On many market trip occasions I have purchased a variety of brands for sugar substitutes. Faced with the decision between flavor and nutrition, I became happily accustomed to stevia, an alternative to sugar derived from the plant species Stevia rebaudiana.
Stevia has gained a great deal of popularity as current health concerns drive food companies to include this sugar substitute in their formulas to offer a more natural form of sweetness. Who wouldn't want to experience the delights of sugar without its downsides? But I decided to take my sweetener to the next step, au naturel!
The stevia plant is a wonderful and handy addition to almost any garden. If your have a hankering for growing this splendiferous plant, a few questions might pop up in your head.
Hey, relax! Growing and harvesting stevia is far more easy than you might think. There a just a few simple tips and tricks you might want to keep in mind.
Stevia is native to South America where the locals would traditionally use the leaves to sweeten foods, medicines, and teas. Unlike sugar, stevia does not contain calories and the body does not digest it, making stevia a go-to for those dieting or concerned about lowering their sugar intake. Stevia can taste seventy to four hundred times sweeter than sugar and can be used in baking and cooking due to its heat stability. However, it will not brown like sugar. You can purchase processed forms of stevia, typically found in liquid and granulated concentrates that may vary in sweetness.
What You Will Need To Grow Stevia
Depending upon your growing season, stevia can reach up to three feet in height!
(Photo credit: https://bonnieplants.com/growing/growing-stevia/)
Allow at least twelve inches on each side of where you plan to plant your stevia, giving it ample room to prosper.
(Photo credit: http://www.thriftyfun.com/Growing-and-Harvesting-Stevia.html)
Make absolute certain that any sign of frost has well passed before you decide to grow stevia. Stevia does not do well in lower temperatures.
While it is entirely possible to start a stevia patch from scratch, it is also difficult to get them to germinate. I do have to suggest, if you are not up for the challenge, check out nurseries and instead of using seeds, plant baby stevia.
Stevia needs both rich and well-drained soil. Any fertile soil will work quite well, but you need to make sure you do not over water or pack the soil too tight. Stevia's feeder roots like to nestle closer to the surface, so allow for proper drainage to avoid drowning your plant!
You will have to be the judge in this situation. If you are growing your stevia in the summer, the sun can make your plant's living conditions severe. A little shade when it gets too hot and persistent light watering might be necessary.
Unfortunately yes. The germination rate of stevia is extremely low, so if you decide to go with seeds, don't think that you did something wrong if only a couple germinate!
If you are looking to purchase stevia seeds, make certain you find the sweet species Stevia rebaudina. If you are worried that you might not be able to get the stevia plant to start growing outdoors, why not consider indoor planting? Use small containers that allow for drainage and plant two to four seeds, lightly pressing them into your soil preference. Place the containers under a growing light with a tray beneath them. Water your seeds from below by filling the bottom tray and letting the water sit and soak into the soil. Hopefully you will note signs of seedlings one to two weeks after planting.
Yes and no. Any general well-drained soil that is suitable for growing vegetables should also work quite nicely for stevia. Stevia flourishes naturally in sandy areas where moisture is constant but does not accumulate and flood the root system. If your soil isn't very sandy or has a high level of clay, include organic or low nitrogen fertilizers to enrich your soil with much needed nutrients. Also, consider using raised beds and do not compact your soil.
The stevia plant will typically bloom little white flowers in late summer to early fall. When your stevia begins to bloom, this is the best time to harvest as the leaves will be at the peak of sweetness! The stems are generally discarded due to a lack of flavor, leaving the leaves to use for a sweetener.
You can either trim at the base of the stem, and dry your stevia, removing the leaves thereafter, or you can snip the leaves off of the plant right at the get-go.
Similar to many herbs, stevia can be dried by using multiple techniques. Dried stevia lengthens its shelf life and can make handling and utilizing more manageable. Have some fun experimenting with each method to find the most efficient and desirable technique that's right for you!
You can naturally dry your stevia by placing the leaves on wire mesh or cooking fabric and leaving them in the sun for approximately a day. Be careful to avoid mist or morning dew because any form of moisture can reverse the dehydration that occurred, spoiling your harvest.
Bundle the stems of your stevia and hang them to dry naturally. Remove the leaves once they are thoroughly depleted of moisture.
Heat your oven to one hundred fifty degrees fahrenheit and place your stevia on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Check on the state of the leaves every few minutes to prevent burning. When your stevia is evenly crisp, remove the baking sheet and let the product cool.
If you own a dehydrator, you can also dry the harvested stevia by using this appliance.
To keep your dried stevia from spoiling from moisture, always store it in an airtight container placed in a cool and dry location. I usually keep my harvest in a mason jar marked with the date of when I had collected the stevia.
Home grown stevia is extremely versatile and can be used in plenty of ways. Whole stevia leaves can be incorporated into beverages like lemonade or iced tea for sweetening. Try and brew stevia into a hot tea, creating a soothing and delicious treat. By chopping or crushing the collected leaves, the sweetness is both released and amplified. Chopped stevia is a wonderful addition to food recipes and can be used like other herbs and seasonings.
Grinding dried stevia will produce a natural sugar alternative. Approximately one tablespoon of this powder is equal to a whole cup of cane sugar! I found that a coffee grinder produced the finest result, but you can also grind your dried stevia leaves using a blender, mortar and pestle, food processor, or even the bottom of a glass. Since the sweetness of your powdered stevia is so potent, a small amount will accomplish the job, making your harvest last quite some time!
Alcohol Based Extracts
There are two methods to make stevia extract using alcohol. Personally the first method was faster and easier for me, but don't let my experience stop you from trying out both methods!
Many extracts contain a small percent of alcohol. If this is of no concern to you, a stevia extract can be made without boiling.
The stevia plant's popularity has skyrocketed in the food industry and is incorporated into many individuals' diets to aid in reducing sugar intake. Composed of glycosides, Stevia is currently used as a food and beverage sweetener globally and in some places, for hundreds of years. Though it may be a little tricky to grow, keeping these tips and tricks in your head throughout the process may help you to grow healthy and harvestable stevia. After all, they truly assisted me during the growing process. And now, I have a constant supply of this natural sweetener! Did you enjoy this article? Your thoughts are welcomed and greatly appreciated in the comment section below!