If you have listened to the news or just like to learn about different plants or natural sweeteners, chances are you have heard of stevia. Stevia is an herb that is known to be sweeter than sugar and is native to South America. The great thing about this plant is that you don’t have to live in South America to grow it. In fact, there are people all over the world growing this product. In fact, stevia has proven to be quite resilient, growing well in climates ranging from those in Florida to Canada.
Stevia at Home
When you grow your own stevia at home you should be aware that it will not be as potent as refined white stevia extract, but it will still be a nice addition if you enjoy stevia tea leaves and like to use the natural sweetener in addition to the commercial stevia sweeteners that are already available.
Many gardeners also like to add stevia into their gardening repertoires because it has been shown to repel insects. Many believe that it is the sweetness of the plant that keeps aphids and other bugs away. If you are an organic gardener and want to plant something that will reduce the amount of bugs in your entire garden, stevia is a great choice because it is also a lot of fun to use and quite simple to grow.
How to Start Growing Stevia
Even the best gardeners are usually not all that successful growing stevia from the seed. Instead, it is much easier to grow stevia at home with starter plants. You may be able to buy the plants from your herbal or garden provider in your area. If you cannot find any stevia plants in your local area we recommend shopping the internet as there are many suppliers that will ship you as many baby stevia plants as you want.
Wherever you get your plants you should be sure that there is not the danger of frost when you plant them, as the young plants are very susceptible to cold temperatures. It’s best to plant stevia when soil temperatures are into the 50’s and 60’s if you want them to thrive. When planting you will want to place the young plants in rows that are 20 to 24 inches apart and you should ideally leave 18 inches between plants. Stevia plants will eventually grow to be about 30 inches tall and will be 18 to 24 inches wide.
How to Continually Care for Your Growing Stevia Plants
Caring for stevia is quite simple, especially if you plant in very rich soil. The feeder roots of these plants are very near the surface, so it’s a good idea to use compost to really get your plants going. You should be careful not to over-water them and in the summer months you should take care and add mulch to your plants to keep the roots from drying out.
In the late autumn you will want to strip your stevia plant of its leaves, leaving about four inches of stem at the base during this pruning process. Once you have harvested all of your leaves you will need to dry them using a net or screen. The best place to dry them is in direct sunlight, which should take about 12 hours. If you allow for the process to take longer you will not be able to take advantage of the sweetness of the plant. If you do not live in a climate where sun is abundant you can always use a home dehydrator.
After the leaves are dry you can grind them in a coffee bean grinder for later use. If you would like liquid stevia you can choose to add a cup of warm water to one-quarter cup of crushed stevia leaves and let the mixture set out for 24 hours at room temperature. Finally, refrigerate the liquid stevia and use it later in your tea or other beverages and foods as you please.