Stevia has swept the market, not just as a sugar substitute, but as a natural sweetener in its own right. The plant impressively contains compounds that are up to 150x sweeter than sugar and is available as a dried powder or liquid extract. Stevia is attractive to many consumers because it contains no calories and can be grown at home on the balcony or sunny front porch. The plant itself is short and bushy perennial with small, white flowers. Although considered easy to grow and adaptable to many different climate zones, this species does not enjoy temperatures below 45°F.
Seed: Not recommended.
Vegetative: Stevia is usually proposed by cuttings.
Space Between Plants: 8″
Space Between Rows: 12–20″
Sow Indoors: Anytime. Transplant into soil when temperatures reach at least 65°F.
Sow Outdoors: 8 weeks before lost average frost.
Stevia can be grown almost anywhere as long as precautions are taken to protect plants from low temperatures. Try growing stevia in containers that can be brought indoors in cooler weather. This plant is a perennial in Zones 9–10.
Natural: Full sun. Partial shade in Zones 8–11.
Artificial: For best results, us T5 fluorescent or LED lamps.
Soil: Requires rich, well-drained soil. For best results, incorporate organic compost into the mix.
Soilless: Will grow in soilless mixes. See Helpful Links for more info.
hydroponics: Thrives in a hydroponic environment.
Aeroponics: Thrives in an aeroponic environment.
Water: Water regularly to avoid desiccation, but do not overwater.
Nutrients: Add standard compost and avoid lawn or fertilizers high in nitrogen.
Foliar: Application of a diluted, fish emulsion, foliar can help improve your plants growth.
Pruning: Prune back the tips to promote bushy growth. Without this process, your stevia plant will grow leggy with few leaves to harvest. Don’t despair over this violent deed: you can use these pruned tips as cuttings to grow more stevia babies!
Mulching: Mulch to prevent weed growth and retain moisture, but be careful: stevia does not like to be wet, and mulching will cover visible signs of wet soil.
Companions: Stevia can be grown with other sun-loving plants that will not cause crowding.
Harvest: Harvest the entire plant, or most of the leaves, as soon as flower buds appear, usually around September and October. Leaves are highest in their glycoside content in the morning and should be harvested then. Do not wait until flowers open because it alters the flavor and content of the leaves.
Storage: Dry leaves by hanging branches upside down and store in a cool, dark, air-tight container.
Stevia is a derivative of the sunflower plant and is in the family Asteraceae, which also contains ragweed and the common daisy. Primary geographical areas of cultivation include Paraguay, China, Brazil and Japan. The primary active sweetening ingredient in stevia is a glycoside known as stevioside and is often altered before distribution, so take note: some store bought extracts are not entirely natural. All the more reason to grow and harvest your own!
Preserve: Preserve as a alcohol-based extract by simply placing leaves in a jar of vodka. Let leaves hang out in the jar for about 2 days, shaking regularly. Heat the concoction, but not to boiling, and strain into an opaque bottle for safe keeping. You can also boil water and steep leaves for 40 minutes for a water-based extract that lasts about 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
Prepare: Use fresh or dried for a variety of culinary treats.
Nutritional: Stevia has no calories and is essentially “sugar-free.”
Medicinal: This sweetener is noted for its value as a tooth decay inhibitor and a plaque retardant. Studies also suggest benefits for people with hypertension and type-2 diabetes.
Warnings: Watch out! The sweetness of stevia can confuse the body because of missing calories and may cause over-eating. Which, if consisting of garden-fresh veggies only, might not be too bad, but still, watch out.
Try replacing sugar with stevia, but remember 1) it is sweeter than sugar and 2) it doesn’t crystallize like sugar, so making things like glazes and meringues will not work with stevia as a substitute. Bummer!