6 July 2008

New to growing Stevia

Stevia cuttings in waterSome of you may already know about Stevia, also called Honey Leaf and Yerba Dulce, a plant used as a sweetener - just a teaspoonful of the powder, depending how the plant was grown of course - can be equivalent to a cupfull of sugar.

Many claims are made for Stevia, that it has properties which help maintain blood sugar levels, it improves digestion, protects against Candida and even suppresses bacterial growth around teeth. Anything that helps reduce the amount of sugar we consume is a good thing and I grow it to reduce our honey consumption and be self-sufficient in a plant which I use in cakes, for sweetening drinks and bottling fruit.

I've been looking for seeds or plants of Stevia for some time. As if by magic, I was given three plants for my birthday in April this year.

Our vegetable plot should be ideal for growing Stevia as an annual - although it's a herbaceous perennial shrub in its native sub-tropical Paraguay. The plant likes moist sandy soil - ideally in raised beds which prevent the plant from rotting. My plan was to lift the plants or take cuttings and overwinter them on the back terrace where, under plexiglass and with the heat of the south-facing wall the conditions are frost-free. My citrus and olive plants have done well there for the past few years.

After hardening it off for a couple of weeks, I planted one of the plants into the garden and it disappeared overnight - totally consumed by slugs who ate the stem almost down to the root!

I spent a few early mornings cutting the slugs into bite-sized chucks which our chickens gobbled down enthusiastically and felt confident enough to plant another - protected by a ring of wood ash to deter even more slugs. The second plant didn't do well and lost a lot of its leaves and despite my attempts to revive it by retransplating it into a pot, it died.

Stevia Plant growing well in a potI kept the third plant in a pot and it's growing well. To get a good crop of leaves and to stop the plant flowering (It dies after flowering.) I nipped out the leader stems which has make the plant bushy and it's now a healthy specimen.

I've used the leaves to sweeten rhubarb in a crumble and the taste went well with the Angelica I put in with the rhubarb. I had to sprinkle some "real" sugar on top of the crumble because although it's heat stable and can be baked, Stevia doesn't carmelise like sugar, but it's good to know that I could be buying less sugar in the future.

Stevia cutting showing roots developingAs the weather warmed up I started taking cuttings from the mother plant. I took off the lower leaves, dipped the stem into a rooting hormone and put the cuttings into little pots full of sandy soil. So far, the cuttings put straight into soil are struggling and don't look as though they're going to make it but after seventeen days the cuttings I put into water look healthy and they've started shooting out little roots. I'll wait for another few days then pot them up to make new plants for the garden and to give away to friends.
When I've enough plants I'll put them into the potager to grow on and harvest the leaves for drying and storing in Autumn. Once the Stevia leaves are properly dried the leaves whole or ground to a fine powder will keep for years in glass jars.

I've a few other posts in the blog about Stevia - How to overwinter it and about the idea times and conditions for cuttings. Just click on the label "Stevia" below and you'll get all the posts on the same page.


detroit dog said...

Interesting post about Stevia. I've bought some in little packets to use in tea, but I don't really seem to taste it. I'm not sure if this is because of commercial processing, or my tastebuds are struggling (they seem to have difficulties with nuance). Still, it's encouraging to read your post. Perhaps I will try to find a plant and grow it in a pot, to see if it tastes different. I've been using organic agave, though, as a sweetener and love it.

Robbyn said...

We are trying stevia for the first time this year, as well. It sometimes does well, but has been a little finicky during the rains. I'll have to try cuttings and rooting them in water like you did...maybe we can keep enough going to be able to utilize it. I have a friend that uses stevia and says it works well as a sweetener in some things, but not in others, so we'll sample judiciously..it's very strong and the bees seem to love it :)

TheCrone said...

I've never heard of this herb before and I'm now on a mission to try to find some to grow at Wit's End. We have the sandy soil here and out temperatures grow mediterranean and tropical plants very well.

Do you mind if I link this post to mine so that I can see if anyone in my area has any seeds for sale?



La Ferme de Sourrou said...

Detroit dog, I've never tried agave, can you grow it? I don't take sugar in tea or coffee but I'm sure that the sweetner is important from the point of view of altering the subtle taste of the beverge.

Apparently although the plant needs a lot of water it hates damp feet, so the excessive rain here wasn't ideal for it !

I'll have to try using it in lots of different things to see how it goes...

Of course you can link the post, but seeds seems to very difficult to germinate - it's perhps better trying to get cuttings to grow on.

Good luck finding someone near you.


Dagny said...

I had never heard of Stevia before. Thanks for sharing the info. and tips on how to successfully grow it.

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Don said...

Very interesting post. Slugs are so annoying, I'm glad your chickens find them delicious. I searched our spice cupboard for a sweetener we bought a while back. I can't remember its name. Maybe it is Stevia and is out of alpha order.

Pete Grainger said...

I am now a woman on a mission trying to get some of this!!! We do not have sandy soil but do have raised beds!...with very good well drained soil!

e'Liz said...

thanks much for the comment about Stevia not liking "damp feet"-- I wondered why my little plants seemed to be failing, I may have overwatered them because I took to heart the instructions to give 'em plenty of water.

Also here in SoCal we're in a drought so I may have overcompensated. Another factor against their survival is, they were shipped 3000 miles to me across the country (the only place I could find that had plants for sale) and that trip (UPS 2nd day air) significantly weakened them.

Hopefully if I just stop overwatering now I can bring them back from the brink, wish me luck...

Exam house said...

I don't know anything about stevia . This is a strange term.

e'Liz said...

okay, update: I backed off on the watering and 2 of the 4 are now going gangbusters, new growth, vigorous, etc. One looks like a goner and the last one, could go either way. I hope to become skilled enough at doing cuttings, that I can share my stevia with others in my area later this year when they're bigger and stronger.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading your blog for a while, I'm in the UK and Stevia is banned :0( for sale as a sweetner. But I would love to grow some, so if anyone reading this has a secret Stevia nursery somewhere in Southern England, could they say so?!

Anonymous said...

Here is a link to a site where we buy liquid stevia. In Wisconsin we have no problem buying the "Sugar Plant" in greenhouses. I've never tried to winter it. We just let the kids chew on the leaves. I use liquid Stevia in my coffee, but typically cook with Agave nectar (available at Trader Joe's, Woodman's, and other grocery stores that carry organics)or non-bisulphered molasses or honey. Every single grocery store in my area has an organic section and carries Stevia. Is it really banned in the UK? Try getting it as an herbal supplement instaed of a sweetener.

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