How to Grow Stevia  

From A Discussion On : How to grow Stevia?

As Posted by daisyduckworth on Thu, May 17, 07 at 19:35

The plant originated in Paraguay, which gives it its other name Sweet Herb of Paraguay. The botanical name for it is Stevia rebaudiana, and it has no known relatives.

The ban by the FDA was politics gone crazy and it makes interesting reading on just how stupid the bureaucrats can be!

The link below takes you to lots of previous threads about Stevia, but here's some info on it:

Tender perennial in warmer climates, treat as an annual in cold areas. Grows to 80cm tall and 60cm wide. Leaves can be from 2-8cm long and 5-30mm across, with gentle serrated edges. The leaves form in whorls on the upright stems. Small white flowers, with a similar appearance to heather, come in clusters on the tips of the stems in summer and autumn.

Propagate by seeds or by tip cuttings taken in summer, or root division in spring. Seeds are notoriously infertile and slow to germinate. Flowering usually occurs 54-104 days after transplanting. The plant is climatically suited to climates from temperate to sub-tropical where temperatures range between 21-43°C, with an average of 24°C, but it will also grow in the tropics, where it prefers shade and will also grow in cold climates with winter protection. Plants in the ground have been noted to take minimal frosts. It is a somewhat temperamental plant and may be slow to grow at first. Even in ideal conditions, it is not uncommon for plants to die suddenly or to lose their leaves. As long as the roots are alive, the plant may regrow. Poor, loose, well drained soil is recommended. The plants need to be well-mulched so that surface feeder roots do not dry out. For gardeners in cold climates, it is recommended that plants be started in large pots so that the pot can be moved to a warm verandah in winter. In cold climates, the plant may go dormant to the ground. As stevia does not over-winter outdoors in freezing conditions, the roots are lifted in autumn and stored indoors in perlite or sand and then set outside again in spring. Stevia requires regular watering in dry periods but has poor tolerance to long waterlogging or to saline water or soils. In its natural habitat, the plant occurs naturally on acid soils of 4-5 pH but will grow well on soils up to 9 pH. Leaf yields can be increased with a moderate application of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium fertilisers. Plants also respond well to liquid seaweed as a foliage spray applied fortnightly. As soon as the plant flowers, the leaf production slows down, so it is an advantage to nip off flower buds, to encourage further leaf development. If the plant is left to flower, the tip leaves take on a slightly bitter overtone. Because of its gangly growth, plant several together for support. Plant will die if left go to flower, so it should be cut back repeatedly to prevent flowering.

Harvesting: Collect leaves as required, preferably in autumn. They can be dried and powdered.

Culinary Uses: Use dried, powdered leaves as a substitute for sugar. One tablespoon of stevia or less is equivalent to about 1 cup sugar. Some people notice a slight after-taste, while others do not. A liquid sweetener is made by pouring 1 litre boiling water over 1 tablespoon dried leaves and leaving to infuse. Refrigerate and use within a few days or freeze for later. To make a syrup, place 4 teaspoons dried powdered leaves in a saucepan with 2 cups water, simmer slowly for 10-15 minutes. Cool and refrigerate. A teaspoon of Vitamin C powder may be added to act as a preservative. An infusion of fresh or dried leaves can be drunk as a beverage, hot or cold, or added to other herbs as a sweetener. If using fresh leaves to replace dried quantities listed above, multiply the amount 5 times. 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. An extract can be made by combining 1 cup vodka with 3/4 cup fresh stevia leaves in a jar. Shake every day for 2 weeks, then filter through a coffee filter. Add a drop to beverages.

From my own experience of growing Stevia, I've learned to remove the flowers as they appear - otherwise the plant will die down to nothing. I've also found that it's a cantankerous plant which can often die down to nothing for no apparent reason, even in ideal conditions. But you never give up on it! You can have an empty space or pot for up to a year, and then suddenly the plant will resurrect! Amazing.

Sweetness can vary from 10-600 times sweeter than sugar, dependent on a range of factors from soil, climate, time of harvest and many others.

It is NOT a true substitute for sugar in all recipes. It does not dissolve, it does not make a syrup. Consider it as a flavouring, much as you would vanilla.

To be honest, I don't like the taste of it, or rather, the earthy after-taste it has. Some people don't mind it, though.

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