Stevia has an ancient and venerable history in
certain parts of the world. And, with leaves that can be up to 30 times
sweeter than sugar Stevia is destined to find a place in the future of
this country. With no calories and no reported side effects Stevia is an
important herb for every home gardener.
In Paraguay, where it has been used for
centuries to sweeten the beverage mate, a tea made from the plant Ilex
paragquensis, it is also valued for its medicinal properties. In Japan, where artificial sweeteners were
banned by their Department of Health, Stevia accounts for almost half of
the sweeteners used.
In America, Stevia is new and this requires that American
growers learn how it behaves in our gardens with our soil and our sunshine and
at our latitudes. And, like much information about herbs that has been erroneous
in the past (Epazote being an annual springs to mind), there are bound to be
some adjustments in the literature yet to come.
For instance, Stevia plants are rated to Zone 11. This
should mean that at 32 degrees it is a goner. But, so far, for
has behaved more like a herbaceous perennial. This means that, in our Zone 8, these
plants have died back to the ground and returned with spring. We have found no
other literature to support this and, since we have only a few short years of
data, we continue to maintain that Stevia is a Zone
11 plant. This means it cannot survive freezing.
In a way, it makes sense that
Stevia plants would be tender because, after all, it is native to Paraguay where its climate
ranges from tropical to semi tropical. In David Richard's book, Stevia
Nature's Sweet Secret, he states that the average temperatures where Stevia is found
growing ranges from 21 to 110 degrees and that these areas are
semi- humid with soil that is acidic and well draining.
Yet, the plants have survived brief dips below 21 degrees, grown very well in our arid summers, as long as adequate water is
provided, and shown great tolerance for our alkaline soils. Those that have done well
here have been
heavily mulched with small bark chips, which contributes to the acidity level of
the soil. And, while we have not fertilized the plants in the garden, we do garden
organically, which continually maintains the health of the soil and provides
Tips for Growing Stevia:
1. Plant outside after all danger of frost.
2. Place in six to eight hours of sun.
3. Mulch with compost or bark up to three inches deep and two feet in
diameter. Make sure to leave an open collar about two inches wide around
the small plant at first.
4. Keep plants well irrigated.
5. Harvest small amounts often or cut bush to about two inches above the
ground in early summer and again in late summer/early fall just before
6. In cold areas, bring plants in and place under 14 hours of fluorescent
lighting hung three inches above the plants or treat as an annual.
Tips for Using Fresh Stevia:
1. Add several leaves to any cup of hot liquid.
Approximately 3 tablespoons chopped fresh Stevia equals one cup of Sugar
or 1 teaspoon processed Stevia extract powder.
2. Make a fresh whole leaf extract:
Bring water to a boil and turn off.
Pack tea ball with leaves.
Steep leaves in water for 30 minutes.
Add this liquid to foods where the green appearance would be unwelcome.
Tips for Using Dried Stevia:
1. Dry in a warm dark dry area.
2. Grind dried leaves to a fine powder with a small coffee/spice grinder.
3. Store in an airtight container out of light.
4. Approximately 1 tablespoon of dried Stevia powder equals one cup of
sugar or 1 teaspoon processed Stevia extract powder.
Sweetness of leaves vary, so quantities of dried Stevia powder needed may
vary. There is definitely room for experimenting with Stevia in
different proportions and different foods. It should not be thought of
as just a substitute for sugar. Its unique flavor adds an earthiness to
other spice blends as well.