How to Grow Stevia to Use as a Natural Sweetener & Sugar Substitute
Stevia is an herb and natural sugar substitute that doesn’t affect blood sugar. Learn how to grow stevia to use as a natural sweetener alternative to sugar.
Stevia is a wonderful, natural sugar substitute. Not only does stevia not affect blood sugar, it’s also not chemically produced. In fact, stevia is an herb you can grow in your own garden and then reap the rewards every fall. Here’s how to grow and harvest stevia for use.
How to Grow Stevia as a Natural Sugar Substitute
It’s recommended that you buy the initial stevia plants that you intend to grow since starting from seed can be tricky and stevioside levels – what makes the plant sweet – can vary widely in plants started and grown from seed. Buying your plants from a local nursery or like me – from a farmer on our city market – ensures you’re buying higher quality stevia. My plant is now over two feet tall and just a few weeks old.
Because stevia is sensitive to colder temperatures, you should wait to plant your stevia after all danger of frost has past and the soil temperatures are consistently in the 50s – 60s or higher. I think mine’s finally ready to go into the ground and sprout more green, leafy sweetness, however I’ve been waiting on this rain that we’ve had for the past week to stop first. Stevia plants will also do well in pots that are 10″ – 12″ in circumference.
When transplanting your plants to a garden area, be sure to plant them in rows 20 – 24 inches apart and space each plant about 18 inches from one another. Stevia grows tall and wide – about 30 inches tall and up to 24 inches wide so you need to allow for this growth.
Use the same soil you would for your regular garden plants adding compost to lock in moisture and add extra nutrients. Low nitrogen fertilizer is best or even an organic fertilizer would be fine. Water your plants frequently during the summer months but take care not to over water.
Harvest your stevia leaves in the fall as late as possible. The cooler fall temperatures help to intensify the sweetness of your crop. It’s recommended that you cut your branches from your plants before stripping the leaves.
You can also use the tips of the stems as they often contain the same amount of stevioside as the leaves from your harvest. If you’re in a climate where stevia will survive a cool winter, prune the plants so the stems are about 4 inches high.
Generally you can get a second harvest from these plants, but a solid third harvest is not as likely, nor will it be as productive. Otherwise be sure to keep cuttings from your harvest to root indoors, pot and keep for planting next spring.
Once you’ve harvested your stevia leaves you will want to dry them on a screen or net. Good air circulation is a must but this process doesn’t require a lot of heat. You can likely dry your leaves outside on a warm day in full sun in about a 12 hour period.
Once your leaves have dried, simply crush them by hand or in a coffee grinder to release the sweetness for future use. A liquid extract can be also produced by mixing a cup of warm water with 1/4 of fresh, finely crushed stevia leaves which you would then refrigerate after 24 hours.
Don’t have the space to plant stevia? You can also buy dried organic stevia leaves steep in your own tea blends. The whole organic stevia leaf is also available in powdered form. (Note that most commercial Stevia which is a white crystalline color is actually the dried powdered extract of Stevia and not the whole leaf.)