If you’re like me, you’ve seen Stevia in grocery stores and coffee shops. Usually it’s featured on a sugar-free alternatives of soda, coffee or dessert. So, what exactly is stevia? It wasn’t until I was strolling through my local nursery that I realized and made the connection that stevia was a plant – a plant that I could grow myself. Accordingly – I bought a plant, put it in a pot where it got some sun, watered it when it was dry, and used the leaves as a natural sweetener to iced teas, cocktails, and as a preserved powder.
What is stevia? Stevia is a plant that is used as a sweetener, sugar substitute. Stevia is claimed to be 30 to 150 times sweeter than sugar. Stevia is also a popular sugar substitute because it is zero calories. Stevia is very sweet upon initial taste but has a strong after-taste that is bitter and sometimes compared to licorice.
In this post I will walk you through a little bit of stevia’s history and some helpful tips for growing and preserving your own stevia.
Brief History of Stevia
The genus name of stevia is Stevia rebaudiana. Stevia has been used for centuries in South America as a sweetener. The genus name, stevia, is named after botanist and physician Petrus Jacobus Stevus (Pedro Jaime Esteve 1500-1556). Stevus was a professor at the Univeristy of Valencia.
The stevia that is used in sugar-alternative products that your find in the store are derivatives of the stevia plant that is grown. How stevia is extracted can vary by the source. To produce, rebaudioside A, the stevia extract used in consumables purchased, stevia plants undergo water extraction and crystallization techniques. These techniques can include solvents such as ethanol and methanol.
Stevia prefers the following growing conditions:
- Large, well- drained container
- Warm conditions – 68-80 degrees
- Start from seed indoors, late winter OR purchase plants from nursery in early-mid spring
- Harvest regularly as a young plant to encourage branching
- Water when soil is dry when you stick your finger in soil 1 inch
Making Your Own Stevia Powder
First step – harvest your stevia. I harvested my stevia just before it was about to go to flower and produce seeds. I harvested the enter plant by cutting at the based.
Next, thoroughly rinse your stevia to remove any dirt or bugs.
I then harvest the leaves by going against the stalk or grain with my fingers. Leaves and bunches of leaves should fall of very easily.
Lay the leaves on dehydrator trays, making sure they don’t touch. Set dehydrator temperature to 105 degrees and let dehydrate for about 4 hours or until the leaves are crisp and absolutely moisture-free.
Gather dried leaves and place in coffee grinder, and grind to a fine powder. If you don’t have a coffee grinder you can place the leaves in a ziplock bag and use a rolling pin to crush to a rough powder. I prefer a coffee grinder because it produced a smoother, finer powder.
Store in an airtight container.