Unusual Vegetable Plants

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Aloe Vera
Angelica
Artemesia
Asparagus
Asparagus Pea
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Bay Tree
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Oca
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Stevia
Sweet Peppers
Sweet Corn
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Tea
Tobacco
Tomatillo
Tree Onions
Verbena
Vine Leaves
Wasabi
Water Cress
Welsh Onion
Winter Savory
Yacon
Yams         

 

 

Stevia Rebaudiana

The tender subtropical perennial called Stevia Rebaudiana is a native of South America and likes to grow in acid soils at the edge of marshes or streams. Having said that it does not like itís feet standing in water, so it is best grown in raised beds that can be mulched to retain water and where irrigation can be controlled easily.

Unfortunately being a sub tropical plant, a drop in temperature that only approaches freezing, is likely to kill it, so it may be best to treat plants as Annuals. Alternatively plants can be grown in tubs/troughs so that they can be brought in for Winter. The main problem with growing Stevia in tubs is the difficulty in keeping them moist enough, but it will help to keep them out of strong sun and away from a hot wall that will reflective the heat.

There are several varieties of Stevia, but only one sweet one and seeds are rarely available, so you may have to buy young plants from a specialist grower or even mail order. Plants are brittle and dry out quickly so keep them moist at all times and it may be advisable to plant them under a small cloche or large upturned plastic pop bottle to keep the air round them humid until they settle in. Even then it may be a good idea to install a trickle irrigation pipe for constant watering.

Brittle stems mean that Stevia plants should not only be planted out of direct sun, but also in a spot free from any winds. Constant pinching out of the tips when plants are small will encourage them to be more bushy and a little sturdier. If these tips are big enough it is a good idea to root a few as Stevia cuttings root fairly easily. Indeed cuttings can be taken from over wintered plants in early Spring as new growth appears, before they are put outside, so that old plants can be replaced in much the same way as you might take Chrysanthemum cuttings.

Generally unpopular with insects, plants have few pest problems, but the high moisture levels that need to be maintained can cause various fungal problems if preventative steps are not taken.

Leaves can be picked from plants and used at the rate of one per pot of tea as a sweetener, or they can be dried. The compound in the leaves called Stevioside, is a powerful natural sweetener that is far stronger than sugar, but virtually calorie free. The abundance of this compound is greatest just before the plants come into flower in late Summer. Properly dried the leaves will stay green, crumbly and useable in sealed jars for many years. Dried leaves can be powdered and used as a sweetener in many ways in food preparation.

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