Baxter County Master Gardener Program • University of Arkansas System • Division of Agriculture • © 2013 BCMG
If you watching your weight or are a diabetic this wonderful little herb is natural sweetener has zero calories and is not metabolized by the body. Stevia is native to Paraguay and other tropical areas of the Americas, the stevia plant (Stevia rebaudiana) has leaves packed with super-sweet compounds that remain stable even after the leaves have been dried. Which make it a perfect plant, you can use it fresh from the garden and then dry the leaves in fall before the first frost to use all winter. If you are a tea drinker stevia leaves are a great no calorie sweetener. Stevia can substitute for some, but not all, of the sugar used when baking, because it does not provide all of the multiple functions that sugar does in baked goods.
Growing stevia is easy in well-drained beds or large containers. It likes full sun but if does benefit from afternoon shade in the heat of the day. Stevia grows best in warm conditions similar to those preferred by basil. Plants grown in warm climates will grow to 24 inches tall and wide. Plant 3 -5 plants for a year’s supply of dried stevia leaves. This is considered a tender perennial, (zone 8+) but I had the same plant come back for several years. I planted it right into the garden and harvested the leaves before the first killing frost in the fall. I then mulch the area with about 4 inches of oak leaves. It always made it thru the winter, but it's late to come back to life in the spring so don't give up on it.
If you plan on harvesting the leaves you will want to plant it where you can access it often to harvest the leaves. In order to maximize the leaf production you must trim back the plant several time to induce branching. Make your first trimming when the plant is about 8 inches tall in the early spring and then again in early summer cut back the plant in about half. Stevia can be grown from cuttings and I think it's easier than from seed. So use your cuttings to root new plants for the plant sale or to give as gifts.
Left unpruned, stevia will grow into a lanky, upright plant that produces tiny white flowers in late summer. To maximize leaf production, you must trim back the plants several times to induce branching. You can use the leaves from the stem tips, or root them in moist potting soil to increase your supply of stevia plants. Stevia can be dried in bunches like other herbs, but you will get better quality by drying it in a dehydrator or a 150-degree- Fahrenheit oven until crisp. Store dried leaves in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Wait until you’re ready to use stevia leaves to crush them.
This is definitely an herb you need to add to your garden, and another benefit the deer won't touch it. Below is a chart to give you an idea of how sweet stevia is compared to sugar. Stevia can be used in cooking but does not have the same properties as sugar so I have not been satisfied with the results. I use my stevia mainly for beverages, both hot and cold all year round. Every calorie counts and you know what chemicals it has been exposed to coming fresh from your garden.
Granulated Sugar Stevia
1 tsp. 1/8 tsp.
1 T. 3/8 tsp.
1/4 c. 1 1/2 tsp.
1/2 c. 1 T.
1 c. 2 T.
Submitted by Tamara Carl
Edited by Joan Burr