This natural sweetener can be grown in many gardens. This guide is about growing and harvesting stevia.
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Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana "Bertoni") is an all natural sweetener that you can grow in your garden. Native to South America (Paraguay), stevia has zero calories, zero carbohydrates and a zero glycemic index. It makes a wonderful substitute for sugar in your coffee or tea, and you can also use it for cooking and baking. Here's how to grow it.
Stevia seeds are notoriously difficult to germinate, so start with transplants from a reliable nursery or garden center. Plants grown from seed vary in their level of sweetness, so if possible, try to acquire plants that have been propagated by vegetative means.
Take cuttings in late summer to carry over plants for the next year. In cooler climates, pot up the rooted cuttings and move them indoors before fall frosts arrive. Keep plants in a sunny location through the winter, and plant them outside again (or move the pot outdoors) the following spring.
Botanical Name: Stevia rebaudiana "Bertoni"
Life Cycle: Annual in cold zones, tender perennial in warm zones.
Planting Time: Plant outdoors after all danger of frost has passed. After planting, cover lightly with organic mulch to hold down weeds and conserve moisture.
Height: 23 to 31 inches; Growth habit tends to be tall and lanky. Grow several plants together for a more full appearance.
Exposure: Full sun. In the warmest zones, stevia appreciates afternoon shade.
Soil: Loamy, well-drained soil.
Bloom Time: summer (or 60-90 days after transplanting)
Flower: small white flowers, similar in appearance to heather
Foliage: green serrated leaves
Propagation: Seeds (very difficult to germinate), tip cuttings in summer, root division in spring.
Suggested Use: Use stevia as an all natural alternative to sugar. It doesn't dissolve like sugar, and you cannot make it into a true syrup, but it's super sweet-as much as 10-600 times sweeter than sugar. Home-grown stevia will not be as potent as commercially prepared stevia extract, but it still makes a wonderful sweet flavoring. Some people find it leaves a licorice type of aftertaste, while other do not.
Growing Hints: Stevia can be slow and seemingly difficult to get started. Even under ideal conditions, the plant may suddenly lose its leaves in apparent collapse. Don't worry though, as long as the roots remain alive it may come back-even a year or two later. Stevia likes regular watering during warm periods, but does not tolerate over-watering or excess salts. Leaf growth slows after flowering so nip the flower buds off as soon as they appear to encourage further growth. Harvest the leaves and stems for drying in the fall. The cooler temperatures and shorter days intensify the sweetness in the leaves. Cut stems from the plant; strip the leaves and dry them on a screen in a sunny spot with good ventilation. When they are dry, powder them for use.
Make an extract by combining 1 cup of vodka with a cup fresh stevia leaves in a glass jar. Leave it to infuse for two weeks, shaking the jar once daily. After two weeks, strain the liquid through a coffee filter and store in a sealed jar. Use an eye dropper to add to beverages.
When cooking and baking with stevia, for every 1 cup of sugar that is replaced by stevia there should be 1/3 cup of a liquid or other "bulk" added to create the bulk affect that the sugar normally would. A few liquid substitutions include:
Any liquid that pertains to the recipe will work just fine, for example, use extra banana puree for the liquid in a banana bread recipe. Approximately 6 large leaves (finely chopped) will substitute for 1/2 cup of sugar in baking or cooked recipes.
By Ellen Brown
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Here are questions related to Growing and Harvesting Stevia.
How do I harvest stevia plants?
Hardiness Zone: 7a
By Bob from 15683
I am interested in growing stevia. We are in a very cold climate, but we have a great greenhouse. Would it be better to grow it on the window sill? Where is the best place to find my seeds? We are on the very edge of the Montana wilderness, 100 miles from the nearest nursery or even a Walmart. Thanks for any help and God bless the helpers.
Hardiness Zone: 3b
By Montana Jewel Therapy from N.W. MT
Order your seeds from a reputable place such as Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds in Mansfield, MO they are excellent for price and quality. Another possibility is Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa Mine looks great so far. Jane
What is the edible part of a stevia plant?
Hardiness Zone: 7a
By Theresa from Wichita, KS
I am growing stevia in the tropics. I want to know how stevia is harvested and when it should be harvested? Our stevia has a great problem, in that it flowers frequently before it has matured. How can I solve this problem or what is the cause of this issue?
By Desta F from Ethiopia
Thrifty Fun has been around so long that many of our pages have been reset several times. Archives are older versions of the page and the comments that were provided then.
I am interested in knowing how I can harvest and use the leaves off of a Stevia herbal plant. This plant is used for artificial sugar for people like myself who are diabetic. I have a huge plant, but no idea what to do with it. I tried seeping some leaves in hot tea, but nothing happened. Please help.
This reference may help: stevia-plant.com. Stevia plants vary a good deal in the amount of sweetness they contain. I had one a couple of years ago that just had no discernible sweetness at all.
You need to dry the leaves and crumble them.
Hang the plant upside down and let it dry or if you have a dehydrator break off the branches and dry them. Pull the leaves off when it is dry and store them in a clean jar or in resealable plastic bag. I have used mine for over a year, it takes about 4 leaves to sweeten a pot of tea. I know you can buy the powder, but that is not cheap. Stevia does not grow well from seeds, about 4 in 100 seeds actually sprout so buy a seedling. Good luck. (02/27/2006)
By gramma gt. guest
You should harvest before the formation of blossom buds. Otherwise the leaf develops a bitter aftertaste. (08/27/2007)
I found this on an internet search:
Stevia leaves may be harvested through the summer as needed. For the biggest harvest with best quality, harvest just as the first blossoms open in the fall. Cut whole stems, leaving 1/3 of the stem length if you want to let the plant re-grow. Strip the leaves and discard the stems. Leaves may be used fresh for making tea or eaten right off the plant as a sweet treat. They taste great with mint leaves. Leaves may be dried for later use by spreading out in a warm spot with good air circulation or in a food dehydrator on low heat. Store the leaves in an airtight container such as a glass canning jar. The dried leaves remain sweet for many years and may be ground into a powder with a kitchen blender, food processor, or mortar and pestle. Now all that's left is enjoying your sweet harvest. (04/22/2008)
This is my third year to have Stevia plants in my Georgia garden. The first year I bought about three as "herbal teas" and the second year I discovered how sweet the leaves were when chewed fresh. However, the sweetness is not released from fresh leaves into boiling water. I have crumbled leaves into beverages, chewing on the leaves for sweetness, but herbal teas are expected to be free from floating debris. This third year I plan to harvest the leaves and dry them in a dehydrator. The plants have grown back larger from perennial roots each spring. (07/27/2008)
Stevia is a wonderful plant. I have ordered the dried leaves from a company on the internet herbalcom.com, very reliable and reasonably priced. It is a no frills website. Stevia is excellent for diabetics and healthy for everybody with no side effects. Some people do find the leaves bitter, but not the extract.
I have several plants that do well here in south Alabama. One year I just didn't harvest one of my plants and it self seeded 3 new plants much to my surprise and they all are doing well. If you want to purchase plants they may be labeled sweet shrub as well as stevia. Most nurseries do carry these plants for sale in the spring.
Stevia leaves are wonderful to make tea. I use my drip coffee maker to make tea using the filter basket adding the tea and stevia (dried and crumbled) together. There are many excellent cookbooks and sites on the web. (12/21/2008)
By piki viki
When is the first harvesting of stevia?
How do I harvest the leaves on my stevia plant for use?
Hardiness Zone: 5b
By M.Janus from Cheektowaga, NY