We already grow a lot of fruit, vegetables and herbs, so when I came across a stevia plant, I had to try growing it. Here are some hints and tips on how you too can grow, harvest and use stevia.
What is Stevia?
Stevia is a perennial herb that is used as a natural and low-calorie sweetener. Its leaves are good for those with diabetes who need to avoid sugar as well as those who are trying to avoid extra calories. It can be up to 20 times sweeter than sugar. Stevia leaves can also have a slightly bitter aftertaste, so it is recommended to use it in small amounts.
Known as Stevia Rebaudiana, this plant doesn’t come in lots of different varieties, so it is pretty straightforward to find.
How to Grow Stevia
This is one herb that is easy to grow. Being a perennial, this plant should come back year after year, though the production of leaves starts decreasing after two years, so it is recommended to replace the plant every two years. You will also notice that the leaves become less flavourful and tougher, the longer you let them grow.
It usually starts losing its leaves towards the end of autumn, sometimes, dying back to the crown with fairly brittle woody stems. A few months later, when the weather warms up, it will start to come back to life.
These plants grow well in fertile, well-drained soil, appreciating some water on a regular basis. They grow best in warm conditions or large containers in similar conditions to basil, enjoying full sun and loose, loamy soil.
Grow from Seeds or Cuttings
Stevia can be grown from seeds or from rooted cuttings. Plant the seeds of this low-calorie sweetener in spring where the soil temperature will be close to 20˚C (68˚F).
The seeds and plants will need to be spaced around 45 cm (18in) apart, which allows them space to grow out and up. Again, like basil, pinch back the plant, using the top leaves and this will help the plant grow fuller and the stalks stronger. Growing for seed can be difficult. This lovely plant strikes easily from cuttings, if you know someone that has a plant you can take a cutting from. Take the cuttings in summer and keep them moist until they are established.
A great way to encourage branching and to prevent flowering, is to prune the plant back a couple of times throughout the growing season. Don’t allow the plant to start flowering as this decreases the energy that the plant puts into creating the leaves and they will become slightly bitter and the flavour will decrease.
The sweetest leaves come just before the plant flowers and again when the temperature starts to cool off in Autumn.
For a year’s supply of dried leaves, you will need anywhere from four to five plants, depending on how many people will be using the leaves.
How to Harvest Stevia
The leaves of this lovely plant diabetic-safe and can be used fresh from the plant or dried for use later. Just pick the leaves when required.
When you prune back the plant, use these leaves fresh or dry them for later use.
The best time to harvest the leaves is in the morning.
When using stevia, a little goes a long way as it is much sweeter than sugar.
Stevia can be picked straight from the plant for a little sugar boost or can be used to sweeten tea, coffee, lemonade and flavoured water. I like to add two or three fresh leaves or powdered to sweeten tea or coffee. Keep in mind that stevia doesn’t steep in cold water, so the water will need to be warm or hot for this to work.
The leaves, when dried, last a very long time and can be added to many dishes including steed fruit. Use around 1 – 2 tablespoons of stevia powder (made from the dried leaves) instead of 1 cup of sugar in recipes, depending on the sweetness needed.
A syrup made from the leaves is another great way to sweeten drinks. To make stevia syrup, add two teaspoons of dried stevia leaves to one litre of water in a saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer for ten minutes. Pour into a glass jar, add the lid and store in the fridge, using as required. For more recipes using stevia, try this stevia cookbook or this one.
Using it as a substitute for sugar in baking and jelly/jam recipes is not recommended as is has a completely different structure. Basically, it can be used to sweeten foods in which sugar does not form part of the structure and it is added as a sweetener, like ice cream and drinks.
More Garden Resources
- How to Grow Yarrow
- How to Grow Nasturtiums
- How to Grow, Harvest and Use Mulberries
- How to Grow, Harvest and Use Rosellas
- Ways to Save Money on your Garden
- How to Create a Bee-Friendly Garden
- Composting for Beginners
- How to Grow Sweet Potatoes
- Vegetable Garden Printable Pack for Kids
- Create a Gardening Journal
- 7 Tips for Gardening with Kids
- How to Grow Basil
- How to Harvest, Preserve and Use Basil
Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the food and drug administration. The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment because of something you have read on this website.