drinks.

The dried form of stevia isn’t as sweet as the fresh leaf so another alternate preparation you can use is a decoction. That involves stripping the leaves (where the sweet substance is produced in stevia) and submersing the leaves in gently simmering water. You want just enough water to cover the plant, as little as possible. The temperature should be as low as possible while still maintaining a simmer. The heat and simmering action will dissolve the oils/chemicals in the plant into the water. Simmer the leaves for about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. After 15-20 minutes remove the leaves via a strainer and test the liquid for sweetness. If it does not seem almost overpoweringly sweet then continue to simmer the liquid gently to reduce/concentrate the liquid. When you reach the desired concentration allow it to cool and put the liquid in some kind of easily portable dispenser so that you can use it as a convenient liquid sweetner for drinks, etc.

I would keep the decoction in the fridge door when not in use just to inhibit any bacterial or fungal growth since to my knowledge stevia isn’t anti-bacterial or anti-fungal. The fridge door should be cool enough to retard growth but cool enough to keep from damaging/turning off any chemical elements in the decoction.

If you want pick up a living plant you might check out Maas Nursery (http://www.maasnursery.com/). It’s a HUGE nursery down in seabrook (I mean huge). They’re the only people I’ve ever seen around town with the live plants.

Watering/Hydration:
Something else I’ve learned about stevia is that it’s a water hog. I have a hard time keeping it watered, especially over a weekend. To help out with that I picked up some clay hydrospikes on amazon.com. They slowly leech water into the soil when it gets too dry. I prefer these over the kind of spikes with bulbs because you can put the hose for the spike in any size reservoir. You should still water the plants as you normally would but if you have to be away for a day or two the spike will give the plant enough water to make it until you can resume normal watering cycles. It just won’t give enough water for vigorous growth. I’ve read reviews on those spikes where folks have left their plants for months at a time hooked to large water tanks and come home to a perfectly healthy plant.

Hydrospikes: http://www.amazon.com/Hydrospike-Hs-300-Worry-free-Automatic-Watering/dp/B002558KJQ/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=home-garden&qid=1270482453&sr=8-2

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