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Growing Stevia Sweet Herb

Stevia is considered easy to grow but it does have some basic requirements. Stevia rebaudiana is one of about 154 members of the genus Stevia. A member of the Sunflower family, stevia is a small herbaceous subtropical perennial shrub that grows to 2 maybe 3 feet tall.

Stevia grows best in cooler climates but for some strange reason it has done well for me in middle, southern Tennessee. During the growing season it supposedly thrives best at between 60 and 85 degrees. Here in our part of Tennessee, we range more in the 90’s during the average growing season.

It grows as a perennial in frost free zones but otherwise can be grown as an annual.

Stevia rebaudiana is the only member of the genus containing the sweet compounds.

When you are planning to try your luck at growing Stevia, look for plants that have been grown from cuttings with a high stevioside content. Cuttings are more reliable than seeds, so I would highly advise cuttings for the first try anyway.

Plant outside in early spring after all danger of frost has passed. It requires a minimum of 12 hours of sunlight to remain green and growing. If it doesn’t get enough light it will flower too soon. Full sun is best but not extreme hot weather (if that makes sense). I have read that filtered sun from noon to 4 p.m. is really good in the southern states. Mine is growing right smack in the middle of an open field…next year I will plan for a better location.

Sandy Loam soil with plenty of organic matter is great. A layer of mulch works after the soil heats up and stays hot. And I would certainly advise growing it in a raised bed…but then I grow everything in raised beds…just makes life for the plants and for me much better!

Be very careful when working around the plant, it is brittle and easily broken.

Stevia requires a consistently moist soil…but not waterlogged. I use a manure fertilizer worked into the soil before planting.

Above all else avoid high-nitrogen chemical fertilizers; they produce large leaves and no flavor.

Happy growing!

Bea Kunz

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The Dill of Scandinavia and Sage Hill Gardens

Anethum graveolens or Fern Leaf dill is an ancient herb. Mentions can be traced to early Egyptian writings some 5,000 years ago.

It is the most important culinary herb in Scandinavia-used much the same way as parsley in other parts of the world.

The word “dill” comes from the Old Norse word “dilla” meaning “to lull.”

In the kitchen, dill is delicious in cabbage, carrots, turnips, sauces and dips,and stews.

A light sprinkling of dill the last few seconds before serving chops, steaks, and /or fish/seafood adds a flair of excellence.

Happy growing!

Bea Kunz


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Tea Facts Worth Knowing

Infusion: Tea made from leaves, flowers and light material. Put 1-2 teaspoons of herbal tea material into a brewing utensil of your choice and place in a 6-8 oz size cup. Add lightly boiled water and allow it to steep for 3-5 minutes. For a more “medicinal” effect steep 15-30 minutes. Will keep refrigerated for 24 hours

Decoction: Tea made from bark, roots, seeds, twigs and berries. Put 1-3 tablespoons of cut herb, seed, root, bark, etc into a pot of 16-32 oz of water and allow to sit in non-boiled water for at least 5-10 minutes. Set on stove and bring to a slow boil then turn down to a simmer for 10-30 minutes. Strain and drink. Will keep about 72 hours if kept refrigerated.

Much of the research on green tea has focused on its polyphenol content. Many different kinds of polyphenols are found in green tea, and these polyphenols will become increasingly present in the tea water the longer a tea is steeped. (This principle holds true for green tea, white tea, black tea, and oolong tea.) Catechins, theaflavins, and thearubigins are among the best studied of the green tea polyphenols that are known to increase in the tea water as steeping times increase.

When you brew tea yourself, you can control this steeping process in a way that will maximize the polyphenol content of your tea. When you buy a bottled tea, however, you may or may not get a tea that has been carefully brewed. In addition, you are likely to get a tea that includes other ingredients and is not simply 100% brewed tea.

According to a 2005 study, Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University issued a report showing that many bottled teas contained polyphenol content 10 to 100 times lower than freshly and carefully brewed teas. Differences between bottled tea and freshly brewed tea were attributed to steeping process, amount of actual tea found in the bottled products, and presence of non-tea ingredients in the bottled teas, including sugar. In addition, bottled tea companies were sometimes found to use powdered rather than brewed tea in their products.

Happy cooking!

Bea Kunz

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The benefits of culinary herbs and spices are primarily due to their antioxidant, antimicrobial, and antiviral effects.

Herbs and spices should be used to enhance and balance, not over-power a foods flavor.

Emperor Charlemagne of the 9th Century wrote: “An herb is a friend of physicians and the praise of cooks.”

Of the 9 most popular herbs, 6 of them are from the Family Lamiacea – more commonly known as the Mint Family.

Those six are: Basil, Peppermint, Oregano, Rosemary, Sage, and Thyme.

Adding these 6 herbs to your daily diet will in fact be adding a large dose of good health to your life. It will also allow you to reduce salt, fat, and sugars from your foods. These three ingredients are used to give dead and bland foods taste/flavor. When you can put back or draw from the food itself, the natural flavoring, and the need for artificial additions isn’t necessary.

Fresh from your garden is of course the most beneficial method of using herbs. When this isn’t an option, the next best method is fresh dried; this is accomplished by hanging in a clean, cool, and dark place where dust and bugs do not have access. Remove from hanging as soon as they are dry and strip from the stalk, storing in glass or the proper type paper containers until ready for use. Never store in plastic, it will absorb the oils and the herbs will go stale very easily.

The finer the leaf is crushed, the quicker the oils are lost. The oils are the life of the herb.

To test your herbs for life, between your fingers, crush a small amount, if the aroma is strong and pleasant-the herbs are still good for using. If however, the aroma is slight and musty-it’s time to toss and start with fresh.

For stove-top cooking, add herbs the last 5 to 10 minutes of cooking time.

Baking does not destroy the oils as quickly as stove-top heat.

Fresh or dried can be sprinkled into foods just before serving for a very delicious and healthy addition to your dining experience.

There are no hard and fast rules when using herbs and spices……with the exception of a few, they can be crossed used.

So get creative, try different blends, find your own signature flavor and then share it with those around you.

Happy cooking!

Bea Kunz

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Brewing the Perfect Cup of Tea

One essential of brewing the perfect cup or pot of tea is to never over infuse.

Black Tea:

Bring the water to a boil, remove from the heat source, add tea, cover and steep for required time. (Five to seven minutes is good for most black tea.)

For a stronger tea-add more leaves instead of brewing a longer amount of time.

At the end of the infusion time, remove the tea leaves to avoid a bitter taste.

Always use loose leaf for a better quality – bags are usually of a lesser quality of leaf.

Always use fresh water; do not use distilled water for making tea, it is flat and the oxygen has been depleted.

Green Tea:

Green teas are not fermented during the processing, allowing the leaves to retain their natural color.

When making Green tea you should bring the water almost to a boil, but not completely. Remove from heat, let stand about two minutes then add tea leaf. Cover and steep for 3 to 5 minutes.

White Tea:

White teas are minimally processed. It is generally only air dried and slightly oxidized.

The highest quality white teas are picked just before the buds are open, while they are still covered with silky white hairs. Hence the name…

White teas should be steeped well below the boiling point for 4 to 5 minutes.

Herbal Tisanes:

Herbal Tisanes do not have black, green, or white tea leaf.

If the two are mixed they become a blend.

The English word “tisane” comes from the Greek word ptisane, a drink made from pearl barley. Tisanes can be made from dried flowers, leaves, seeds, or roots.

Do you know?

All teas originate from one bush, the Camellia sinensis. The difference in tea leaf comes about by the different methods of processing.

Tea is a natural source of amino acids.

Want your tea with less caffeine?

Caffeine is highly water soluble, so it is the first constituent of the leaf to be extracted in the steeping process. 80% or more of the tea’s caffeine content is released within the first 20 to 30 seconds of steeping. Simply discard the first steeping after 30 to 60 seconds and add fresh water and steep again.

Tea was valued for its medicinal qualities long before it became a drink of pleasure.

A few tea tips:

Tea hastens the discharge of nicotine from the body.

Hibiscus tea was favored by the Pharaohs of the ancient Nile Valley. It is known for its health properties. (Lowering blood pressure, cools the body of fever, and it contains no caffeine.)

Always store tea in glass, ceramic or paper containers, never plastic.

Happy growing!

Bea Kunz

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Bay/Sweet Bay/Laural…Lauraceae

The bay tree was sacred to Apollo, the Greek god of prophecy, poetry and healing.

baytreeThe Latin laurus means “laurel” and nobilis “renowned”; laurate means “crowned with laurels,” hence poet laureate and baccalaureate.

Bay was also dedicated to Apollo’s son, Aesculapius, the Greek god of medicine, and it has been used against disease, especially plague, for many centuries.

Bay is an evergreen and will grow to 23 feet.

Culinary uses are many, it is one of the ingredients in bouquet garni for stews, soups, stock, stuffing, pate’, and meats and fish.

Boil in milk to flavor custards and rice puddings.

You can flavor rice by placing a bay leaf into your rice jar or storage container.

NOTE: All laurels except sweet bay are poisonous.

Happy growing!

Bea Kunz

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Planning Your Herb Garden

The first thing to consider is how much time you wish to devote to your garden during the course of a day, week, or year. Maintenance is required, be it little or much.

My suggestion is to start out small and grow the size as you grow in knowledge and desire.

Selecting Your Site~

The perfect site is quiet and sunny with a protective surrounding. Healthy soil built through composting and organic/natural means will minimize insect problems, weeds, and worry of doing harm to the mother earth.

A good question to ask yourself is this: Do I want a kitchen garden close by the kitchen door – or do I want a retreat garden away from the activities of the household.

You can have both if time and space permit…otherwise you must make a choice. Either will flourish within these guidelines.

You should have spaces that offer support for climbing or top heavy plants, good drainage, some shelter from the wind, and at least 6 to 7 hours of sun a day.

Designing Your Garden~

Formal or informal…the style of your neighborhood or home may help you decide on this. It’s strictly a personal choice and you will be happiest if you follow that line of planning.

Drawing Your Plan On Paper~

Depending on the size and location, having your plan on paper will help you avoid mistakes that don’t line up with your surrounding yard and home – considerations such as driveways, decks, trees, etc., are important.

If raised beds are in your plan, the best thought with those are no more than 4 or 5 feet across. Makes for easy work and brings the view into focus quickly.

Paths are another point to consider and should always be changing direction, have a break in the flow to encourage lingering. A bench, sculpture, or a very tall herb, something rare or out of the norm will stop viewers and invite conversation.

A major point for consideration is overcrowding. While herbs are happy close in to their companions, too close will lead to an unsightly look and or extra work in transplanting.

So know the herbs you are planting, the size at maturity, and the easy and results of having to move or prune them.

Rosemary, thyme, lavender, even basil, can be manipulated to grow in different shapes or forms but, keep in mind that they all do their best when allowed to grow in their natural direction.

Theme Gardens~

When planning a large herb garden consider the idea of small theme gardens inside the larger plan. A Chinese medicinal grouping, herbs known for their aromatic favors, herbs that glow under the moonlight, and of course those that work overtime to attract bees and butterflies.

I love the idea of a Children’s Garden, a place where all the plants are pretty, are all safe to pick and eat at will, and will invite activity and also encourage a single focus.

A maze layout works very well for a garden dedicated to children.

Biblical And Literary Gardens~

Should in my opinion follow a more formal design: the Elizabethan style is perfect, with clipped knots of evergreen shrubs and a pretty stone sculpture in the center.

Note: There are no hard and fast rules with herb gardens, as long as you give them a fair amount of love and attention they will reward you with double fold delight.

Happy growing!

Bea Kunz

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Lavender Facts

Lavenders are all members of the same botanical genus: Lavandula. There are about 28 species of lavender, and each one is distinguished from one another by a different species name. For instance, Lavandula viridis, Lavandula lanata, Lavandula dentata.

lavender2The most popular lavenders fall into two basic groups. The first are all cultivars of the species Lavandula angustifolia and are often called English lavenders. Some books use the names L. vera or L. officinalis for English lavender, but both names are incorrect. The second group is made up of hybrids between the English lavenders and another species, Lavandula latifolia, and is called the lavandins (L. x intermedia).

Both of these groups have gray/green foliage, make nice low shrubs, and are hardy down to about USDA Zone 5. They prefer full sun and a well-drained soil. All are fragrant, and though the compositions of their essential oils do differ, it is difficult for most people to tell them apart by their scents.

The biggest differences between them are in their heights, flower colors, the size of the flower heads, and the time of blooms. The English lavenders tend to bloom in early summer, the lavandins in midsummer. The darkest flower colors are among the English lavenders, while the tallest plants, the longest flower stems, and the largest flower heads are among the lavandins.

The biggest killers of lavenders are root-rotting diseases, which proliferate in high humidity and wet soils. These are especially a problem for the English and lavandins. If you live in a humid area, like the Southeast, give your plants as much air circulation as possible. Don’t crowd them in because if one plant catches a disease, it can easily be transferred to the others if too close together.

Don’t use organic mulches around lavender; try pea gravel or white sand. Increase your drainage by planting in mounds or raised beds, and incorporate crushed granite, like chicken grit, into the top 12″ of the soil.

The soil should be slightly acidic. Though lavenders don’t require a lot of fertilizer, some should be added each spring. Chicken manure actually has a fungal deterring component and is especially safe to use.

The easiest lavenders to grow in hot, problem areas are the French (L. dentata), Spanish (L. stoechas), and the hybrids ‘Goodwin Creek Grey’, L. x heterophylla and L. x allardii. These are also some of the best lavenders for containers, and all but the Spanish will bloom nearly year-round if given enough warmth and sunlight.

Happy cooking!

Bea Kunz

NOTICE: You may reprint this article by giving credit back to the author and by using it as written.