Do you grow stevia in your herb garden? This easy to grow tender perennial will give you years of fresh leaves to use in cooking and herbal preparations. This month’s herb to know is Stevia. Learn how to grow it, harvest and use it.
Get the Facts on Stevia:
- Name: Stevia rebaudiana, sweet leaf, sweet herb of Paraguay
- Family: Asteraceae
- Growing Conditions: Zone 8-10 as a perennial. Can be overwintered as a houseplant if the air isn’t too dry. Needs full sun, but will grow in afternoon shade. Likes consistently moist, rich soil that is well drained.
- Tender herbaceous perennial grown as an annual.
- Height: 20-30 inches, with the right conditions, and heat, it can reach 48 inches.
- Flowers: White clusters of tiny flowers by mid-summer. Grown for its leaves. For larger leaf production the flower buds should be pinched off as they appear.
- Leaves: Slender oblong leaves to 1 inch have a pronounced midrib.
- Propagate: Start indoors from seed in early spring, plant outdoor after last frost date.
- Suitable for pots: Yes.
Recognize Stevia Leaf
Stevia is best known for its sweet taste. Chew fresh leaves or dry and crush them between your thumb and forefinger, it’s unmistakably sweet.
The leaves are oblong one-inch slender leaves has a pronounced midrib and tiny hairs. Notice the vein pattern. branching off from the main. Stevia needs at least half a day of sun but will grow in partial shade. I have mine in a morning sun – afternoon shade area and it’s thriving.
Stevia will withstand heat to up 400 degrees for baking but does not caramelize, form a meringue, or harden like sugar.
The primary ingredient comes from 2 chemicals (glycosides stevioside and rebaudioside A) that are 40 to 300 times stronger than sucrose. It has no calories, few carbohydrates, and a glycemic index of zero. Some people think it has a bitter aftertaste when heated.
The leaves can be used fresh in herbal tea or coffee, or they can be dried and ground for tea mixes.
Many people make their own stevia syrup for culinary uses around the home. See the article How to Make Stevia Syrup for one method of preservation.
Make stevia extract with dried leaves and vodka
A few drops of stevia extract are as sweet as a teaspoon of sugar.
You will need:
- 1 glass jar with a tight fitting lid
- Dried Stevia leaves. They can be crumbled, chopped or powdered
- Vodka or Rum
Using a ratio of 2 parts stevia to 3 parts liquid, place one cup of stevia in the jar and cover it with 1.5 cups of alcohol. Shake the mixture well and let it sit for no more than 36 hours. (it will become bitter if you steep it longer than 36 hours) Strain through muslin or a coffee filter and pour the tincture into a dark colored bottle. It will keep indefinitely.
How to Harvest
During the growing cycle, the sweetness is intensified by cooler temperature and short days, but the sugar levels drop off after flowering. You’ll have to make a delicate balance between waiting for the cool weather for more sweetness, or harvesting before the whole plant begins to flower.
Begin harvesting in early to mid-July by cutting some parts of the plant back to half the stem. Remove the leaves from the stem and set out to dry. It is not necessary to use a dehydrator, the leaves are tender and will completely dry in a day.
Store whole stevia leaves in an airtight jar until you are ready to use.
Stevia is recognized as generally safe. Information from the FDA website: The plant commonly known as Stevia contains steviol glycosides, which are used as sweeteners. If food ingredients, such as sweeteners, are generally recognized as safe (“GRAS”), they do not require FDA approval as a food additive. Based on its review of information and data submitted by industry in GRAS notices submitted to FDA, FDA has not questioned the GRAS status of certain high-purity steviol glycosides for use in food. These high purity steviol glycosides may be lawfully marketed and added to food products sold in the United States. However, stevia leaf and crude stevia extracts are not considered GRAS and do not have FDA approval for use in food.
Herbs to Know Stevia: This easy to grow tender perennial will give you years of fresh leaves to use in cooking and herbal preparations. How do you use stevia leaf?
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