Catnip memories and slow-cooked stevia

When my husband and I were first married, he was working at the family pet store. Along with many other pet products (they didn’t sell actual pets) they sold dried catnip that they prepared and packaged themselves.

I remember going out into that hot field to pick the knee-high catnip plants. We would pick the long stems in bunches, and load the car with them before taking them back to the store. We hung them from the ceiling for a few months until they were dry, and then removed the stems and crushed the leaves. The fine, green-brown powder was then put into small zip-lock bags, or tied into fleece knots. They always sold well.

I remember the smell of that catnip as if it were yesterday. It was always a strange, musty sort of smell that I found neither offensive nor particularly appealing. My cat, on the other hand, had a much different opinion. On the days when I helped with the dried catnip, Kasee was always very excited to welcome me home. She would nuzzle me and cuddle with me and generally fawn all over me for hours. It was out of character for a cat, I suppose, but I didn’t complain.

Today I was crushing up dried herbs again, but this time it wasn’t catnip for the store. I grew stevia this summer, an herb that is being used these days as a natural sweetener. Although I had no success growing it from seed, I did find a few plants at a local nursery this spring. They were very happy in my front vegetable beds and grew tall and strong all summer.

Some internet research told me that stevia is harvested and used much like catnip. I cut it just before it flowered and hung it to dry. Today I took it down and stripped the leaves from the stems. As I did that, however, I noticed that some of the leaves weren’t quite dry enough. I have spread them on a baking sheet and put them in a barely warm over tonight, with the hope that they will soon be crispy.

I confess that drying my stevia in the oven makes me a little nervous. It would be awful to see my summer experiment go to waste. I have a sweet tooth, too, and am looking forward to a calorie-free way to indulge.

I am being very careful however, and patient enough not to turn the heat up too high. Soon I will have nicely dried stevia in a jar, ready to enjoy. A friend told me it’s really great tossed into the tea pot, and I’m going to try it with my morning favourite, earl gray. Or maybe green tea. Vanilla nut will probably be good, too…

Mind you, I don’t expect that my stevia will make everyone want to cuddle with me the way my cat did when I came home smelling like catnip. Given that many of my garden visitors were interested in it while it was growing, however, a few might be keen to taste how it turned out. Hopefully, my herbal experiment will result not just in some guilt-free sweetener for me, but also in a few extra cups of tea with people whose company I enjoy.

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