It's Faux, Faux, Sweet!

This innocent looking little stevia plant is like the Arabian story about the camel. First, the camel puts his nose under the tent and no one notices because it's so small. Then he places just one foot under the tent and no one notices, still. Then he puts in his shoulder. Everyone is used to seeing the leg, so no one in the tent pays any attention to the shoulder. Then it's an entire half of the camel and eventually, over time, the entire camel has made its way into the tent. Stevia's like that, it has worked its way into our lives over a couple of decades, very quietly.

Stevia, originally from South America, has been around in people's gardens for a long time. I've grown it for 15 years or more, mostly out of curiosity. There were stories circulating about stevia being used to treat hypoglycemia. According to the story, the only legitimate way to get stevia extract for many years was in the form of a face plaster from France. It came in 2 parts, special clay, and a vial of stevia extract. Those who used it said they bought the facial pack from the pharmacy, threw away the clay and used drops of the stevia which seemed to help with the hypoglycemia. Government regulators did not recognize stevia as a sugar substitute. But this year Coca Cola introduced a new extract, Truvia, which is going into their beverages as an "herbal supplement." And with all the publicity, everyone is wanting to grow their own stevia this year.

It's easy to grow in any ordinary garden soil. You simply dry the leaves and crumble them up in things you want sweet. In this form it's not good in cooking, only in foods that have already been cooked. So far, I'm not much impressed with the flavor but I'm still experimenting with it. I like it much better fresh rather than dried.

Taylor Miller, the blogger guru at Ogden Publishing, has gnomes in his pockets. Probably gnomes on his walls and a few loitering around in his garden, too. He posted a photo this week of a group of people, including him and President Obama. His posting told of an interview he conducted with one of the reporters who was at the groundbreaking ceremony of the new vegetable and herb garden at the White House, was quite interesting. I suggested we drive up to D.C. and make a presentation of (1) a gnome for the new Presidential household garden (which I have tentatively dubbed, "Gene-Gnome") and, (2) a lifetime subscription to The Herb Companion magazine, which is where Taylor's blog resides. Most months you'll find my Down to Earth column in the magazine but since I wrote the article on Mints this issue, I'm left missing in the columns dept. But check out Taylor's blog on The Herb Companion website. Here's a picture of Gene-Gnome, too.

The campaign to establish a real garden at the White House was conducted by a wide variety of plant organizations with letter writing, email sign-ups, petitions and more. Once people learned that Mrs. Obama actually cared where her food came from and that she supports locally grown food as opposed to imported food that costs more to ship than it pays the farmer to grow. Lots of us gardener types got really excited about the possibility of a First Family in the White House who pays attention to real food.

Chef Alice Waters, the sometimes outspoken and often controversial California foods activist and owner of Chez Panisse restaurant has been a supporter of the Slow Food movement worldwide and internationally known for her projects to put healthy food in schools, made a big push to the First Family for the placement of a garden, as well. (Alice and I were both among the delegates to the first International Slow Foods Conference in Turin, Italy, in 2004). And why shouldn't there be a vegetable garden at the White House. Historically there was, a long time ago. And during the World Wars, Victory Gardens thrived there.

Last summer, when salmonella scares on lettuce, spinach and jalapeno peppers made us all aware of how important protecting our food safety has become. Having had a kidney transplant just 3 years ago, I'm very aware of the food I eat and how important it is for the food to be safe and healthy. You could call it homeland security, with a small "H," or simply call it eating healthy food you've grown yourself, but the bottom line is, this new family in the White House will have food on their table that was plucked from the soil just hours before, rather than food that's full of preservatives and possibly harvested halfway around the globe, days, even weeks, before.

You can read the details about getting tickets to tour the new garden here and go see for yourself. Happy gardening!

Here are some National Food Holidays coming up in case you need something to celebrate: March 31 - National Clams on the Half Shell Day (now there's a reasonably interesting way to get sick!); April 2, National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day (I guess it could be re-named, "Salmonella & Jelly Day"...ok, that's not actually fair), National Egg Salad Week, April 12-18 (Josh's mother celebrated early this year and made egg salad sandwiches for our picnic in the woods yesterday), and last, for April is National Pretzel Day on April 26. You can find more odd and unusual food holidays to celebrate if you look under "my favorite blogs" list to the right and click on Bizarre Food Holidays.

And another bit of news in case you missed it:
Buying organic may be hazardous to your health!

TULSA, Okla. — One of the most deadly spiders in the world has been found in the produce section of a Tulsa grocery store. An employee of Whole Foods Market found the Brazilian Wandering Spider Sunday in bananas from Honduras and managed to catch it in a container.

The spider was given to University of Tulsa Animal Facilities director Terry Childs who said this type of spider kills more people than any other.Childs said a bite will kill a person in about 25 minutes and while there is an antidote he doesn't know of any in the Tulsa area. Spiders often are found in imported produce, and a manager at Whole Foods says the store regularly checks its goods and that's how the spider was found. Won't that make you think twice the next time you grab a bunch of bananas for the shopping cart!


Amy Jeanroy said...

What a great post, Jim. I have been using Stevia for years. It really needs to be used by the drop though. If you like it fresh better, make your own tea and let it cool. Then use by the drop. Good stuff.

I was also pleased that the white house is planning a pretty nice herb garden. Other than planting the dill next to the carrots, I thought they picked some nice choices. Nothing too fancy, just useful stuff.

Love your writing! I am an avid fan and subscriber to THC too.



Grumpy Gardener (Steve) said...

Hi Jim,

I've know about Stevia for some years now, but only as a niche plant. Then I saw it for sale in a Wal-Mart. If that doesn't signify mainstream acceptance, I don't know what does. Plus, it has a really cool name.

Daffodil Planter said...

Stevia, shmevia--I'm all about that garden gnome for the White House ;-)

A new reader and glad to be here.