Stevia – Zero Calorie Sweetener that you can Grow

March 14th, 2009 by david laferney Leave a reply »

Stevia (stevia rebaudiana) is a new world herb that you might have only recently heard of.  Stevia leaves – while having zero calories – are claimed to be 30 times sweeter than sugar, and in fact one of the common names is “candy leaf” – the extract is supposedly 300 times sweeter than sugar!  Stevia is also reputed to have several health benefits including the  prevention of tooth decay and diabetes.  I don’t know about that, but I would guess that using less sugar probably would have those effects.

Is the idea of growing your own natural organic zero calorie sweetener intriguing to you?

These Stevia plants are 3 weeks old.

These Stevia plants are 3 weeks old.

I’m growing stevia for the first time this year from Burpee brand seeds that I bought at a local home improvement center.  I had heard that stevia was very hard to start from seeds, but I got about 50% germination rate by using bottom heat, keeping them very warm, continuously damp, and supplying 17 hours / day of florescent light.  After 3 weeks I have 6 healthy looking (if a bit slow growing) plants from the dozen or so seeds that came in the pack.  Since I have so few I’m being extra careful with them right now, and making sure that they stay above 50 degrees at all times.

I haven’t really found very much culture information about stevia yet other than that they don’t tolerate cold temperatures, and are a bit hard to start from seed, but easy to start from cuttings, and have few if any insect pests.  I also heard from a fellow in Australia that they grow almost as weeds there because they self seed.  He said that among other uses they put the raw leaves in salads.  I have in mind to try it in some herbal tea mixes, and perhaps brewing a tea with it and using it as a condiment.  I also hope to save my own seeds and perhaps over winter a plant or two next year.  Maybe I’ll sell a few starts at the farmers market if all goes well.

Until very recently it was not legal to even refer to stevia as a sweetener in the United States despite it’s very long record of benign use in other countries around the world.  Stevia could only be marketed as a dietary supplement in the U.S. –  But, now that the sweetener industry is ready to roll out their own stevia products that law has been changed.  Guess who lobbied the FDA to keep it illegal as a sweetener all those years?

Anyway, you might want to consider trying to grow stevia in your garden this year – if you do, let me know how it goes.

Happy Gardening

More information about Stevia

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