What is Stevia?
Stevia Rebaudiana is an herb in the Chrysanthemum family which grows wild as a small shrub in parts of Paraguay and Brazil. The glycosides in its leaves account for its incredible sweetness, making it unique among the nearly 300 species of Stevia plants.
If you enjoy gardening, Stevia can be a rewarding herb to grow. While it’s not feasible for most of us to grow sugarcane or sorghum in our backyard, several Stevia plants will fit nicely into a small garden. In New Hampshire, Stevia can only be grown as an annual, but you can harvest the leaves during the warm summer months, dry them, and use them all winter long.
The crude Stevia leaves and herbal powder (green) is much sweeter than table sugar, so you don’t need much to sweeten your tea. You can use the leaves from you plants fresh or dried; use the whole leaves add to the flavor of herbal teas, or crush them to add to your own recipes.
- Use fresh leaves for tea or eat a few right off the plant. They taste great with mint leaves. Sweetness is greatest just before flowering, which is triggered by short day lengths. Plants should be harvested before the first frost or as soon as blossoming begins, whichever comes first. Cut entire plants just above ground level. When growing Stevia for early harvests, clip the plants 6 inches from the ground so they will survive and re-gro. Harvest in the morning, after dew has evaporated.
- Plants are easily dried by hanging upside down in a dry, warm, drafty location. After a few days, rake leaves from the stems with your fingers and gather for storage in a clean container such as a glass jar. They keep well for years. Stems are less sweet, so toss them on the compost pile.
It is easy to make tea with Stevia. Simply take a small bunch of fresh leaves from your favorite tea plants (lemon balm, chocolate mint, orange mint, bee balm, etc) and gently bruise them. Put them in a metal tea strainer. Add an equal amount of fresh stevia leaves. Close the ball and step in boiling water until you are happy with the strength of the flavor. Sweetness made simple!