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Stevia Sweet Stevia

October 10, 2014

imageMy introduction to stevia was many moons ago at a hostel in Santa Cruz California.

As happened often, gardening, agriculture, food came into the conversation and someone had gotten some dried stevia. I’d never heard of it before and was fascinated by the sweetness and the bit of a bite aftertaste – not bad but distinct.

Years later the idea of growing a sweetener – especially in addition to honey – still interested me. I read online but the information was vague at best. I got a few starts and dove in to find answers to the questions no one could answer.

Could it be grown in containers – yes. IF it’s not overwatered and allowed to sit in wet. Stevia is a little fussy in that way – it likes moisture regularly but not wet…let it dry out a little between waterings. One of the plants I lost was because it was too wet.

In other ways it’s very easy to grow. It doesn’t take special fertilizers – the initial bucket had some compost, and I add manure tea with rabbit manure every few months. It’s not cold hardy – it can take chills here in Alabama, but at freezing we bring the bucket in the house for the winter. Watch the spring regrowth – a couple times I thought it wasn’t going to come back when it turns out it was growing like crazy but the dogs were browsing on young shoots!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStevia is a native of Paraguay and Brazil and you’ll need to tinker with it to find ‘your zone’ for using. It’s not quite like sugar where you add a teaspoon and it’s all the same. I’ve found our main plant can vary with the season, and the size of the plant somewhat. Stevia doesn’t spike blood sugar levels and like using honey, maple syrup or other natural sweeteners, it takes some experimentation to find your level. For those wanting a specific plant name, look for Stevia rebaudiana. Stevia likes sun but will grow well in partial shade especially in hot weather like we have here in Alabama.

Seeds are tiny and sometimes fussy to germinate. I found better success putting in a tray with a lid, barely covering with soil, misting to moisten and covering to retain moisture. Use the black or dark seeds – take care when watering to not raise them out of the soil! You can even moisten the soil, plant the seeds and barely cover then cover the container. It will get wet on the lid with condensation and ‘rain’ to reuse moisture. I’ve found that works better than trying to water barely established seeds.

Of course the best part of stevia is eating it. There was some studies that hinted towards negative health effects, but it’s generally recognized as safe. Dried leaves can be crushed for tea, or grind thoroughly and top oatmeal with a teaspoon or so in the morning. Use in cocoa drinks or other drinks, both hot and cold. Sites like stevia.com have products available but also recipes.

Hot Chocolate

  • 3 tbsp cocoa
  • 1/2 tsp powdered stevia
  • 4 to 5 cups whole milk
  • 2 tbsp honey or maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Warm the milk in a sauce pan. Keep just below boiling (scalding the milk can leave a ‘burnt’ taste for some folks). While heating, mix the cocoa and stevia together, and add to warming milk, mixing in thoroughly. Just before removing from heat add honey or maple syrup, according to taste. Heat through and divide into mugs. Enjoy!

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