Stevia is native in Brazil and Paraguay. In the wild stevia is found along marshes and streams where the soil is sandy. It is also called Sweet Herb of Paraguay.
Spanish Conquistadors were introduced to stevia in the 16th century in South America. The local Guarani and Mato Grosso Indians used stevia (called CAA-HEE) to sweeten their medicines and teas.
Stevia was used by European settlers to sweeten their teas, drinks and foods. The Europeans called stevia Yerba Dulce which means sweet herb. The Gauchos of the region used stevia to sweeten their Mate.
In 1899 Stevia was first catalogued botanically by M.S. Bertoni.
In 1931 a stevioside extract from the stevia leaf was being made by Briedel and Lavielle.
1970 Japan deemed chemical sweeteners unsafe. By 1977 the commercial extraction of stevioside was underway in Japan. Japan now consumes over 50% of the stevia market.
One note on stevia seeds. They are very infertile, about 93%! There are black and tan colored seeds, however only the black seeds will germinate. When planting stevia seeds you ned to plant them about 8 weeks from the last frost date. Plant the stevia seeds on top of the soil as they need light to germinate. The optimal germination temperature for stevia is 75-85 degrees F. Be forewarned that they are very slow to germinate. Just have patience.
The other way to start stevia is to start it from tip cuttings. In the spring, make a cut, diagonally between two nodes (leaves), off of the top of the stevia plant that is about 2 to 4 inches long and has 2 or 3 nodes on it (branches). Remove the large leaves off of the tip cutting. Take care to leave the axillary leaves on that are emerging behind the large leaves, these will be the new leaves. Dip the tip cutting in willow water or rooting hormone. plant it in a peat lite mix make sure that you have at least one node above the surface. keep the cutting between 60 and 70 degrees F. Put in bright light. You should see growth in one week. In 3 to 4 weeks you should need to transfer to a new pot and add amendments. It will be ready to transplant into the garden in about 2 more weeks. You now have a new plant!
You may also take a root division in the spring from one of your existing plants that you have overwintered.
Stevia is a tender perennial in zones 9 and above. Here in Central Texas it will overwinter if you protect it’s shallow roots well. I have overwintered stevia in a hoop house. You may also dig it up and put the roots in sand and replant it after all danger of frost has passed. Another suggestion is to dig it up in the fall and transplant it into a pot. Or you may grow it from a pot right from the beginning.
Stevia grows to about 2 feet tall and 6 inches wide at the top. The leaves form in whorls on upright stems. The leaves have a gentle serrated edges. The flowers are small, white and on the tips of the stems.
Space stevia about 10 to 12 inches apart. Stevia does well in clumps, it likes the support. Stevia will also come back fuller the second year. But should only be in the ground for a few years.
Stevia likes full sun to part shade.
Stevia prefers a very acidic soil with a pH of 4-5 but it will tolerate a pH up to 7.5.
Stevia likes loose, well drained soil. If you have clay soil just add compost and it will do fine. You must mulch very heavy, as it has very shallow feeder roots as well as the tap roots and it dries out very quickly in the summer. 4 inches of mulch is a minimum in the summer, more is better. Stevia likes the soil moist but not wet. Do not leave the soil water logged. And do not let it dry out.
Stevia does not like heavy nitrogen fertilizers. Use an all purpose organic fertilizer at the package rates and side dress with compost. Foliar feeding is good as well. Mid season make sure to give it a good does of fertilizer as well as when you plant it.
You do not want your stevia to flower unless you are done harvesting the herb for sweetening. The herb will have a bitter aftertaste after it flowers. Only let it flower if you are saving seeds in the fall.
We are extremely lucky to have a long growing season. You can collect the leaves as you need them throughout the growing season. In the summer (and again in the fall) before the plants bloom cut the plants back to 6 inches above the ground. You do not want the plants to bloom as it will impart a dirty bitter taste. if you are not ready to harvest then pinch off the flower buds just like you would basil to hold you off for 2 or 3 days.
To dry the herb, strip the leaves off of the stalk and put them on screens or in a dehydrator at 100 degrees F. the drying process should only take 8 hours for the stevioside to stay strong. They dry very quickly, believe me!
Approximately 6 large leaves chopped finely is a substitute for 1/2 cup of sugar for baking or in cooked recipes.
1 teaspoon of ground stevia is equal to 1 cup of sugar; 2 drops of liquid essence is equal to 1 teaspoon sugar.
1 Cup Vodka
3/4 Cup Stevia Leaves
1. Put stevia leaves in jar, add vodka.
2. Shake every day for 2 weeks.
3. Filter through a coffee filter.
4. Add a drop to beverages.
4 tsp Dried Powdered Stevia Leaves
2 Cups Water
1 tsp vitamin c powder – optional
1. Place the stevia in a saucepan with water simmer over low heat for 10 to 15 minutes. Cool and refrigerate. Add the vitamin C powder as a preservative if desired.
I litre boiling water
1 tbl dried stevia leaves
Pour boiling water over leaves. Leave to infuse at least 1 hour or longer. Strain through a coffee filter. Refrigerate and use within a few days or freeze for later.
If using fresh leaves to replace dried quantities listed above, multiply the amount 5 times.
I use stevia every single day of my life. I dehydrate it and then run it through the blender to make a powder. I put a little in my coffee basket before I grind my coffee and put it in. While my coffee is brewing the water is going through my stevia. It works great because I then have no green green herb floating around in my drink. The other alternative would be to make a liquid sweetener from it. This works perfect for me. I also do the same and throw a few leaves in the pot when brewing a pot of tea. Have fun experimenting. Always start out adding a little. You can always add more! Here are some links to sites that have stevia recipes. Make sure to look and see if it is using white stevia powder or liquid. The white stevia powder is a little stronger than the green powder that you make at home. It is refined. One more thing to note on stevia and cooking is that stevia has a sweet aftertaste so it is typically mixes with a little bit of fruit or honey in a bloom to give you the initial sweetness. This pleases your palate instantly. The amazing thing about stevia is that it still sweetens long after sugar does. You may find that it had an herby licorice taste. I have found that as long as I do not put too much in I am okay. It also depends on the foods you are mixing it with. Once you get the hang of it, you will be a pro!