Garden Tips from The Micro Farm Project: How to Grow & Use Stevia
Grow Your Own Non-Caloric Stevia Sweetener
Stevia "Sweet Herb" looks like an ordinary leafy-green plant, similar to a flowering salvia. But if you pinch off a leaf and give it a taste, you will know why this herb is valued for its natural, calorie-free sweet flavor. The leaves contain a substance called 'stevioside' that is 300 times sweeter than sucrose. Dieters and diabetics who hesitate to consume artificial sweeteners may appreciate its natural sweetness that does not impact blood glucose levels.
Homegrown Stevia is not as sweet as commecially refined Stevia, but it is still 10 to 15 times sweeter than sugar. Though native to South America, Stevia tolerates many climate conditions and you can grow your own patch at home for tea, extracts and tinctures.
Stevia is a tender perennial that loves the warmth of the sun and dies back at frost. In warm climate zones, the roots can survive winter and come back in the spring with a little frost protection. In frost-free areas, Stevia can grow all year long as a small shrub. However, after the second year, vigor declines sharply and the plant will most likely need to be replaced.
Here's how to grow your own Stevia patch at home.
Photo credit: By Ethel Aardvark (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Planting and spacing: Prepare the soil to a depth of 1 foot, adding plenty of compost to the planting bed. Remove weeds and stones from the garden bed. Set out small transplants as soon as frost danger has passed and the soil warms to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Plant in full sun, spacing transplants 18 inches to 2 feet apart. Dig a hole in the soil twice the width and the same depth as the pot in which the transplant is growing. Remove the stevia plant from the temporary pot, place the roots into the hole and pack the soil around the plant.
Growing Stevia from Seed: Stevia seeds often have a low germination rate; sometimes only 10%. To increase your odds, select only the very dark seeds for planting, which have an 85% germination rate. Keep in mind that Stevia grown from seed may or may not be sweet, so plant more than you think you will need and thin out small plants that do not have sweetly-flavored leaves.
Container gardening: Plant in a large, well-drained container filled with a mixture of potting soil and compost. Water when the top few inches of soil are dry.
Water and feeding: During dry weather, water deeply on a regular schedule, allowing the top few inches of soil to dry between watering. Fertilize monthly using a balanced fertilizer, watering deeply at each application. It has been suggested that adding boron to the garden bed may improve the sweetness of the leaves.
Harvest: Trim back branch tips often to encourage branching and new growth. When the plant reaches 12-15 inches in height, harvest a portion by trimming it back to half its size. Trim it back again in the fall when the weather cools and growth stalls. Harvest the entire plant when flowers begin to appear as the plant may become bitter following flowering. Always harvest in the morning, when sugar content is highest.
Stevia seeds can have unreliable germination. The germination rate is higher for Stevia planted from dark-colored seeds than it is from light-colored seeds. Improve your odds of success significantly by purchasing only the darkest Stevia seeds.
Drying Stevia and Making Extract
Dry Stevia leaves in hanging bunches or in a dehydrator at 150 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. High drying temperatures can result in bitter flavor. Store the whole dried leaves in a cool, dark place in an airtight container.
To make Stevia power, remove small branches and grind dried leaves a few at a time using an electric coffee grinder. The powder will retain its sweetness for several months when stored in an airtight container.
Use green Stevia powder to sweeten tea, yogurt, oatmeal, smoothies, homemade ice cream and so forth.
To make Stevia extract, bring 1 cup of water to a light simmer. Remove from heat and add 1/2 cup of crushed stevia leaves. Cover with a lid and allow the mixture to steep 40 minutes. Strain through a coffee filter. Store the extract a dark-colored container in the refrigerator. Yield: 3/4 cup, equivalent in sweetness to 3 cups sugar.
Use Stevia extract to sweeten tea and lemonade, water kefir, grapefruit juice and other liquids.
Use your own homemade Stevia tincture to make a delicious, refreshing and low-calorie drink.
- 1 cup fresh squeezed lime or lemon juice
- 5 cups water
- Stevia extract (to taste)
- Ice cubes
- Mix lemon or lime juice with water. Add homemade Stevia extract to the mixture slowly, tasting as you go until it reaches the desired sweetness. Add ice and enjoy!
Learn More about Stevia
Get all the info that you need to grow, harvest and cook with your own homegrown Stevia.
Explore Stevia on the Web
- How to Grow Stevia
Introduction How to Start Your Own Stevia Patch The Care and Feeding of Stevia Gathering autumn stevia leaves Unlocking the sweetness in your harvest Growing stevia without land Sources for mail-order stevia plants Introduction You need not be a Sout
- How to Grow Stevia | eHow.com
How to Grow Stevia. Stevia is native to South America, but you can successfully grow your own supply anywhere with a three-month growing season. You can even grow stevia indoors on a sunny windowsill. Although stevia leaves have a lower concentration
- Stevia - growing Stevia - how to grow Stevia
Learn how to grow Stevias using our Stevia growing guide. Growing tips to improve your Stevia harvest.
- Homemade Stevia Powder: Uses Explained
Homemade stevia powder from stevia plants is 10 to 15 times sweeter than sugar but it’s different from wholesale stevia. Commercially available to Stevia