Stevia: grow this natural alternative sweetener in your garden

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On many market trip occasions I have purchased a variety of brands for sugar substitutes. Faced with the decision between flavor and nutrition, I became happily accustomed to stevia, an alternative to sugar derived from the plant species Stevia rebaudiana.

Stevia has gained a great deal of popularity as current health concerns drive food companies to include this sugar substitute in their formulas to offer a more natural form of sweetness. Who wouldn't want to experience the delights of sugar without its downsides? But I decided to take my sweetener to the next step, au naturel!

The stevia plant is a wonderful and handy addition to almost any garden. If your have a hankering for growing this splendiferous plant, a few questions might pop up in your head.

  • How do I grow stevia?
  • Is it hard to nurture this plant?
  • What the heck am I supposed to do afterwards?
  • Can I actually use my stevia to sweeten my food?

Hey, relax! Growing and harvesting stevia is far more easy than you might think. There a just a few simple tips and tricks you might want to keep in mind.

More About Stevia

Stevia is native to South America where the locals would traditionally use the leaves to sweeten foods, medicines, and teas. Unlike sugar, stevia does not contain calories and the body does not digest it, making stevia a go-to for those dieting or concerned about lowering their sugar intake. Stevia can taste seventy to four hundred times sweeter than sugar and can be used in baking and cooking due to its heat stability. However, it will not brown like sugar. You can purchase processed forms of stevia, typically found in liquid and granulated concentrates that may vary in sweetness.

What You Will Need To Grow Stevia

  • A pot that drains properly or a nice, warm spot in your garden. Allow plenty of space for your plant.
  • Stevia seeds or a baby stevia plant.
  • Loose, rich, and well drained soil.
  • Water and sunlight of course! Compost is optional.

How To Grow Your Own Stevia

#1 Similar to basil, stevia flourishes in a warm climate.

Depending upon your growing season, stevia can reach up to three feet in height!

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#2 If you choose to plant your stevia outdoors, let it breath by giving it space!

Allow at least twelve inches on each side of where you plan to plant your stevia, giving it ample room to prosper.

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#3 Frost is never our friend!

Make absolute certain that any sign of frost has well passed before you decide to grow stevia. Stevia does not do well in lower temperatures.

#4 To seed or not to seed?

While it is entirely possible to start a stevia patch from scratch, it is also difficult to get them to germinate. I do have to suggest, if you are not up for the challenge, check out nurseries and instead of using seeds, plant baby stevia.

#5 Stevia is a little finicky with its soil.

Stevia needs both rich and well-drained soil. Any fertile soil will work quite well, but you need to make sure you do not over water or pack the soil too tight. Stevia's feeder roots like to nestle closer to the surface, so allow for proper drainage to avoid drowning your plant!

#6 Giving your stevia a drink can vary during your growing season.

You will have to be the judge in this situation. If you are growing your stevia in the summer, the sun can make your plant's living conditions severe. A little shade when it gets too hot and persistent light watering might be necessary.

FAQ's About Growing Stevia

Is it really that hard to grow stevia from the seeds?

Unfortunately yes. The germination rate of stevia is extremely low, so if you decide to go with seeds, don't think that you did something wrong if only a couple germinate!

Is there a particular way I should grow stevia from seeds?

If you are looking to purchase stevia seeds, make certain you find the sweet species Stevia rebaudina. If you are worried that you might not be able to get the stevia plant to start growing outdoors, why not consider indoor planting? Use small containers that allow for drainage and plant two to four seeds, lightly pressing them into your soil preference. Place the containers under a growing light with a tray beneath them. Water your seeds from below by filling the bottom tray and letting the water sit and soak into the soil. Hopefully you will note signs of seedlings one to two weeks after planting.

So will any soil work for growing my stevia?

Yes and no. Any general well-drained soil that is suitable for growing vegetables should also work quite nicely for stevia. Stevia flourishes naturally in sandy areas where moisture is constant but does not accumulate and flood the root system. If your soil isn't very sandy or has a high level of clay, include organic or low nitrogen fertilizers to enrich your soil with much needed nutrients. Also, consider using raised beds and do not compact your soil.

How To Harvest Stevia

The stevia plant will typically bloom little white flowers in late summer to early fall. When your stevia begins to bloom, this is the best time to harvest as the leaves will be at the peak of sweetness! The stems are generally discarded due to a lack of flavor, leaving the leaves to use for a sweetener.

You can either trim at the base of the stem, and dry your stevia, removing the leaves thereafter, or you can snip the leaves off of the plant right at the get-go.

Drying Your Stevia Yield

Similar to many herbs, stevia can be dried by using multiple techniques. Dried stevia lengthens its shelf life and can make handling and utilizing more manageable. Have some fun experimenting with each method to find the most efficient and desirable technique that's right for you!

#1 Natural drying may take a little time, but the outcome is nevertheless satisfactory!

You can naturally dry your stevia by placing the leaves on wire mesh or cooking fabric and leaving them in the sun for approximately a day. Be careful to avoid mist or morning dew because any form of moisture can reverse the dehydration that occurred, spoiling your harvest.

Bundle the stems of your stevia and hang them to dry naturally. Remove the leaves once they are thoroughly depleted of moisture.

#2 An oven can be used to dehydrate stevia.

Heat your oven to one hundred fifty degrees fahrenheit and place your stevia on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Check on the state of the leaves every few minutes to prevent burning. When your stevia is evenly crisp, remove the baking sheet and let the product cool.

If you own a dehydrator, you can also dry the harvested stevia by using this appliance.

How You Should Store Dried Stevia

To keep your dried stevia from spoiling from moisture, always store it in an airtight container placed in a cool and dry location. I usually keep my harvest in a mason jar marked with the date of when I had collected the stevia.

Time To Get Cookin'!

Ways To Prepare Gathered Stevia Leaves

Home grown stevia is extremely versatile and can be used in plenty of ways. Whole stevia leaves can be incorporated into beverages like lemonade or iced tea for sweetening. Try and brew stevia into a hot tea, creating a soothing and delicious treat. By chopping or crushing the collected leaves, the sweetness is both released and amplified. Chopped stevia is a wonderful addition to food recipes and can be used like other herbs and seasonings.

Grinding dried stevia will produce a natural sugar alternative. Approximately one tablespoon of this powder is equal to a whole cup of cane sugar! I found that a coffee grinder produced the finest result, but you can also grind your dried stevia leaves using a blender, mortar and pestle, food processor, or even the bottom of a glass. Since the sweetness of your powdered stevia is so potent, a small amount will accomplish the job, making your harvest last quite some time!

Producing Home-made Stevia Extract

Water Based Extract

  • Pour one cup of water into a pot or pan and heat it on low.
  • Add in one-fourth cup of dried, powdered stevia or one-half cup of dried whole stevia leaves packed tightly.
  • Sir the mixture and cover to let it simmer for thirty to forty minutes. Note, the mixture should not be boiling! If you boil your stevia it wil result in a less than pleasant tasting batch.
  • Let the stevia mixture cool to room temperature and transfer it to a air tight container.
  • For the best results, leave the container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, shaking the container every few days.
  • When you are ready to use your stevia extract, pour the contents of the container over a coffee filter to strain out the pieces of stevia leaves. You should have a yield of one-half to three-fourths cup of extract!

Alcohol Based Extracts

There are two methods to make stevia extract using alcohol. Personally the first method was faster and easier for me, but don't let my experience stop you from trying out both methods!

Method One:

  • Pick your poison! Well, choose an alcohol that you might prefer to make your extraction. Most hard alcohols will work wonders, brandy for example. I didn't want to risk entirely altering the flavor of my extract, so I used vodka.
  • Pour the alcohol into a sealable container.
  • Mix one-half cup or one full cup of dried and crushed stevia leaves into the container. Seal and refrigerate. You are also able to use fresh stevia leaves, though I have not experimented with this.
  • Store the container in the refrigerator for two days, taking the time to shake it a few times per day.
  • Once the two days have passed, strain the mixture and place the liquid into a pot or pan on the stovetop. Discard the leaves.
  • Gently cook the liquid for up to thirty minutes. Like the extraction method using water, do not boil the liquid!
  • Cool the stevia extract to room temperature and strain it one last time.
  • Transfer to an opaque bottle and store in the refrigerator. An eye dropper is perfect for distribution.
  • I wrote the date on my bottle. The stevia extract will last around three months. A label can help you by giving an idea as to when the extract might expire.

Method Two:

Many extracts contain a small percent of alcohol. If this is of no concern to you, a stevia extract can be made without boiling.

  • Follow steps one and two of Method One.
  • Instead of two days, keep the mixture in the refrigerator for two weeks, shaking the container a couple times each day.
  • After two weeks, strain the mixture and transfer the stevia extract to an opaque bottle for use.

Stevia- An Extraordinary Plant That You Should Consider Growing

The stevia plant's popularity has skyrocketed in the food industry and is incorporated into many individuals' diets to aid in reducing sugar intake. Composed of glycosides, Stevia is currently used as a food and beverage sweetener globally and in some places, for hundreds of years. Though it may be a little tricky to grow, keeping these tips and tricks in your head throughout the process may help you to grow healthy and harvestable stevia. After all, they truly assisted me during the growing process. And now, I have a constant supply of this natural sweetener! Did you enjoy this article? Your thoughts are welcomed and greatly appreciated in the comment section below!

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