Before volunteering at Runa, the closest I ever came to gardening was at age nine, when I wanted a sunflower in my backyard. I don’t remember any details of how I planted the seed or if I watered it diligently, but I can write with certainty that no sunflower, nor even the beginnings of one, sprouted. But now, eleven years after my sunflower failure, the gardener inside me has reawakened: I want to grow guayusa. Fortunately for Runa and my self-esteem, there is already guayusa in the backyard of the Archidona office. My curiosity about the growing process persisted, however, so one of the Runa field technicians, Pedro, gave me the lowdown on how to grow our favorite tea.
From an existing guayusa tree, either collect branches that are not too hard but also not too tender, or gather young guayusa trees from around the base of a mature tree, since a characteristic of the guayusa tree is new trees sprout at its base. The cuttings we’ve collected look like sticks and are appropriately called “estacas” in Spanish. Basically, they’re little trees with no roots.
There are three preliminary stages a guayusa leaf goes through before reaching maturity.
- A few inches of the cutting should be planted in a nursery bed under shade; this reason guayusa promotes reforestation. The soil they’re planted in should consist of black dirt, sand, and ashes all mixed together so oxygen enters. The cuttings should stay in their shaded nursery for three months until they root and grow leafy offshoots 6-10 inches tall.
- After three months in a comfy plant bed, the budding guayusa cutting can be transplanted into a small bag. Still under shade, the young plant will adapt to life in its protective bag, continuing to root and grow leaves. Shady bag-life should last one month.
- See the light! After that month, the guayusa, still in its bag, can be moved into the sun for one more month to prepare for its final destination.
Dig a hole about a foot deep and release the guayusa tree from its nurturing bag. Place the tree in the hole, fill it with black dirt, and . . . wait . . . for three years. Then, the leaves are ready to harvest. Cut an entire branch off the tree rather than picking individual leaves. The branch recuperates faster, generating more new sprouts as it grows. Make sure to choose thick, dark-green leaves for flavorful tea. After three months, the branches have recovered and a second harvest can be gathered. Three harvests per year are possible.
Now, if you’re a Runa guayusa leaf, your life gets a bit more complicated. Stay tuned!
- Kelsey Knight