How to Care for Stevia Plants: Grow, Harvest, & More

Apr 23, 2024
White stevia vs green stevia growing stevia plant with bowl of dried stevia and stevia tea in tea cup and clear tea pot

You’ve likely heard of stevia (Stevia rebaudiana)—it’s a popular sugar alternative—but did you know that it comes from a plant of the same name? 

 

Store-bought stevia packets and all-natural stevia couldn’t be more different. Most of those packets contain a sugar derivative, while the plant is packed with medicinal benefits. Just when we are trying to cut out the sugar, a sugar derivative ends up being the bulk of this store-bought sugar "replacement." It's time to skip the store-bought stuff and cultivate your own stevia plants in your garden!

 

Stevia plants produce organic stevia leaf extract, a natural sweetener. With our guide, you’ll learn how to cultivate and harvest stevia plant leaves for all of your cooking and medicinal needs. Discover the benefits of homegrown stevia, including its low-calorie sweetness and possible health advantages. From planting to drying, unlock the full potential of all-natural stevia in your home garden.

 

If you're tired of the chemical-filled store-bought stuff that just doesn't hit the mark, or if you're a green thumb looking for your next project, there are so many uses for stevia!

 

The Legal Stuff

This blog is provided by St. Fiacre's Farm LLC for informational purposes only. It does not constitute medical advice, and you should always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider for any medical questions or concerns. Please note that we may earn a small commission on any purchases you make through our affiliate links, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for your support!

 

 

What are Stevia Plants?

We get many of our customers at Farmhouse Teas asking us why we put stevia in some of our teas. The first thing that comes to mind most when thinking about stevia is the white powder from the store and the aftertaste that many people don't like (which isn't the same as the actual plant).

Stevia plants, from the Asteraceae family, are cultivated for their sweet-tasting leaves. They contain steviol glycerides, natural compounds that provide sweetness without any calories. It’s easy to see why someone got the bright idea to use a stevia plant leaf as a sugar substitute! The steviol glycerides are 300 times sweeter than surcose (a.k.a. what makes sugar sweet). No funky chemicals or artificial sweeteners here, just pure, sweet goodness without the calories. 

 

Stevia also goes by other common names such as: sweet herb, sweet leaf, honey yerba and candy leaf. It's common names give away how sweet this herb really is - naturally! There are over 200 different kinds of stevia so make sure you grab the right one! Stevia rebaudiana!

 

The benefits of stevia don’t stop there — this bright green plant is also believed to have medicinal properties. It has been shown to help regulate blood sugar levels, making it super beneficial for folks with diabetes. Its antimicrobial properties fight bacteria, is packed with antioxidants, and is anti-inflammatory. Stevia is also hypotensive, a vasodilator (fancy herbalist term for opening blood vessels), anti-tumor, anti-diarrheal, an immunomodulator (meaning to kick the immune system into gear), diuretic, and antifungal.

 

As you can see, the advantages of stevia go well beyond zero-calorie sweetness! But if you want to use it as a sugar substitute, that’s totally possible, too. Baking projects, sweet drinks, and more would all taste great made with all-natural organic stevia leaf extract. I'd recommend the extract for baking and the leaf for teas and cooking, but I'll discuss those details later.

Stevia Saftey

According to the AHPH's Botanical Safety Handbook, stevia rebaudinaa Bertoini has been used heavily as a sweetener for beverages in Paraguay as well as in other South American countries and Asia in the 20th century.  The studies of stevia have shown no adverse effects (Carakostas et al. 2008; Chatsudthipong and Muanprasat 2009), While two animal studies seem to show fertility reduction in both males and females using large doses (not food dosages) of stevia, four other studies still showed no adverse effects. (Mazzei Planas and Kuc 1968; Melis 1999; Askashi and Yokoyama 1975; Mori et al. 1981; Sinchomi and Marcorities 1989; Yodyingyuad and Bunyawong 1991). Dosages under 3 grams have not shown any adverse effects for those who are pregnant, and no studies have been done on those who are nursing, so there is no safety data for nursing mothers.

Stevia may induce low blood pressure by opening up the blood vessels and may increase urination. The FDA has not approved raw stevia for consumption because it MAY have an effect on kidney, heart and reproductive health. I always suggest that before using an herb in medicinal amounts you dig into the research and ask God for wisdom when making a decision on the use of such an herb. Dehydrated herbs are never considered totally raw as in the case of elderberries. Dried stevia is safe for consumption with no known side effects in food amounts. 

Those with already low blood pressure should use caution when consuming stevia.

 

 

Problems with Store-Bought Stevia

It’s time to move on to the not-so-sweet truth about stevia from the store. While those little packets may seem innocent enough, most of them are mixed with — or made entirely of — sugar derivatives. The dirty little secret is that stevia is NOT white. Since it is a plant and comes from the leaf it is very green. There are many chemical processes involved to make it white along with the sugar derivatives added to it.

 

These compounds are derived from sugar, meaning they do contain the sweet stuff that you’re trying to avoid! They’re also highly processed. Sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners are just a few examples of what you can find in store-bought stevia. Yuck. 

 

Erythritol is the main sugar derivative used and can actually put you at risk for heart attacks, strokes, and even death. (WebMD) There are no long-term studies on the effects of erythritol, yet the FDA lists it as "generally regarded as safe," making it so that food makers don't have to even list the ingredient on nutritional labels. Say what?! Things like this make me start growing my own of all sorts of things.

 

Just as a quick reminder - a few paragraphs ago, I shared how the FDA hasn't approved RAW stevia leaf - even though there are actual studies on it showing no adverse effects. Just sharing information here so that you can make an informed decision.

 

Erythritol is also said to slow down the bacteria in your mouth but let's remember that while we need good bacteria in our gut we also need good bacteria in our mouth so all bacteria slowing is not always a good thing. We don't have space to dive deeper into the dangers of sugar alcohol derivatives here but I would highly recommend studying up on them and reading all of your labels.

 

There are pure stevia extracts out there, but they can be a little pricey. If you’re looking to save some cash and have full control over what goes into your sweetener, getting into stevia plant cultivation is the way to go!

 

 Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

 

 

Growing a Stevia Plant

Now that you know just how great stevia can be, let’s talk about growing a stevia plant on your own. It's always great to have lots of backup systems and your own source of sweetener!

 

First, you’ll need to decide whether you want to start from seeds or opt for a plant start. Seeds are a great option if you’re feeling ambitious and want to watch your stevia babies grow from scratch. You can usually find them at your local nursery or via an online seed supplier. Alternatively, you could choose a plant start, which is basically a baby stevia plant that’s ready to be planted in your garden. This is my favorite method because you will probably only need one plant and a seed packet will give you many plants! A little of this goes a long way, and since it is in the mint family, it will tend to grow rapidly.

 

When it comes to planting, make sure your plants have well-drained soil and get regular watering — stevia is pretty low-maintenance, but it does appreciate a little attention and TLC.  In rainy Oregon my stevia plant outside died I believe from being too we and cold so I will be replanting mine in the hoop house on the farm where I can better control the environment. 

 

In terms of timing, spring is the perfect time to get those seeds or starts in the ground and watch them grow!

 

 

 

 

Harvesting, Drying, & Using Stevia

Below you’ll find the essential steps for maximizing your homegrown stevia’s sweetness. From knowing the perfect time to harvest to mastering the art of drying them for long-term use and how to actually use stevia, there’s plenty to learn! 

Harvesting 

Your stevia plant leaf will be ready to harvest about 90-100 days after you plant it, so be sure to note it in your calendar. You’ll know it’s time to harvest when the plant is mature but before it starts to flower — it typically grows to about 18 to 24 inches high and the plant becomes nice and leafy.

 

The sweetest leaves are the youngest ones, so make sure to focus on those. And don’t worry about hurting the plant as you pluck — stevia is resilient and will keep on growing, giving you plenty of sweet leaves to enjoy in the future. It's fun to hand a small leaf off to an unsuspecting child or guest and watch their face light up with the surprise of how sweet this green leaf really is!

 

You’ll also want to be mindful of the timing. Aim to harvest your stevia leaves in the morning when the plant’s essential oils are at their peak. Simply pinch off the leaves at the steam, leaving some at the top to encourage continued growth. The more you harvest, the more your plants will produce! When the plant starts to flower it will also stop producing new leaves because it is now focused on reproduction and creating seed.

 

Drying

Next up on your stevia plant cultivation journey is drying out the leaves you just harvested for future use. 

 

De-stem the leaves and pop them in a dehydrator in a single layer for optimal drying. Let them dehydrate until they’re nice and crispy—this usually takes about 12 to 24 hours, depending on the humidity of the dehydrator and room, as well as the humidity in the leaves themselves. We like to keep the temperature between 95 degrees F and 115 degrees F to preserve the natural sweetness and all of those beneficial compounds we mentioned.

 

Once your stevia leaves are dry, transfer them to an airtight container, like a glass jar or a resealable bag, to keep them fresh and flavorful. Store your dried stevia plant leaf in a cool, dry, dark place away from direct sunlight to help it stay fresh and sweet for about 18 months.

 

Uses

Now that your stevia is harvested and dried, it’s time to use it! Whether you’re whipping up a batch of cookies, brewing a pitcher of iced tea, or adding a touch of natural sweetness to your morning bowl of oatmeal, stevia is a wonderful option. To bake with the stevia you may either grind up the leaves and use them straight, though they are green so keep that in mind! 

When adding stevia to your recipes, keep in mind that it’s much sweeter than actual sugar, so a little goes a long way. You will want to cut the stevia at least in half if not to 1/4 of the amount of sugar. While a pinch of stevia in a drink is great, I don't usually recommend using it as your main baking replacement, even though it's possible. I would recommend sticking with honey or maple syrup for your main baking needs. Some ways that I would actually bake with stevia are adding it to a shortbread recipe to which you would want a green tint, such as some matcha shortbread shamrock cookies for Saint Patrick's Day.

 

You could also create a stevia tincture or organic stevia leaf extract by soaking the dried leaves in alcohol or glycerin. Use your tincture as a natural sweetener in drinks, desserts, or sweet sauces, or add it to a cup of your favorite herbal tea. This is actually my favorite way to make use of stevia! The possibilities are endless when it comes to this versatile little herb!

 

A weekly dose of stevia is said to be 50-200 mL dosed according to taste using a tincture of 1:2 Liquid Extract.

 

 

 

Stevia Plants Frequently Asked Questions

Is stevia good for you or not?

Stevia is generally considered safe and can be a healthier alternative for folks looking to consume less sugar or manage their blood sugar levels. It has zero calories and doesn’t affect glucose levels, making it a great choice for those with diabetes! That said, like anything else, it should be consumed in moderation. 

 

How can I use fresh stevia?

Fresh stevia can be used in a lot of different ways to sweeten foods and beverages! Simply pluck a stevia plant leaf or two and crush or chop them up to release their sweet flavor. Add to hot or cold drinks like tea or lemonade for natural sweetness without any calories. You can also sprinkle fresh stevia leaves over fruit, yogurt, or cereal — or incorporate them into salad dressings or marinades for a hint of sweetness!

 

Does all stevia contain erythritol?

No, not all stevia products contain erythritol. Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that’s often used as a bulking agent in stevia-based sweeteners to improve the texture and volume. Pure stevia extracts, made from organic stevia leaf extract, are just that: pure stevia. Make sure to check the ingredients list on stevia products to ensure they don’t include any erythritol before you buy. Do note that erythritol is not required to be on the label according to the FDA.

 

Do stevia plants come back every year?

Depending on where you live, stevia is either perennial or annual. In regions with mild winters, stevia will come back year after year under the right conditions. However, in colder climates, they act more like annuals and don’t survive the winter months. If you do have a mild winter, be sure to protect your plants from frost and cold temperatures and they’ll return each year.

 

 

Naturally, Sweeten Your Life!

There you have it! Everything you need to know about growing a stevia plant, from planting to harvesting, drying, and uses!  Rather than taking the risk and opting for store-bought, consider growing your own stevia patch. Use our comprehensive guide as a jumping-off point before you get started, and you’ll be well on your way to ditching store-bought stevia for good. If you would like a printed version of all the stevia details (known as an herbal monograph), make sure to check out our Herbal Studio Library or grab our FREE Herbal Journal Template and have fun filling it out and building your own herbal journal with all sorts of different herbal monographs.

Also, if you're not sure about planting your own stevia and would like to taste it first, we have many teas with stevia in them.

I'd love to know if you have tried Stevia before. What type did you try, and what did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below. I can't wait to hear everyone's stories about Stevia!

 

 

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