Stevia Plant Care: How And Where Does Stevia Grow

By: Liz Baessler

Stevia is a buzzword these days, and this is probably not the first place you’ve read about it. A natural sweetener with essentially no calories, it’s popular with people interested in both weight loss and natural eating. But exactly what is stevia? Keep reading for stevia plant information.

Stevia Plant Information

Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) is a nondescript looking leafy plant reaching 2-3 feet (.6-.9 m.) in height. It is native to Paraguay, where it’s been used for centuries, possibly millennia, as a sweetener.

Stevia leaves contain molecules called glycosides, essentially molecules with sugar attached to them, making the leaves taste sweet. The human body, however, cannot break apart the glycosides, meaning they have no calories when consumed by humans.

It is used as a food additive in many countries, accounting for 40 percent of Japan’s sweetening additives. It was banned as an additive in the United States for over a decade due to possible health risks, however, and only in 2008 was allowed again.

Stevia Plant Growing

Stevia has been declared safe by the FDA and has been used continuously internationally, so there’s no reason not to grow your own plant as a home sweetener and great conversation piece. Stevia is a perennial in USDA growing zones 9 and warmer.

The roots may survive in zone 8 with protection, but in colder areas it will grow very well in a container brought indoors for the winter. It can also be treated as an annual outdoors.

Stevia plant care is not too intensive — place it in loose, well-drained soil in full sun and water frequently but shallowly.

How to Use Stevia Plants in the Garden

You can harvest your stevia plant to use as your own natural sweetener. While you can harvest the leaves and use them throughout the summer, they’re at their sweetest in autumn, just as they’re getting ready to flower.

Pick the leaves (all of them if you’re treating it as an annual) and dry them by placing them on a clean cloth in the sun for an afternoon. Save the leaves whole or crush them into a powder in the food processor and store them in an airtight container.

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Learn About Stevia

Stevia may be grown from seed sown early indoors and transplanted outside after frost, or sown directly in the garden, or planted as a potted plant.

Sowing Stevia Seed Indoors:

  • Sow stevia seeds indoors 8-10 weeks before the last frost in spring.
  • Sow seeds ¼ inches deep in seed-starting formula. Sow double or triple the amount of seed you usually would for other plants as the germination rate can be lower than for other seed varieties.
  • Seedlings emerge in 14-21 days.
  • As soon as seedlings emerge, provide plenty of light on a sunny windowsill or grow seedlings 3-4 inches beneath fluorescent plant lights turned on 16 hours per day, off for 8 hours at night. Raise the lights as the plants grow taller. Incandescent bulbs will not work for this process because they will get too hot. Most plants require a dark period to grow, do not leave lights on for 24 hours.
  • Seedlings do not need much fertilizer, feed when they are 3-4 weeks old using a starter solution (half strength of a complete indoor houseplant food) according to manufacturer’s directions.
  • Be sure not to overwater, water when the soil surface is dry.
  • If you are growing in small cells, you may need to transplant the seedlings to 3 or 4 inch pots when seedlings have at least 3 pairs of leaves before transplanting to the garden so they have enough room to develop strong roots.
  • Before planting in the garden, stevia seedling plants need to be “hardened off”. Accustom young plants to outdoor conditions by moving them to a sheltered place outside for a week. Be sure to protect them from wind and hot sun at first. If frost threatens at night, cover or bring containers indoors, then take them out again in the morning. This hardening off process toughens the plant’s cell structure and reduces transplant shock and scalding.

Planting Stevia in the Garden:

  • Select a location in full sun with average soil.
  • Prepare the bed by turning the soil under to a depth of 8 inches. Level with a rake to remove clumps of grass and stones.
  • Dig a hole for each plant large enough to amply accommodate the root ball. Space plants 18 inches apart.
  • Carefully remove the plant from its pot and gently loosen the root ball with your hands to encourage good root development.
  • Place the top of the root ball even with the level of the surrounding soil. Fill with soil to the top of the root ball. Press soil down firmly with your hand.
  • Use the plant tag as a location marker.
  • Thoroughly water and apply a light mulch layer on top of the soil (1-2 inches) to conserve water and reduce weeds.

What is Stevia?

Stevia is a perennial, which means it will come back year after year. However, the leaves stop producing quite as much after year two. This is why many recommend that you replant every two years.

Stevia doesn’t have lots of different varieties, like some plants. Some nurseries sell stevia simply as Stevia rebaudiana. Other places will sell it as Candy Stevia, Sugar Leaf Stevia, and Stevia Sweet Leaf.

Either way, it is all the same plant and is said to be 20-30 times sweeter than regular table sugar.

Planting Stevia

Stevia is not as easy to grow as most culinary herbs, but it has been successfully grown in climates ranging from southern Canada to the American South. Stevia is hardy in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 11 and up, and does best in semi-humid locations with acidic, well-draining soil. Space plantings 8 to 10 inches apart in a location where they will receive full sun. Stevia grows best when soil pH ranges from 6.7 to 7.2.

You can often find stevia in your local nursery’s herb section. The majority of stevia plants are sold as cuttings.

Uses of Stevia plant

Stevia is a sweet plant that used from the 16 th century to sweetened beverages and tea. Stevia has numerous uses and benefits for health.

  • Stevia leaves are uses as tea and beverages, snacks, and smoothies.
  • Stevia does not have calories and carbohydrates as they don’t affect blood sugar levels and insulin, so it is best for diabetic patients.
  • It is helpful in overweight and obesity as common white sugar has more calories, which may lead to overweight. So stevia leaves as sugar are more beneficial for weight loss and control obesity.
  • Stevia contains many sterols and antioxidant compounds, which decreases the risk of Pancreatic Cancer.
  • Patients of hypertension and high blood pressure can use Stevia to lower down their blood pressure.
  • It helps to reduce the cholesterol level of high cholesterol patients.
  • Homemade Stevia extract is harmful to use during pregnancy, So refined Stevia from shops like Reb-A evaluated for safety during pregnancy.

Stevia Tea

You can make use of some of the health benefits of stevia by making fresh stevia tea.

As previously mentioned, stevia can have health benefits relating to blood sugar and blood pressure.

It may also have antioxidant, anti-septic, anti-microbial, and antibacterial properties as well, making it good for healthy skin, healthy teeth, and good digestion.

To make stevia tea, simply pour boiling water over a few fresh stevia and mint leaves and allow it to steep for several minutes. This makes for a healthy, refreshing tea.

Even fresh stevia is much sweeter than sugar, so you may need to experiment to find the level of sweetness that tastes good to you.

Stevia is much sweeter than sugar, so you will need very little stevia in comparison to the amount of sugar you would place in a recipe.

Generally, a cup of sugar is equal to the sweetness in a teaspoon of powder or stevia extract.

You can use stevia extracts and powder to sweeten drinks, oatmeal, and many desserts. Be careful when baking with stevia extracts and powders, because the amount of stevia required is so small.

The texture of your desert may end up being somewhat different due to the difference between sugar and stevia.

Amanda is a homesteader and a Jesus-loving, mother of 6 toddlers. She’s raising lots of fancy chickens and goats on her small homestead (among other things).

Watch the video: Gardening Tips on Growing Stevia How to Grow Stevia

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