Stevia is a tropical perennial herb grown as an annual. The sugary tasting leaves of stevia are 30 to 40 times sweeter than granulated sugar—and they have no calories. The leaves can be used fresh, dried, or ground as a sugar substitute to sweeten desserts, fruit, and drinks.
Get to Know Stevia
- Botanical name and family: Stevia rebaudiana is a member of the Asteraceae—daisy family.
- Origin: Paraguay and Brazil
- Type of plant: Stevia is an herbaceous perennial grown as an annual.
- Growing season: Summer
- Growing zones: Stevia grows best in warm conditions similar to those preferred by basil, Zone 9 and warmer. Stevia will overwinter in frost-free regions. It does not do well in hot, dry conditions.
- Hardiness: Stevia prefers hot humid growing conditions.
- Plant form and size: Stevia is a small clumping, semi-shrub that grows 12 to 15 inches tall. In warm, tropical climates stevia can grow to 24 inches tall and wide.
- Flowers: Stevia has delicate white flowers.
- Bloom time: Stevia blooms on and off through the summer.
- Leaves: Medium-green sage-like leaves are serrated and ovate and grow opposite one another on a rangy stem.
How to Plant Stevia
- Best location: Grow stevia in full sun; in hot dry regions grow stevia in dappled sunlight.
- Soil preparation: Grow stevia in a well-drained, loamy soil. Add aged compost to the planting bed and turn it under before planting. Stevia grows best when soil pH ranges from 6.7 to 7.2.
- Seed starting indoors: Start stevia indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost in spring. The seed will germinate in 7 to 21 days at 70°F.
- Transplanting to the garden: Transplant stevia outdoors after the last frost when the weather is settled and warm. Stevia will not tolerate temperatures below 45°F.
- Seed starting indoors: Sow stevia seed outdoors two or more weeks after the last frost in spring when the soil has warmed and nighttime temperatures stay warmer than 60°F.
- Planting depth: Sow seed ¼ inch deep.
- Spacing: Space stevia plants 10 to 12 inches apart; stevia has a clumping growth form; allow room between plants.
- How much to plant: Grow 3 to 5 stevia plants each year for fresh or dried leaves.
- Companion planting: Grow stevia with sweet woodruff and lemon verbena.
How to Grow Stevia
- Watering: Keep the soil evenly moist.
- Feeding: Side dress stevia compost tea or a dilute solution of fish emulsion every two weeks starting in early summer.
- Care: Pinch the growing tips back to keep stevia compact and bushy. Stevia branches are brittle so be careful when weeding or working around the plant. Replant stevia each year for fresh, compact growth and flavorful leaves.
- Container growing: Stevia grows well in containers. Choose a pot 12 inches deep and wide. Grow stevia in bright place out of direct sunlight.
- Winter growing: Bring stevia indoors when there is danger of frost. Grow stevia as an annual indoors in winter.
- Pests and diseases: Stevia is generally not bothered by pests or diseases.
How to Harvest Stevia
- When to harvest: Harvest leaves for fresh use as soon as the plant 8 inches tall or tall. Harvest leaves in the morning when the plant is at its highest sugar content. Leaves will be less flavorful after the plant blooms. As frost approaches, harvest the whole plant before flowers buds open. After the plant blooms leave will have a bitter aftertaste.
- How to harvest: Harvest leaves with a snip or garden scissors.
Stevia in the Kitchen
- Flavor and aroma: Stevia leaves have a sugary taste. They are 30 to 40 times sweeter than granulated sugar and have almost no calories.
- Leaves: Leaves can be used fresh or dry to sweeten beverages, cereals, fruits, salad dressing, yogurt, and most creamy desserts. One-eighth teaspoon of dried stevia leaves equals 1 teaspoon of sugar
- Cooking: Stevia can withstand cooking; it will not caramelize like sugar.
- Diet note: Diabetics and dieters use stevia to reduce their sugar intake.
Preserving and Storing Stevia
- Refrigeration: Use leaves fresh; leaves will keep a couple of days wrapped in a damp paper towel placed in a perforated plastic bag in the crisper.
- Drying: Dry leaves on a screen or drying tray. Leaves dry quickly, usually in a day. Crush dry leaves to a powder or powder leaves with a food processor. Use the powder to sweeten beverages and food.
- Storing: Store dry or ground leaves in an airtight container.
- Seed: Seeds germinate in 14 to 21 days when kept moist and warm.
- Cuttings: Start plants from 4 to 6-inch tip cuttings. Dip cut ends in a liquid rooting hormone and place in organic potting soil. Keep the air temperature 70°F at night and warmer during the day.
Also of interest: