Monday, 23 February 2015

Stevia and Oysterleaf

After my chillies, peppers, aubergines and leeks, next on the list to sow this month were two unusual leaf crops; stevia and oysterleaf.

Stevia (stevia rebaudiana) is an extremely sweet-tasting leaf that can be used as a natural sweetener, 150 times sweeter than sugar. I was given some seeds last year but failed to get any to germinate - but ended up buying a small plant at a nursery later on in the summer. It didn't get very big and I didn't harvest more than a few leaves from it, but after its tiny white flowers faded I made sure to save some seeds for another attempt this year.

(Whole stevia leaf isn't approved by the Food Standards Agency as a food for human consumption - even though it's been eaten for centuries in South America and in Asia since the seventies - so it can't be marketed as food in its natural form. You can buy approved stevia extracts (you might have noticed the new Coca Cola 'Life' is part sweetened with a stevia derivative) but watch out for their purity. Truvia, the 'big brand' option marketed as a natural stevia-derived sweetener, has as its main component erythritol, a sugar alcohol similar to sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol, which is fermented from dextrose, a sugar made from corn.)

I haven't managed to find much out about how to sow the seeds, except that it's tricky and they need a lot of light. The seeds are very tiny, so I have sown some under a light sprinkling of soil and some on the surface. It's very easy for surface-sown seeds to dry out, so I've put the whole pot in a plastic bag to retain moisture, and I'm keeping them on a bright windowsill and crossing my fingers... If I have any success, I hope to experiment more with my harvest this year and find some good ways to use it! I'll also try to overwinter a plant (like I should have done last year!) to avoid the tricky germination game next year - I think they grow as perennials in warmer climates...

Oysterleaf (mertensia maritima) or 'sea bluebells' is another edible leaf crop, with round, blueish, fleshy leaves supposed to taste like - you guessed it - oysters. It's not to be confused with salsify - a root crop sometimes known as oysterplant! It's a perennial (you know I'm a sucker for perennial edibles!) and it has really pretty edible purple and blue flowers, similar to borage - it's in the same family. Again, I was given some seeds last year but failed to grow them successfully (I think a snail got them!) so it's round two this year, with seeds purchased from Pennard Plants. There were only five seeds in the pack, so again I'm having to be careful with them! The seeds are relatively big so I've sown them a few millimetres deep and I'm keeping a close eye on them to make sure they don't dry out. They're not going in a plastic bag, as they grow wild in the Hebrides so I don't think they want to be too warm. But I will be keeping them safely indoors, away from snails, this time! (Until they're bigger, anyway.)

In other seedy news, I've also now sown some stock and snapdragon seeds for my new flower patch, and my first aubergine seedlings popped up on Thursday, just five days after sowing, closely followed by the chillies and the leeks after seven days. It's all go!

1 comment:

Megan said...

I found your blog when looking for other people growing Stevia in the UK - have you had luck in germinating the seeds? I need to get mine into a propagator ASAP.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...