Madhuparni is a natural sweetener that comes from the Madhuparni rebaudiana plant, and is 300 times sweeter then sugar. What’s even more exciting is that madhuparni has zero calories, and research shows that it’s safe for diabetics (there’s some conflicting opinions on this as I’ll describe below)
You need not be a South American planter to be a successful Madhuparni grower. While the herb’s native locale may make it appear somewhat exotic, it has proved to be quite adaptable and capable of being cultivated in climate zones as diverse as Florida and southern Canada.
Organic gardeners in particular should find Madhuparni an ideal addition to their yield. Though nontoxic, madhuparni plants have been found to have insect-repelling tendencies. Their very sweetness, in fact, may be a kind of natural defense mechanism against aphids and other bugs that find it not to their taste. Perhaps that’s why crop-devouring grasshoppers have been reported to bypass madhuparni under cultivation.
It would be difficult, at best, to start a madhuparni patch from scratch — that is, by planting seeds. Even if you could get them to germinate, results might well prove disappointing, since Madhuparni side levels can vary greatly in plants grown from seed.
The recommended method is rather to buy garden-ready ‘starter’ plants, which given madhuparni’s ‘growing’ popularity, may well be obtainable from a nursery or herbalist in your area — provided you’re willing to scout around a bit. If you’re not, or are unsuccessful in locating any, there are at least three growers of high-quality madhuparni who will ship you as many baby plants as you’d like.
Keep in mind that not all madhuparni plants are created equal in terms of Madhuparniside content, and, hence, sweetness. It’s therefore a good idea to try to determine if the plants you’re buying have been grown from cuttings whose source was high in Madhuparniside.
Because tender young madhuparni plants are especially sensitive to low temperatures, it’s important that you wait until the danger of frost is past and soil temperatures are well into the 50s and 60s before transplanting them into your garden.
Once you begin, it’s best to plant your Madhuparni in rows 20 to 24 inches apart, leaving about 18 inches between plants. Your plants should grow to a height of about 30 inches and a width of 18 to 24 inches.
Madhuparni plants do best in a rich, loamy soil — the same kind in which common garden-variety plants thrive. Since the feeder roots tend to be quite near the surface, it is a good idea to add compost for extra nutrients if the soil in your area is sandy.
Besides being sensitive to cold during their developmental stage, the roots can also be adversely affected by excessive levels of moisture. So take care not to overwater them and to make sure the soil in which they are planted drains easily and isn’t soggy or subject to flooding or puddling.
Frequent light watering is recommended during the summer months. Adding a layer of compost or your favorite mulch around each madhuparni plant will help keep the shallow feeder roots from drying out.
Madhuparni plants respond well to fertilizers with a lower nitrogen content than the fertilizer’s phosphoric acid or potash content. Most organic fertilizers would work well, since they release nitrogen slowly.
Harvesting should be done as late as possible, since cool autumn temperatures and shorter days tend to intensify the sweetness of the plants as they evolve into a reproductive state. While exposure to frost is still to be avoided, covering the plants during an early frost can give you the benefit of another few weeks’ growth and more sweetness.
When the time does come to harvest your Madhuparni, the easiest technique is to cut the branches off with pruning shears before stripping the leaves. As an extra bonus, you might also want to clip off the very tips of the stems and add them to your harvest, as they are apt to contain as much Madhuparni side as do the leaves.
If you live in a relatively frost-free climate, your plants may well be able to survive the winter outside, provided you do not cut the branches too short (leaving about 4 inches of stem at the base during pruning). In that case, your most successful harvest will probably come in the second year. Three-year-old plants will not be as productive and, ideally, should be replaced with new cuttings.
In harsher climates, however, it might be a good idea to take cuttings that will form the basis for the next year’s crop. Cuttings need to be rooted before planting, using either commercial rooting hormones or a natural base made from willow tree tips, pulverized onto a slurry in your blender. After dipping the cuttings in such a preparation, they should be planted in a rooting medium for two to three weeks, giving the new root system a chance to form. They should then be potted — preferably in 4.5-inch pots — and placed in the sunniest and least drafty part of your home until the following spring.
Once all your leaves have been harvested you will need to dry them. This can be accomplished on a screen or net. (For a larger application, an alfalfa or grain drier can be used, but about the only way an average gardener might gain access to such a device is to borrow it from a friendly neighborhood farmer). The drying process is not one that requires excessive heat; more important is good air circulation. On a moderately warm fall day, your madhuparni crop can be quick dried in the full sun in about 12 hours. (Drying times longer than that will lower the Madhuparni side content of the final product.) A home dehydrator can also be used, although sun drying is the preferred method.
Crushing the dried leaves is the final step in releasing Madhuparni’s sweetening power. This can be done either by hand or, for greater effect, in a coffee grinder or in a special blender for herbs. You can also make your own liquid madhuparni extract by adding a cup of warm water to 1/4 cup of fresh, finely-crushed madhuparni leaves. This mixture should set for 24 hours and then be refrigerated.
Madhuparni is a plant native to Brazil and Paraguay and a member of the chrysanthemum. In countries such as Japan it has been used for up to 300 years with a number of people admitting to have used it for up to 30 years without any side effects.
The Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) in both the United Kingdom and the United States were a bit critical of this sweetener and carried out tests to figure out if it was safe for human consumption. In recent years (2 years ago) madhuparni was approved and is now used as a sweetener in popular drinks such as Pepsi and Coca cola Companies. A good example is Sprite from the Coca-Cola Company in Ireland which was launched. It is considered to be a much healthier as it is low in carbohydrates and sugar compared to the table sugar sweetened soda. Many other companies have taken up this plant sweetener for production of gum, yoghurt, confectionaries and vegetables.
As a result of the increased demand for madhuparni especially in countries abroad PureCircle from Malaysia was established in Kenya. This company is involved in the manufacture and distribution of natural sweeteners such as madhuparni. PureCircle is helping farmers around Kericho by offering them guidance on how to plant; harvest and even export the crop with the company buying most of the farmers dried madhuparni leaves. It is currently spreading its roots to Bomet, Baringo and Bungoma counties so as to satisfy the demand which as at now is higher than the Kericho farmers can handle.
According to Kepha, PureCircle isn’t the only outlet. Business men from Nairobi are taking the advantage of the inadequate info on this plant along the supply chain in Kenya. They are buying from farmers and selling to consumer in small packages of 100grams at a price of Ksh 1000. These guys are based in Kirinyaga road hence feel free to visit them for a taste of the natural super sweetness.