How To Grow Stevia and Preserve Stevia Leaf

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In an effort to eat healthier and be more self reliant, my family is growing a few stevia plants this year. You may know stevia from the grocery store as a white, processed powder; however preserving the leaf from your own plants will also provide you with many cups of green sweet goodness. You can grow stevia and preserve it yourself for a fraction of the price of the commercially processed product.

Author Charles Dowling, in his recent article in Permaculture Magazine, shares that he was able to harvest 8.4 ounces of dried stevia leaf from three stevia plants. Since stevia leaf is up to 15 times sweeter than sugar, his harvest is the equivalent of 53 pounds of sugar.

The History Of Stevia

In South American countries, this popular herb has been used for thousands of years as a sweetener. The primary ingredient comes from two chemicals, glycosides stevioside and rebaudioside A, that are 40 to 300 times sweeter than sucrose depending on where the plant is grown. (Source: New American Herbal by Stephen Orr).

Stevia and its extracts have no calories, few carbohydrates, and a glycemic index of zero. It can have a bitter aftertaste so you should introduce it to your palate in small doses until you are used to it. Use the conversion chart at the end of this post and substitute half of the sugar in a recipe with stevia to help your taste buds adjust.

How To Grow Stevia

Type: Tender perennial–usually grown as an annual. To overwinter in zone 7 and below: after harvesting, bring the plant inside the house and water weekly. You can also use a protected garage or greenhouse. Stevia will not survive an extended frost.

Height: 20-30 inches, however, with the right conditions your plant may reach 48-60 inches.

Growing: From seed or transplant. Plant Stevia seed in late winter. Keep it in a sunny windowsill until all danger of frost has passed. Stevia prefers a medium rich garden soil with compost and full sun. Stevia likes heat, humidity and has average water requirements. It does not like to have “wet feet” so if growing in a container make sure there is plenty of drainage.

Fertilizer requirements: Stevia plants respond well to organic fertilizers and compost since they release nitrogen slowly. Apply once a year, at the start of spring if the plant is in the ground. If it’s in a plant pot, add 20-30% of peat by volume to the plant pot and fertilize twice a season.

Pests: No serious pest problems for outdoor plants. According to The University of Kentucky Extension office in their publication Stevia, aphids and white flies can become a serious problem on stevia in greenhouses.

How To Harvest Stevia

You can begin harvesting Stevia leaves in July. To continue your harvest, just pinch out early blooms. The main stevia crop is harvested when plants are mature and blooms have just begun to form over the entire plant, generally in late summer.

Sweetness is intensified by cooler temperatures and short days; however, sugar levels decline after flowering. It’s a tradeoff you will have to decide on. I tend to harvest mine before cooler temperatures set in.

How To Preserve Stevia Leaf

Harvested plants are dried with low heat (95-120°F) and good air circulation for 24 to 48 hours. A dehydrator could be used for leaf drying, or if you have a lot of stems, plants can be dried in the sun and then threshed to separate the sweet leaves from the bitter stems.

Once dried, whole stevia leaves can be stored for 12 months in air-tight containers or plastic bags. To extend their shelf life, be careful of humidity.

Once the leaves are dry you can crumble them into a fine powder. Use a mesh screen or grind them in a food processor or coffee grinder. Store the powder in an air-tight container.

How To Make Liquid Extract

Perhaps the easiest way to preserve your stevia leaves is to make an extract. You only need a few ingredients, and a few days to accomplish it. A few drops of stevia extract are as sweet as a teaspoon of sugar.

You will need:

  • 1 glass jar with a tight fitting lid
  • Dried stevia leaves. They can be crumbled, chopped or powdered
  • Vodka or Rum

Using a ratio of 2 parts stevia to 3 parts liquid, place one cup of stevia in the jar and cover it with 1.5 cups of alcohol. Shake the mixture well and let it sit for no more than 36 hours (it will become bitter if you steep it longer than 36 hours). Strain through muslin or a coffee filter and pour the tincture into a dark colored bottle. It will keep indefinitely.

To remove the alcohol: once the 36 hours are up simmer the mixture on low heat for 30 minutes, stirring regularly. Be careful not to boil. When it cools, strain and bottle as above. This mixture should be kept in the refrigerator, where it will store for six months.

How To Make Stevia Syrup

Your dry stevia leaves can be used to make a healthy syrup for sweetening beverages, sauces, or even other syrups. A teaspoon of stevia syrup is as sweet as a cup of sugar.

Take 2 cups of warm water and add it to half a cup of dried stevia leaves. Put the mixture in a glass jar and let it steep for 24 hours. Strain the leaves from the mixture.

Cook the strained mixture on low heat, reducing it to a concentrated syrup. The syrup should last for a year, if kept in an airtight container in your refrigerator.

Stevia Conversion Chart

1 cup sugar 1 teaspoon stevia leaf powder or 1 teaspoon stevia extract
1 tablespoon sugar .25 teaspoon stevia powder or 6-9 drops stevia extract
1 teaspoon sugar a pinch stevia powder or 2-4 drops stevia extract

Stevia is becoming a popular plant and is readily available at most local nurseries. Thankfully it has few pests and is easy to grow and preserve. Now that you know how to grow stevia and use it, will you be adding it to your garden this year?


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  • Mike the Gardener says:

    Wow! This is so cool!

    What is the number of days to germination? Also, days to maturity? Just curious if this is something I will need to start indoors well before the summer season kicks off.

    • Denaz says:

      days to germination is about 7-21 and days to maturity vary as well – 75-100 days. Hope this Helps! 😀

    • Amber says:

      I tried it this year in canada in a pot. I am not the best gardener but even i had three out of twelve seeds germinate just trown in a pot and watered. The plants were 30 inches tall by end of summer. They took a long time to germinate, about three weeks outside, i planted a small basel plant with them thinking it was a bust but they made it even so. It was so worth it. Trying some seeds indoors next year a month ahead and see what happens.

  • Pamela says:

    I have been plucking a leaf off and putting in my ice tea for sweetener. Now that I know how to save I’ll be trying some of these ideas! Thanks!

  • Anita says:

    Good Article – will try to make some extract. Stevia is super easy to grow and propagate. We grew some this year- here are my experiences of growing and propagating. earthlychow.com/growing-and-propagating-stevia-stevia-rebaudiana

  • Patricia New says:

    Really informative article! I love the idea of Stevia Syrup and I will be trying it! Thanks Jennifer!

  • Jason says:

    1 carb = 4 calories

  • Arianna says:

    Does anyone know how many plants/leaves are needed for any certain amount dried?

  • mary gresham says:

    Can Stevie leaves be frozen and then used in tea or coffee?

    • Jennifer Osuch says:

      Yes, but you’ll need to break them apart to get the sweetness so it might not work out the way you would like if your freeze the leaves.

  • Denaz says:

    My friend put about 4~5 leaves (after he “dried” them, of course) into the “coffee filter” instead of coffee grounds and then he pretended it was “coffee grounds” and turned the machine on, lol…and when he was done, he called it Liquid Stevia Extract 😀

  • Denaz says:

    My friend said if you harvest the leaves when they are smaller, they aren’t bitter…but the longer/larger you let the leaves grow the more bitter they become – the closer the plant gets to flowering. After flowering, the plant doesn’t produce as much sweetness.

  • Mama says:

    I was growing a stevia plant on my front sunny porch. I just realized it appears to be drying out. We have had some chilly nights and sunny days. Can I still use the leaves it looks like there may have been some flowers ( recently dried up)
    Thanks
    How about trying to revive it and keep it inside over the winter?

    • Jennifer Osuch says:

      Hi,

      If the plant is dead you might not be able to use the leaves. Stevia is an herb like lavender or mint. It is a perennial that will come back next year is planted properly. However you might not have luck with reviving it if it’s in a pot. You can keep it inside as long as it has sun, water and fertilizer.

    • Amber says:

      I have used dried up leaves and as long as they are green they still had some flavour but not black or slimey. Not recommended to do though but i just finished drying them and used them.

  • Sheri Ramirez says:

    I planted 2 small plants in my Flagstaff, AZ (zone 6) summer home this year. One stayed rather small, but one not only grew but sprouted new plants. I wondered if i can dig it up, pot it, take it to my winter home in Tucson, then replant it in Flagstaff next summer. Or would that be more trouble than it’s worth? I plan to dehydrate the leaves, and appreciate you sharing this great info. THANKS!

    • Jennifer Osuch says:

      Hi Sheri,

      You could try doing that. With some tender loving care it should work. I’m curious as to why you want take it from Flagstaff to Tucson, then replant it in Flagstaff again? Do you just want to make sure you can harvest the leaves?

  • Sandy says:

    My husband grew up with a sweet tooth. He had a job that involved driving long miles, and developed a habit of keeping a bag of candy next to him and having a treat several times a day. Results were predictable. While struggling to drop the inevitable extra weight, I suggested Stevie to him. At the time there were concerns about toxicity in some of the commercial extracts available. I grew a handsome stevia plant in zone 5, harvested it at flowering and after a good rinse (city living!), pulled the branches apart air dried them for two or three days until crisp, picked the leaves off and filled a pint jar with it and put a few leaves in a tiny jar (original contents pimentoes) that he could keep air tight. While sitting at the computer he liked to open the jar, break of a bit and savor it like a mint several times in an evening, and I think he may have taken it to work with him. This pint of leaves lasted for 2 or 3 years in which time he retired, became more vigilant with diet and lost over 50 pounds! We are now both retired and homesteading, live in zone 3 where the growing season is pretty short. Concerns about stevia have settle, he uses an organic powdered extract, and is quite content with it as his beverage sweetener. I don’t bake much, when I do we sweeten with maple syrup or honey. The higher mineral content of these keeps his sweet tooth from going wild. Glad to have stevia on board!

  • Tracy Hicklin says:

    This is wonderful info! I just order seeds the other day so now I know better how to grow it. Thanks so much!

  • Amity Gardener says:

    My stevia plant looked dead from lack of water during the winter indoors (I live in Zone 7) but in spring when I put the pot back outside in the sun and watered it, it grew beautifully. So don’t give up, Mama. I have a nice crop dried in the sun now and will try to “thresh” them. Would someone please explain how that can be done?

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