3 Herbs Sweeter Than Sugar

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While cravings for sweet-tasting treats are an almost universal human experience, sugar and some sugar substitutes have long been known to wreak havoc on the human body. While moderation is clearly the best policy when it comes to all kinds of sweets, there are also some sweet herbs whose flavor can be enjoyed in place of refined sugar.

Aztec Sweet Herb (Phyla dulcis syn. Lippia dulcis)

The intense sweet flavor in the leaves and flower buds of this Central and South American native plant (pictured above)—called Tzonpelic xihuitl by the Aztecs—is a compound that reportedly tastes about 1,000 times as sweet as refined sugar. A single leaf or flower can give a satisfying sweetness to a cup of tea and has the added bonus of not causing tooth decay. The plant is sold under a variety of common names, one being “mayan mint”—though it is not truly a mint, but rather, a member of the verbena family. It can be grown outdoors in the summer and as an attractive vining houseplant in winter.

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Red bananas are a variety of banana with reddish-purple skin. They are smaller and plumper than the common Cavendish banana. When ripe, raw red bananas have a flesh that is cream to light pink in color. They are also softer and sweeter than the yellow Cavendish varieties, with a slight raspberry flavor. Many red bananas are imported from producers in Asia and South America. They are a favorite in Central America but are sold throughout the world. via

Nashi Pear (Pyrus pyrifolia)

Because of the conditions in my yard, I am always on the lookout for flood-tolerant plants. In terms of fruit-producing trees, pears are among the best at dealing with perpetually wet, or clay-heavy conditions. These well-adapted species involve the least amount of work in terms of building up berms or hügelkultur mounds prior to planting: I can just plant them on the regular grade without worrying.

I have four cultivars of the European Pear (Pyrus communis) growing, including “Clapps’s Favouriteon an espalier, and a number of seed- and cutting-grown local species. The European Pear is what most people think of when they hear “pear-shaped”: it is archetypically thinner near the stem, with a bulbous end.

The Asian Pear, however, is pleasantly round, larger, and generally more juicy than it’s European cousin. It is normally left to ripen on the tree, and has a sweet flavour that is between an apple and a European pear. Asian Pears are hardy in USDA zones 5-9.

As mentioned in my post about cross-pollination, pears can cross-pollinate not only between Pyrus species, but with quince, and sometimes apples as well. Indeed – though they are self-fertile – Asian pears produce larger and more vigorous fruit when cross-pollinated by a compatible species. The resulting seeds can be hybridised, and result in interesting new offspring.

Asian Pears can also be grafted with quince in order to dwarf the resulting tree, or coax it into a pyramidal shape. I have been contemplating grafting my living quince fence with apples (with crabapple interstock for compatibility), as well as pears, in order to make a “fruit salad fence.”

I ordered an Asian Pear sapling from the UK today after selling some of my quince, so I am looking forward to adding this new fruit species to the Forest Garden!

#pyrus (pears) #fruit trees #forest gardening #edible landscaping #Eastern Asia