Best Herbs to Grow Series: How to Grow Stevia – Mother Nature’s Herbal Sweetener
The second in our best herbs to grow series has got to be one of the hardest to cultivate, but one of the most rewarding if you can get it right, so to ensure success with this extremely useful herb, follow the growing instructions carefully.
You don’t need to live in the tropics to grow stevia. Although stevia originates from the damp, tropical areas of South America, stevia can be grown as far north as the UK and southern Canada. In warmer climates stevia plants are treated as perennials, but further north they should be grown as annuals as they are highly sensitive to wind and frost.
Stevia isn’t the easiest of herbs to grow and particularly in the more temperate zones.Home grown stevia isn’t as sweet as commercial stevia, but as an all round sweetener its extremely useful and should form part of any serious herb garden.
How to grow stevia
Starting a stevia plant from seed is difficult. To ensure you get a good quality plant that’s high in Stevioside, (the compound that makes it sweet) I recommend you buy small starter plants on line ( see below for links) and have them shipped to you directly.
Before transplanting your starter stevia plants into the garden, ensure the likelihood of frost has passed and daytime temperatures are regularly in the 60′s F or above 15C . Stevia plants hate cold, so deciding where to place them is vital. Look for a warm, sheltered area in full sun. Ideally in the location that gets the most direct sunlight all day. I grow mine directly infront of a south-facing stone wall, which means the stevia plants also benefit from radiant heat !
Stevia plants have shallow roots and will require a mulch of organic of compost ( they like their nitrogen on slow release) and will require a well drained, rich loamy soil.When planting several plants, leave around 45cm/18 inches to 60 cm/24 inches between each plant. In the right conditions, stevia plants can grow to 75cm/ 30 inches in height and up to 60cm/24 inches wide! Stevia plants benefit from pinching out once a month, to encourage new and bushy growth. Lightly water your stevia throughout the dry summer months, but for those of you in the UK and northern Europe, pay attention not to over water, stevia hate to be waterlogged!
How to harvest stevia
Harvesting your stevia needs to take place as late as you can stretch it into the Autumn, as the cooler days before the onset of frost, intensify the sweetness significantly! Harvest your stevia by cutting the branches off and stripping them of their leaves, don’t forget to nip the tips of the stems off too, as they are as super-sweet as the leaves!
If you live further south in a frost-free climate, your stevia plants can survive the winter outside, but you must not cut the branches right down to the main stem- leave about 10cm/ 4 inches form it. The second year will provide you with a more abundant crop and by the third you may find it’s best to introduce new plants. As stevia are quite a weak perennial, they’re really only good for three seasons, at best.
As soon as you’ve harvested the leaves and tips, they will need to be dried. I always set aside some fresh leaves to put in our homegrown mint teas, but the majority I place tied upside down and hung in a well ventilated area. I choose a warm, sunny autumnal day,when the air humidity is ideally below 60% and hang them in full sun. By the end of the day, they are ready. Don’t overdo this drying period, if left too long, they will start to lose their sweetness!
How to process and store stevia
Once the stevia leaves are completely dry, they are best placed in a blender or coffee-grinder and ground to a fine green powder. Store your stevia powder in an airtight kilner jar.
How to use green stevia powder
Use stevia powder for your baking, but remember it’s much sweeter than cane sugar and will also vary from batch to batch, so test your powder first. I would say 2 tbsp or 5 tsp of stevia powder is equivalent to 200g/ 1 cup of sugar on average. Unlike other artificial sweeteners, stevia is resistant to heat. Some recipes using green stevia powder I’ve used in the past, are found on Sugar Free Stevia. Net- Try the Cashew Cookies- they’re delicious!
Stevia is known for its antimicrobial action. Regular users of stevia report a lower incidence of infections such as colds and flus and stevia has been found to be an extremely addition to mouthwashes and toothpastes as it lowers the incidence of gum desease, it’s thought this is because of stevia’s ability to prevent the growth and reproduction of bacteria such as Streptococcus mutans and other microbes from thriving.
Stevia is known for its digestive tonic action.The ‘gauchos’ of the southern plains in Brazil considered stevia an important medicinal herb and would use it in their ‘mate’ as they realised it was an excellent digestive tonic. The Chinese use stevia to curb appetite and as a digestive stimulant.
Stevia is known for its beneficial effects on the skin. The indigenous peoples of South America the Guarani,report that stevia is extremely effective when applied topically for skin ailments such as eczema, dermatitis and acne as well as for wound healing, or cicatrisation. It’s been noted that when stevia liquid or powder is applied to the cut or wound, it promotes faster healing and less scarring. Stevia is also developing a reputation in the cosmetics industry for its skin tightening properties and has consequently found its way into several commercial skincare products.
Sources for live stevia starter plants:
UK: Sutton Seeds
USA: Stevia Plant
Disclaimer: All material on this website is provided for educational purposes only, although every effort is made to provide accurate and up-to-date information. Unless otherwise noted, the articles at this website are not written by doctors or other health care professionals. If you are concerned about your health, or that of your child, consult with your health care provider regarding the advisability of any opinions or recommendations with respect to your individual situation.
About the Author (Author Profile)
Rebecca Watkins worked as a professional photo journalist and travelled the world with her husband John, before settling down as a stay at home mother to their three daughters. They have recently moved back from the French Alps to an old cottage in Devon, England. Rebecca’s days are filled with visits to the beach, animated discussions and in the best moments, happiness and creativity in her family home of five. The other moments are filled with craziness and chaos and she loves those too.