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Stevia Plants vs. Stevia Powders: What Is the Difference?
Most stevia products you’ll find in the grocery store are heavily refined powders (known as stevia powder) that serve as a sugar substitute or sugar replacement. Home-grown stevia—grown in your home garden bed or on the windowsill with your herb garden—will give you a wonderfully sweet harvest of pure stevia leaves or extract that you can use in the kitchen for more natural sweetness.
When to Plant Stevia
You can plant stevia seeds or cuttings after the threat of the last frost has passed. To start your stevia early, plant the seeds or cuttings indoors, and transplant them into the garden later. Alternatively, you can plant your stevia seeds or cuttings into an indoor pot to keep the plant in the windowsill all year long.
How to Grow Stevia From Seeds
To plant your own stevia from seeds:
- Choose the site. Stevia needs full sun to thrive, so pick a site that receives at least six hours a day of direct sunlight.
- Prepare the soil bed. Stevia grows best in soil or potting mix rich with organic matter. Avoid chemical fertilizers when planting stevia, since these can affect the sweetness of the leaves.
- Sow the seeds. Sow the stevia seeds three inches apart, and about a half-inch deep.
- Water. Immediately after planting, water the area gently to help the soil settle. Keep the soil evenly moist as the seeds germinate.
- Thin. If you plan to transplant the seedlings, you’ll need to thin them once they reach at least two inches tall. Thin the seedlings back until they are at least six inches apart to give them room to grow in the garden. To grow the seedlings in indoor pots, thin the seedlings to two to three plants per large pot to give them additional room.
- Transplant. Once the weather outside is warm enough, transplant your stevia seedlings into the garden, allowing at least 18 inches of space between plants.
How to Plant Stevia From Stem Cuttings
While slightly harder to find, stem cuttings are the most reliable way to begin growing stevia. To grow your own stevia plant from stem cuttings:
- Choose the site. Stevia needs full sun to thrive, so pick a spot with at least six hours of sunlight per day.
- Prepare the soil bed. In terms of soil quality, stevia grows best in soil rich with organic matter. Avoid chemical fertilizers when planting stevia, since these can affect the sweetness of the leaves.
- Select and prepare the stems. If you’re cutting from an established stevia plant, cut stems that are six to eight inches long, from just below a node of leaves. Strip the leaves from the lower third of each stem. For the fastest results, dip the bottom of each stem in rooting hormone to encourage root growth.
- Plant the cuttings. Plant each cutting by burying the lower inch of the stem in potting soil.
- Keep moist. While the new plants are establishing roots, keep the soil evenly moist.
- Transplant to the garden. After four weeks, your cuttings should have grown roots. Transplant each cutting into the garden, spacing each plant 18 inches apart for room to grow.
How to Care for Stevia
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Stevia plants require basic maintenance. For best results:
- Water. In the wild, stevia plants often grow near bodies of water like ponds and lakes, so be sure to keep the soil in your garden consistently moist for best results.
- Prune. Similar to herbs like cilantro and basil, once stevia plants grow flowers, the flavor of their leaves starts to diminish or even develop a bitter aftertaste. To avoid letting your plant lose its sweetness or turn bitter, pinch off flower buds as they form, or trim stems to encourage the growth of new stems and leaves rather than flowers.
- Prepare for winter. In USDA hardiness zones 8 and higher, stevia can be grown as a perennial and left outside throughout the winter. To protect your plants, use a row cover or mulch around the plant to retain soil warmth. In colder climates, bring your stevia plants indoors during the winter, or simply pull them up at the end of the growing season and plant more next spring.
How to Harvest Stevia
Harvesting stevia is simple: pick leaves off of the plant as you need them, leaving the rest of the plant to continue growing. Picked leaves can then be prepared a number of ways as an alternative to artificial sweeteners, honey, or syrup:
- Use fresh leaves. You can chop or crush fresh stevia leaves directly into hot drinks or tea blends for natural sweetening.
- Dry the leaves. If you dry your stevia leaves (whether you use an upside-down paper bag or a dehydrator), you can store dry leaves in an airtight container for months to continue using them during the offseason as you would fresh leaves. Dry stevia will begin to lose its strong sweet taste after a few months.
- Make an extract. You can make fresh or dried stevia leaves into a liquid stevia extract for broader use in the kitchen. To make stevia extract, add a handful of chopped stevia leaves to a jar and fill it with vodka. Leave the jar to sit for up to two days, shaking or stirring occasionally. Then, strain the liquid through a coffee filter into a pot and cook over the lowest heat for 30 minutes until the vodka flavor is mostly boiled off and the liquid has turned thicker and more syrupy. This extract can be stored in a glass jar or tincture in the refrigerator for up to three months.
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