Last Saturday, I encountered someone interested about stevia. He bought the growing kit with a stevia plant we are selling at the 6th International Ayurveda Convention at Shaw Mall, Mandaluyong City. A number of questions from him challenged me. I grow stevia myself from cuttings and propagating them is also quite a challenge; and with that, I felt the need to share these bits of information about stevia with the rest of you.
What is Stevia?
Stevia (Stevia Rebudiana) is a sweet-leaf, perennial herb that has originated in South America.
It is 40 times sweeter than artificial sweeteners.
Other common names:honey leaf plant, sweet chrysanthemum, sweetleaf stevia, sugarleaf…etc.
What makes Stevia sweet?
It contains several glycoside compounds. These are the stevioside, steviolbioside, rebaudiosides A-E, and dulcoside.
How the taste is like?
Stevia has a mild, bitter, licorice-flavored aftertaste.(Rodales Organic Life)
Is Stevia just a plain sweetener?
No, it has many health benefits too. While it contains no calories and carbohydrates, it also helps control blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure.
Stevia can also reduce the risk of Pancreatic cancer by 23% according to a study Source: American Journal of Epidemiology.
Stevia plant has also many sterols and antioxidant compounds like triterpenes, flavonoids, and tannins.
How Stevia is used?
You can sweeten your drinks by using fresh leaves, or dried leaves.
For fresh leaves, take a three to five leaves, wash them clean, and add them to your morning hot drinks as your natural sweetener. While first taste test for some find it slightly different with a bitter after taste, for me I like its sweet taste blended with fresh tarragon leaves on my coffee.
With dried leaves, it should be crushed finely or blended. Steep them in your hot cup of drinks or on a tea pot. You may drain the leaves to enjoy your naturally-sweetened drinks.
It can also be used in the form of an extract. I have no experience doing this yet. Maybe I can share it with you in the future once I get my hands on it.
Where to grow Stevia?
Well-drained plots or pots will do.
What soil Stevia plant needs?
It needs sandy loam soil and grows best on soil that ranges from 6.7 to 7.2 pH.
What part of Stevia to grow and how?
Stevia is grown commonly from cuttings. It can also grow from seeds.
Stevia is quite challenging to grow compared to basil and other herbs. It needs extra effort and care to grow them and to last it longer.
Here are the things to consider when growing them through cuttings:
Select the right cuttings. Stem must not be too old nor too young. The color of the stem must not be brown; best is brownish green.
Cut that part of the stem and plant at least two of them in a pot with the soil and vermicast.
Place them in a shaded area when newly planted in pots. Avoid moving them from one place to another si as not to disturb them from rooting.
If indoor, you can position it near the window or any area where there is sunlight coming in. It is ok to expose them to moderate sun two weeks after when it has already rooted. During hot summer, it favors a shady area. Water it regularly, seeing it does not dry out of moisture.
If you need to grow from seeds, you have to sow them on any seed germinating soil medium. You can sow them on seed trays or if you want it cheaper, paper cups, or egg trays will do. Place them under the shady area. Use spray when watering them. After a week or two, seeds should spring to life. Fertilize them with vermicasts; or you can also use organic inputs like Fermented Fish Amino Acid once a week to aid their growth.
Once fully grown, stevia plant can reach 16 inches to 24 inches in height depending on the soil used, the climate, and how you take care of it. Just pay attention to the branches when moving them, they are surprisingly brittle! They can break easily leaving them with few leaves. That for sure you don’t want to happen to your stevia plant!
How many stevia should we plant for a year supply of dried leaves?
It depends on how much you use and how often you use it. But more or less, 3-5 garden pots of stevia is commonly recommended.
That’s all folks for now.
On the uses of stevia, you can read it via a previous article “Vegetable Orange Salad: A Natural Medicine Recipe“
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It’s been a while since I left this blog on a hiatus that it needs a lift and so, here we are bouncing back again to life with our farm adventure.
It was already late in the afternoon when Dennis and I get into the Victory Liner bus bound to Iba, Zambales. It was a 4 – hour trip from Caloocan Bus Terminal and the moment we reached Castillejos Market, it was already dark. Kuya Mario, a therapist who was staying and learning from Mr. Esemple, fetched us.
At less than 30 minute-tricycle ride, we were already in the farm. Paving our way in the gleam of the farm house’ lights, farm dogs barked at us but stopped soon after Kuya Mario asked them to. So, we found ourselves inside the house shaking hands with Mario’s wife who would give me an excellent massage later, and Mr. Esemple’s nephew who was just a new trainee under his supervision. After our simple dinner of fried fish, they showed us the room where Dennis and I can have our night’s rest.
The next morning, Mr. Esemple who also came a night before and a few hours later than us, waste no time with his gardening routine and showed us around. As lively music filled the air around his farm and having traveled alone from Caloocan, he showed no signs of lethargy. At almost 67, Mr Esemple still tills the soil and hauls his crops. Whenever he is in the farm, he feels rejuvenated. For him, this place is a refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city life.
The gate’s sign were unnoticed the night we arrived at the farm as it was just too dark to notice it. Finally, this is it…
Something peculiar about it because the Filipino word PERA means money but Mr. Esemple told us that PERA is like his hidden treasure and it’s not all about money. The primary purpose of his farm is for relaxation and rejuvenation as it provides him positive energy, thus the name PERA which obviously stands for Positive Energy Recharging Area – a genius idea.
Related: The Unlikely Educational Farm Tour
He would always give credit to his Creator for whatever he has in his farm and his family as he quipped, “Health is Wealth”; and when we also once asked him if he doesn’t grow tired every time he travels back and forth from Caloocan to Zambales, his quick answer was, “Ah kay God, hindi ka malo-lowbatt!” (“With God You can never be low batt’ or “With God, you won’t run out of energy”).
Around the Farm
Moving around the farm, Mr. Esemple showed us his herbal garden. He introduced to us his several medicinal plants and their health benefits. I saw cat’s whiskers, potted Gotu kola (Centella asiatica), and Serpentina among others.
I spotted a lush growing Holy Basil also flowering in his mini forest garden. This herb can cure many ailments and in India it is sacred and is considered as an elixir of life.
Mr. Esemple surprised me when he asked me to cook a veggie dish and he said that it’s really good if we can have at least ten varieties of vegetables picked right from his food farm. I said okay but was nervous. When was the last time I cooked veggies of several varieties? I couldn’t remember any. No choice but to try and off we go for a day’s harvest. He handed me a pair of scissors and a huge and round blue plastic food cover to place all our day’s pickings.
I started my way with Jango and siling labuyo, picked some eggplants, chives, talinum, sweet potatoe tops, white corn, upland kangkong, ampalaya, malunggay, saluyot, and lemon grass.
Here’s some of our harvest tucked inside this deep stainless basin. I have had a picking spree of the veggies I could find around the farm and it totalled to more than ten varieties!
These veggies were to go with some mushrooms, and some fresh fish from a nearby market we went to that morning after the lecture with the man of the farm.
Here’s the final verdict. The vegetables and its soup tasted good without any seasonings of some sort. Mushrooms and glutinous corn kernels did the trick for this fresh and nutritious mixed veggie dish. This is commonly known as “Laswa” – a simple Visayan dish without the corn and lemon grass. Thanks to Mario’s wife who did most of the preparation and the cooking.
Learning More about Organic Farming with Mr. Esemple
We also have a quick overview of What Organic Agriculture is all about, the Organic farming practices, the components of an organic farm, and about the nature and varieties of seeds and how to sow them.
There’s one thing I am not sure of when he asked our opinion about peanuts whether it is a fruit or a root crop. Thinking that root crops are always an underground specie, I thought it as a root crop. I was wrong. It’s a fruit and I got to believe him, he is an Agronomist after all. Another new thing for me is about how the corn flowers pollinate the corn’s ears and how are they different from other flowers.
Farming with Vermi
After a short lecture and some hands on demo about some plants, Mr. Esemple showed us his vermi plots and the lecture continued with some fun. We learned from him that he was the first to spearhead Negros Nine Foundation’s Farm on Vermiculture in year 80’s.
He showed us how to sieve the vermicastings once it’s ready. Another tip to start a vermiculture project is to get all your feeds or what we call substrates ready for composting, that way, you can ensure enough food for the worms otherwise, worms will escape leaving your vermi bed empty.
After spending a night and a day at Mr. Esemple’s farm, we felt like not leaving the place for its fresh air, the relaxing atmosphere and the refreshing scenery of the mountains seen not far from the farm’s back door. What also seemed not enough for me, as I considered him as a think-tank of farming info, was the knowledge that he would be more than willing to impart to us had we not need to go back to our own turf back in the city.
I said this because there’s a lot more to learn from him like how to plant crops like corn that would provide your family with food the whole year round. The actual exposure in doing the relay and staggering method in planting corn is what I’d been looking forward to try later on. I am grateful though we learned new things about farming practices and that inspired me again to grow my own food whenever and wherever possible.
We left the place in the afternoon and it seemed our stay was not enough to explore more around the farm with Mr. Esemple who never had a dull moment to be with and to learn from.
Related: Q&A with Gil Carandang
Get a chance to learn from Mr. Esemple during the Grow Your Own Food Seminar on December 5, 2015, Saturday. Please click the image below for details. We hope to see you there. Thank you!
Wondered why its called Dinimonyohang Santol?
Gigi Morris brought this spicy hot dish at the Chilli Heads Fest in Quezon City early this month. While Bobby, Gigi’s son, named it “Devil Santol” ( a mock of another family recipe called Deviled Egg); one of the member of the Chili Heads Philippines coined it “Dinimonyohang Santol”. It was just a part of the fun and sometimes, chili is also called “demonyo” by some of the chili lovers.
This recipe is famous in the Bicol region and chili is one of the ingredients which make the dish appetizing.
Gigi said: ”It was the “devilish hot” version of our otherwise zesty and spicy santol. That dish is so popular – last week alone, we served them at 4 different events and they are always the bestseller!
I am not a chef – my background is product development in fashion design. Now that I am a farm owner – that has been my approach in cooking. What is available? Then create something. The santol though has been a family recipe – being from Bicol, as long as there is coconut milk. It is so abundant at this time of the year – so why not use it up?”
In remembrance of her brother Vannie, who would cook this Bicolano dish for their family when he was still alive, she included the recipe in their cookbook, “What Happens When the Farmers Meet the Chefs.”
Here is the recipe:
Ginataang Santol (A.K.A. Devil Santol or Dinimonyohang Santol) with Pork
1 kilo santol
1/2 kilo pork; cut into small cubes
2 cups coconut milk ( second extract)
1 cup coconut milk (1st extract or kakang gata)
1 medium onion; peeled and sliced
1 cup green djanggo sili; sliced diagonally
Salt and pepper
3 cloves of garlic; minced