by Trisha Shirey
A member of the sunflower family, tender perennial
Known as sweet leaf or sugarleaf
Native to Paraguay, some varieties native to New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas
Used during WWII when sugar was rationed
Leaves are 20 to 30 times sweeter than sugar, but also have bitter compounds
A single fresh leaf can be equivalent to two teaspoons of sugar
Two tablespoons of dried leaves can be equivalent to one cup of sugar
Powdered white stevia has been refined to remove the bitter flavors
Sweetest when grown in hot climates
In the 70’s Japan started cultivating stevia as an alternative to sweeteners like saccharine
It has been used in carbonated beverages there for years; just starting to use in the U.S., marketed as Truvia
China is the largest exporter of stevia
Few pest problems on the plants, occasional spittlebugs
Grows to 24 to 30 inches tall.
Does not like temps below 50 degrees
Can flop over when flowering – cage to keep upright
Will grow well in containers
Sensitive to cold, plant late and protect
Like rich, well-drained soil
Don’t overwater, but stevia likes consistent moisture
Keep flowers pinched off in summer
Fall is the best time to harvest for flavor.
Sweetest just before flowering stage
Cut back to 4 to 6 inches at harvest
How to use
Dry the leaves in a dehydrator or in the sun. Need to dry quickly, since the stevioside which provides sweetness degrades quickly.
Crush the leaves in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, or grind to a powder in a food processor. Store in a glass jar.
Liquid stevia extract: 1 cup warm water to 1/2 cup bruised fresh leaves, infuse 24 hours, strain, then refrigerate. Use to sweeten lemonade, teas, mojitoes, mint juleps
Dried stevia or liquid concentrate can be added to recipes with honey or other sweeteners. Use half or less of the original sweetener.