In Basket: January 2012

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Photo by Fotolia/Photo SG
You can easily make your own liquid stevia sweetener from fresh stevia leaves.

Using Fresh Stevia Leaves

I use stevia as a sweetener and I have grown some myself. After drying it, I use my mortar and pestle to make it into powder. Can I use it the same way I use the type I buy? Mine is of course green, and not white like I buy in the store.

–Joyce Regan, Henderson, Nevada

The white store-bought stevia has been processed and tastes much sweeter than homegrown stevia. Your stevia will probably be healthier. There is no harm in experimenting with your dried product, especially in teas. You could also make your own liquid stevia extract by combining 1 cup warm water with 1/2 cup macerated fresh stevia leaves in a jar with a lid. Let the mixture stand for 24 hours, strain and store in the refrigerator. -Eds.

How Much is a Sprig?

I have been growing and cooking with fresh herbs for more than 50 years. However, I can’t find the answer to one simple question: How much is a sprig?

–Pam Hart, Winter Haven, Florida

That is a great question–one of those that makes you go, “Hmmm.” Here’s our best shot: a sprig is a small stem that bears leaves or flowers. There’s no uniform size for a sprig, but generally they’re in the 2- to 4-inch range. Think “twig,” with leaves or flowers still attached. If you don’t have a fresh sprig on hand, substitute 1/2 teaspoon of the dried herb. And if any readers have questions that make you go “Hmmm,” send them to and we’ll share. -Eds.

Olive Leaf Tea: Hot or Cold?

Your November 2011 article, Heal Thyself with Olive Leaf says “Steep 20 to 30 grams of dried olive leaf in 2 cups of boiling water for 20 minutes.” I lived in the Middle East for 23 years and the olive leaf was never heated. It brings out the tannins and makes it very bitter. The medicinal properties and phytochemicals can be coaxed out of crushed leaves and fresh water. No need to heat.

–Rita Salman, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

You’re right; heating makes this tea taste bitter. To get a milder tea with similar nutrient content, soak fresh or dried olive leaves in cool water for about 24 hours. If the person drinking the tea doesn’t mind the bitter taste, heat the water; steeping time is only 20 minutes. -Eds.

Growing Garlic Chives

I was surprised to read in your November 2011 article Grow a Garlic Garden that garlic chives are an annual. I’ve been growing garlic chives for years and they are a perennial.

–Betsy Wells, Charles Town, West Virginia

You’re absolutely right, and I know that from my own garden. That was a silly mistake and I thank you for your vigilance. -Kathleen Halloran

Trimming Herbs

I love growing scented herbs; if they move into the yard, the smell is fantastic. I found that when mint gets lanky and scraggly looking, sometimes mowing or cutting it very short with scissors can improve the mint and put out luscious new growth.  

–Georgia Carman, Odem, Texas

Thanks so much for writing in! We always appreciate reader tips. If you have an herbal tip that you would like to share with your fellow herbies, please email -Eds.

‘Arp’ Rosemary: A Cold-Weather Champion

In your November 2011 article Grow a Garlic Garden, you suggest growing rosemary in a pot in harsh winter climates. We grow the cold-hardy rosemary ‘Arp’ in our herb garden. It has survived temperatures below freezing in our Southern California mountain garden.

–Celia De Frank, Big Bear City, California

‘Arp’ is perhaps the hardiest of the rosemary varieties, and in a Southern California climate it most likely will survive your harshest temperatures. We encourage our readers to continue to share their gardening experiences in their regions.  -Eds.

A Creative Toe Fungus Remedy

I am an avid Herb Companion reader and have tried many ideas from your magazine. But the best of all was from your November 2011 issue: the medicinal compounds and uses of garlic. I have had toe fungus for more than two years. I’ve been to the doctor several times and they said to buy a foot fungus cream or an antibiotic. It took a long time and although it would go away for the winter, it always came back again. This summer I sprinkled garlic powder on my toe and found some relief.

–Beatrice Leon , Glasgow, Kentucky

We know garlic is effective on fungus, but we’ve never heard about using garlic powder. This is definitely a question that makes us go “Hmmm.” Readers? -Eds.

The Elusive Chocolate Basil

I came across your article about chocolate basil from the spring of last year. I have some in my garden; it’s lovely. I bought it in the spring at the Niagara College Agriculture program open house in Ontario. It wasn’t marked chocolate mint basil, it was marked chocolate basil. The tiny plant I bought had brown leaves that were rounded and they looked like basil leaves. As it’s grown, the leaves look much more minty, but the unique chocolate and basil smell is still there.

–Robin Trott, Beamsville, Ontario, Canada

By the looks of your photo, the basil in your garden is ‘Thai’ basil, most likely caused by a seedling that crossed with another basil. Now, it could have a vague “chocolately” overtone when it’s past its prime because basils, if not kept clipped and allowed to go to seed like this one, develop a deeper, more bitter fragrance and taste. But we do not believe it is the (possibly fictional) elusive chocolate basil. -Eds.

Facebook Fodder

What herbal warming drinks do you like to indulge in during cold winter months? Read more about great drinks for winter in Warm Up with Winter Drinks.


DALE DALESSIO: Oatstraw with lavender and lemon balm. Mmmmm.

MOHKA GOLD: Hot matcha green tea in coconut milk.

IRENE GARNER: Hot apple cider with mulling spices or hot chocolate with mint. Yum.

JACQUELINE RYAN BOISSONNEAU: Thyme and honey tea. Thyme is a great antibacterial, is helpful for respiratory tract infections, and tastes yummy!

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