Stevia is well known today as a nonnutritive sweetener, a healthy sugar substitute that is 200 – 400 times sweeter than sugar. A natural way to sweeten foods without calories is to use whole stevia leaves.  Stevia plants are fun to grow in the home garden or containers.

Native to South America, this plant grows well in USDA zones 10 and 11. In other regions, grow it indoors year-round or outdoors in summer. Stevia, part of the Asteraceae family, is an herbaceous perennial that grows up to two feet tall and wide.

The native people of Brazil and Paraguay have used this plant for thousands of years to sweeten drinks and make medicines more palatable. Many known health benefits of stevia are related to calorie intake and weight loss or maintenance. 

Studies have found that using stevia can help people with diabetes manage blood sugar levels. One study also found that stevia can reduce “bad” cholesterol levels. If stevia reduces your sugar intake, it can help you lose or maintain weight. A few studies have found that stevia may have anti-cancer properties as well.

Growing stevia plants in the garden

Because it is a tropical plant, starting stevia seeds indoors eight to ten weeks before the last frost is best. Stevia plants thrive in bright sunlight and loamy soil, which is a balanced combination of sand, silt, and clay. 

Loamy soil provides good drainage while retaining enough moisture and nutrients for healthy plant growth. Ensure that the soil is well-draining to prevent waterlogging, which can lead to root rot. Avoid heavy clay soils that tend to hold water for extended periods. If your soil doesn’t naturally drain well, consider amending it with organic matter such as compost or aged manure to improve drainage.

Stevia plants prefer a slightly acidic to neutral soil pH level ranging from 6.5 to 7.5. Test the pH of your soil using a soil testing kit available at garden centers or through agricultural extension services. Adjust the pH by adding amendments like elemental sulfur to lower pH or lime to raise it if necessary. 

Adding organic matter to soil can improve its structure, fertility, and moisture retention. Mix well-rotted compost or aged manure into the soil before planting to provide essential nutrients and promote healthy root development.

Applying a layer of organic mulch, such as straw, shredded leaves, or bark mulch, around the base of stevia plants can help regulate soil temperature, retain moisture, suppress weeds, and add organic matter to the soil as it breaks down over time.

Sow seeds to a depth of one-quarter inch and look for seedlings to emerge in two to three weeks.

Tips for growing stevia plants in containers

Container selection: Choose a large container with good drainage holes at the bottom. A container with a minimum diameter of 12-16 inches and a depth of 12 inches should provide enough space for the stevia plant’s roots to grow.

Potting mix: Use a well-draining potting mix specifically formulated for container gardening. Avoid heavy garden soil, as it may compact and impede drainage. Mix in some perlite or coarse sand to improve aeration and drainage as needed.

Sunlight: Place the container where the stevia plant will receive at least 6-8 hours of sunlight per day. Stevia plants thrive in full sun but can tolerate partial shade, especially in hot climates.

Watering: Water the stevia plant regularly to keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Container-grown plants may require more frequent watering, especially during hot, dry weather. Check the soil moisture regularly by inserting your finger into the soil; if it feels dry to the touch, it’s time to water.

Fertilization: Fertilize the stevia plant with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer every 4-6 weeks during the growing season. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the application rate and frequency. Avoid over-fertilizing, as this can lead to excessive leaf growth at the expense of sweetness.

Pruning: Pinch off the growing tips of the stevia plant periodically to encourage bushy growth and prevent it from becoming leggy. Pruning also helps promote the production of new leaves, which are the sweetest part of the plant.

Protection from frost: If you live in a region with cold winters, bring the container indoors or provide protection during frosty weather. Stevia is sensitive to frost and will not survive prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures.

Harvesting stevia leaves

Harvest stevia leaves as you need them. They have their best flavor before flowering, so pinch off flowers as they appear. Alternatively, you can harvest the entire plant by pulling it up just before flowering.  

Use stevia leaves fresh in teas and other beverages or even as a sweet and pretty garnish. Store the fresh leaves in the refrigerator for a few days or in a glass of water.

How to make stevia powder

Stevia powder is a great way to sweeten your favorite beverages or even use in baked goods. 

Pick mature stevia leaves from your plant. Choose leaves that are healthy and free from any diseases or pests. Rinse the leaves thoroughly under cold water to remove any dirt or debris. Once the leaves are clean, it’s time to dry.

There are a few methods you can use to dry the leaves:

Air drying: Lay the leaves in a single layer on a clean towel or mesh screen. Place them in a well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight. Allow the leaves to dry naturally for about 1-2 weeks until they are dehydrated and brittle.

Oven drying: Preheat your oven to its lowest setting (ideally around 100-120°F). Place the leaves on a baking sheet in a single layer and put them in the oven. Prop the oven door open slightly to allow moisture to escape. Check the leaves regularly and remove them once they are dry and brittle, which should take about 1-2 hours.

Dehydrator: If you have a food dehydrator, you can use it to dry the leaves, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Set the temperature to around 100°F  and dry the leaves until they are crisp, which may take 4-6 hours.

Once the leaves are dry, you can grind them into a fine powder using a blender, food processor, or coffee grinder. Make sure the equipment is clean and dry before use. Grind the leaves in small batches to ensure an even consistency. Pulse or blend until you achieve a fine powder.

Transfer the powdered stevia to an airtight container, such as a glass jar or resealable bag, and store it in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Properly stored, homemade stevia powder can last for several months.

Use powdered stevia as a natural sweetener in various recipes and beverages, adjusting the amount to taste since it is much sweeter than sugar. Enjoy the sweetness without the calories or carbohydrates.

Happy Growing,

Hi There! Susan Here ?

(aka the Earthen Mamma)

As a Certified Health Coach, Master Gardener, and Author, my goal is to equip and inspire you to live the healthy and sustainable life you deserve.

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