I have a couple of plants in my garden whose location must remain a secret. Every year I have to plant them in a different secret place. If I don’t I will find kids in the garden standing there eating all the leaves, stripping them off one by one. They are way more efficient than caterpillars at defoliation! And I can tell you with great confidence – it isn’t my kale plants under attack. It’s my stevia.
I sow the seeds in early spring. I take the tiny seeds and plant them in the greenhouse where I nurture them until the risk of the last frost has safely passed us by. Then I pop them in the ground and wish them all the best as they grow with sweet goodness.
Although this year I ran into difficulty. While checking on my okra I stood on a stevia plant and snapped it off at the base. I was a little devastated, as I am whenever I lose a plant I have nurtured into life – especially when it was a clumsy accident that should have been avoided. Without a moment to lose I whipped off the lower leaves and popped them in a fruit tea, while I put the rest of the stricken plant into a jar of water and within a couple of weeks there were roots growing from the base of the broken stem. I replanted them back in the original spot and aside from being a little smaller no one would know there had ever been a stupid clumsy accident with my big foot!
The funny thing is, if the kids had known their much sort after stevia had been inside in front of their noses, for a couple of weeks while they just walked past it a million times, they would have eaten it secretly bit by bit hoping I wouldn’t notice. It made me smile each time they didn’t notice it was there.
Eventually the stevia grew big and strong with no further drama, and I decided before it started to flower I should really do something with the leaves other than sweetening my fruit teas.
I had a look on the great big internet for ideas and found you could dry it and then turn it into a powder for use, but the thought of a green powder going into sweet things didn’t seem that appealing. Then there was a way to extract the sweetness using a water solution – but it wouldn’t last long. Besides the third version seemed way more exciting. It used vodka! So this is what I did:
On a nice sunny dry day I harvested the leaves not leaf by leaf, but at the stems. If you cut it off above a leaf node, new branches will spring up from the node and you’ll end up with a bigger bushier plant.
Then I gave them a good wash as I didn’t want to invite bugs to drink my vodka. My salad spinner came in handy to make sure everything was completely dry. I removed the leaves from the stalks and roughly chopped them up.
The leaves went into a clean dry jar and were covered with vodka. Hubby the Un-Gardener thought this was a complete waste of good vodka. The jar then sat for two days with a bit of a shake every time I walked passed. Don’t be tempted to leave it any longer than that. It won’t make it any sweeter – just bitter.
After the two days are up, try very hard not to drink the green liquor, because it is very good. Well you could stop there and have a great party with stevia shots. An idea for another day I think!
Focus people! Back to the procedure – strain out the leaves so you have a clear green liquid, put it in a pot and gently heat it for about half an hour. DON’T BOIL IT. It will reduce ever so slightly in volume and some of the alcohol will evaporate away. It will still be alcoholic in the same way that vanilla essence often contains alcohol. Having tasted the raw stevia vodka Hubby the Un-Gardener now thinks this stage is a complete waste of good vodka.
The colour will become more golden and you will see what looks like dark lumps forming. This is when you know it is finished. So take it off the heat. And pour it through a filter into a bottle.
The lumps are tiny particles of the stevia that have gathered together loosely, so if you pour it through a jelly bag like I did you, will end up with a dark green liquid as the particles redistribute through the mixture. Try a coffee filter or several layers of paper towel. Then you will find the green parts caught in the paper and the liquid will be a nice golden colour.
It should go into a dark bottle, but the only one I could find had the Joeyosaurus’s hayfever medicine, but he needs that so I had to go with a clear bottle and I’ll make up for it by keeping it in a dark cupboard.
And there you have it – a nice bottle of a golden nectar from a green source with hardly any calories (well less than sugar if you include the vodka). So the big question is: What do I do with it now? Aside from putting it in my fruit tea, which I was already doing, I’m not sure what to do with it. Any suggestions will be gratefully received and tried and reported back, provided I don’t use it all up on the first idea.
Come again soon – I have an exciting weekend ahead. I can’t wait to tell you all about it.
Sarah the Gardener : o )