Lessons in Magical Herbalism: Stevia
Stevia isn't among the most common herbs you’ll find in most American gardens, but it should be. Most books on Witchcraft and magic don’t even list it, so a lot of the information I’ve compiled on it for magical uses comes from my own years of growing and experimenting with it.
This plant Native to South America has been utilized medicinally for thousands of years. It was often incorporated into a caffeine-rich South American drink, infused to sweeten the brew that was shared by a group with a straw. If it was steeped with hot water it was called mate, and with cold water it was called terere. The spices used in the drink would change with the intent-- whether sharing it with a lover, family or friends. Stevia was added to promote overall health and well-being.
A rather unassuming plant, stevia looks like any ordinary, green, leafy plant you’d find in a pot on someone’s porch or growing on the side of the road. In fact, in South America you’ll often find it growing wild. It grows about 16 to 24 inches tall, sprouting leaves and insignificant small flowers. It's related to the Aster family, the same family of flowers as daisies.
You’ll find stevia extract and artificial sweeteners with stevia on the market because the plant is about 30 times sweeter than sugar, though it has a small bitter bite as an aftertaste that some complain about (I rather like it myself, so I guess it’s a matter of taste). There is actually a lot of controversy about using this plant, however, which I will cover so you can decide for yourself.
If you’re interested in using stevia, whether you want to use it for culinary, medicinal or magical reasons, grow it yourself. Stevia is is easy to grow and doesn’t take up much room in the garden.
Meet Stevia: The Natural Herbal Sweetener
Details About Stevia
Stevia, sugarleaf, sweetleaf
USDA Hardiness Zones:
8 – 11 it can be grown outdoors. In warmer climates it will bloom repeatedly throughout the year; in climates with a frosty winter it will usually come back in the spring. If you live above zone 8, you can grow it as an annual herb and replant it every spring; or you can overwinter potted stevia indoors in a greenhouse, or in a garage with a thick layer of mulch.
Get Your Own Stevia
Pinch Off These Buds Before they Bloom
If you’ve ever grown mint or basil, you will have little trouble growing stevia. The first year I found them at a garden center I brought them home and plopped four plants down in a 16-inch diameter flowerpot. I prune-harvested from them until winter. I was delighted to find they shot up again in spring in that same pot, even more productive than the year I bought them.
- start them from seeds indoors in late winter and transplant them out in the spring when the ground warms up and the threat of frost is past
- grow from root cuttings -- take a 2 or 3 inch root cutting when a plant is dormant over winter and bury it about an inch beneath the surface of the soil.
- some garden centers now carry starter plants
- Plant in full - though in hot climates you can get away with some afternoon shade, as long as it's getting about 8 hours per day of direct sunlight
- They like well-drained slightly on the acidic side— so throw a couple of tablespoons of used coffee grounds mixed in with some compost about twice a year and it will keep them very happy
- For in-ground planting, they like raised beds and soil that's light and airy, so incorporate a good amount of organic matter
- For container planting, use a soil-less potting mixture, or mix in plenty of perlite and a cup full of organic compost into your potting soil
- Moderate, regular watering—keep it moist, not soggy
- Prune often to encourage bushiness and pinch back buds to prevent flowering.
- if you live in temperate climates, harvest the plants just before the first frost-- the leaves will be at their sweetest
- you can also prune-harvest throughout the season.
- White flies and leafhoppers like this plant, so if you see any signs of insect damage give it a good blast with the hose every day for a few days.
- For more serious pest problems, I like to mix up a strong hot pepper tea and spray the leaves (especially the undersides). Just make sure you wash the plants well when you harvest them.
- Stevia can be susceptible to fungal leaf diseases, but growing them in raised beds with good air circulation and drainage can help prevent this.
Stevia Green Smoothie Recipe
Please read Medicinal Uses of Stevia and the controversy about its safety and do your research so you can decide whether you wish to consume stevia.
Brew some fruit herbal tea (I like peach, mango or raspberry). Let it cool.
Get your blender and throw in a big handful of kale and spinach leaves, and about ½ cup of frozen fruit (I like berries or mango). Also throw in a couple of fresh stevia leaves and some fresh lemon balm. Pour in about half the tea and puree it. Add more tea to keep the mixture moving, but you don’t want to make it too thin.
Keep blending until it is nice and smooth and thick, just the way you normally like your smoothies. You can get a good couple of servings of green raw veggies in this way - makes a great breakfast!
Stevia leaves can be used fresh-- throw some into your unsweetened lemonade, tea blends, iced tea or smoothies to sweeten them up naturally.
You can also dry and crush stevia leaves to use them year-round. They’re best dried in a dehumidifier if you have one. Some people put them in a low or warm oven, though whether or not this destroys any of their natural properties is debatable. You can also do it the old fashioned way—make a bouquet and hang it upside-down in a dry place for a week. I like to wrap a piece of paper towel around it to avoid dust. You can also spread paper towels on a wire rack, spread out some leaves, cover with another layer of paper towels and let it sit somewhere (preferably a sunny window) for a few days.
You can also extract the sweetness of stevia leaves by boiling crushed leaves and letting them steep for a good 45 minutes.
Tell Us About You!
What's your experience with stevia?
Great Guide for Growing and Using Stevia
How to Make Your Own Pure Stevia and Liquid Stevia
Medicinal Uses of Stevia
*IMPORTANT MESSAGE TO READ: DO NOT take the following as medical advice. I am simply providing information about how herbs have been used medicinally, both in ancient and modern times, for those interested in herbalism. I may even relay my own experiences but I DO NOT RECOMMEND that YOU use any herbal remedies without first consulting a qualified professional. Please remember that even common culinary herbs can be dangerous when taken in quantities that exceed normal food seasoning.
Stevia is one of the most controversial herbs on the market. For a long time, Stevia was banned in the US by the USDA because of anonymous complaints. The USDA finally approved stevia extract to be sold in liquid and powdered form, but it was not approved as a sweetener and not put on the USDA GRAS (Generally Recommended as Safe) list because of complaints—most coming from other companies that manufactured artificial sweeteners. Now it’s been approved as a sweetener, but is still not on the GRAS list, even though the World Health Organization has approved it as safe.
Tests on stevia have been very confusing—some tests on rats have suggested it reduces sperm count, results in low birth weight, and may be carcinogenic. Others suggest it is perfectly safe as a sweetener because, being an herb, it doesn’t cause blood sugar spikes. It’s also in some studies been shown to be beneficial for treating diabetes (may help lower insulin resistance) and hypertension.
Meanwhile, the herb has been consumed for millennia in South America, and for centuries in China, Japan and Europe without any major incidents. In fact, in Japan it has made up about 40% of their sweetener consumption since the 1970s and there have been no reports of adverse health effects. Some argue that it’s just corporate greed behind any bad reports on stevia.
Who to believe? Who knows? The jury is still out. To further complicate things, studies done on rats thus far have mostly used high doses of commercially processed stevia extracts, not natural stevia leaves—the extracts are far more potent than the leaves, up to 300 times sweeter than sugar. There have not yet been any long-term studies or studies on natural stevia leaves fresh from the garden in moderation like any other herb.
So I urge you to use common sense and make your own judgments.
Beautiful, Bushy Stevia Plants
Stevia Bath Spell to Reduce Sugar Cravings
Take a handful of fresh stevia leaves. Take five of the leaves. Use a sharpie to write one word on each of them: wash away my sweet tooth.
Gather all the leaves into a piece of cheesecloth and tie it up, then suspend it from the faucet in the tub so the water flows over it. Fill the tub with warm water and bring in a bowl of sea salt or kosher salt, setting it aside for later.
Visualize all the sweet foods you’re craving in the most disgusting way possible. For example, if you’re craving a cupcake, imagine a cupcake that’s dry, stale and moldy. If you hate fish, imagine it topped with a fish-flavored frosting. Imagine yourself completely disgusted by it. Imagine picking up that cupcake and throwing it down a trash chute.
Unplug the tub and let the water all run out. Stand up take the stevia sachet. Dip it in the salt and rub yourself down with it to cleanse your cravings away.
Magical Uses of Stevia
After searching and searching, I consistently come up empty on any magical folk uses for stevia. I have to wonder if it’s been lost to time. I swear I wish I had the funding to travel to Paraguay myself and dig more deeply with locals to try to discover this plant’s history because it’s hard to believe a plant that has been so prominent in these countries was not used for some spiritual reason among the indigenous people.
I’ve found success using it in spells involving health, well-being and for lifting spirits.
Try mixing dried stevia lives and dried thyme. Enchant them by charging them with healing energies (you can learn how to charge herbs here). Sew green or blue flannel like a little pillow and stuff the herbs in there, then sew up the open end. If you like you can draw healing symbols on it or anoint it with eucalyptus oils.
When you have a headache, lie down and put the pillow over your forehead.
If you know of, or discover, any other uses for stevia-- please, share it here with us!
© 2014 Mackenzie Sage Wright