All About Growing the Stevia Plant

Tickle your taste buds with the sweet-tasting, zero-calorie stevia herb.


| February/March 2013



Sprig of Stevia Plant

Growing stevia is easy in well-drained beds or containers, and the stevia leaves can be dried or crushed to replace sugar in teas, sorbets and more. 


Illustration By Keith Ward

(For details on growing many other vegetables and fruits, visit our Crop at a Glance collection page.)

If growing your own calorie-free, natural sweetener sounds too good to be true, it’s time to get to know stevia. Native to Paraguay and other tropical areas of the Americas, the stevia plant (Stevia rebaudiana) produces leaves packed with super-sweet compounds that remain stable even after the leaves have been dried. Stevia leaves have been used to sweeten teas and beverages throughout South America for centuries. More recently, diabetics and dieters alike have turned to stevia to reduce their sugar intake because, unlike honey, maple syrup, agave or molasses, this natural sweetener has zero calories and is not metabolized by the body. Stevia is especially well-suited to sweetening drinks, fruits, salad dressings, yogurt and most creamy desserts. Stevia can substitute for some, but not all, of the sugar used when baking, because it does not provide all of the multiple functions that sugar does.

The Whole-Leaf Stevia Difference

Many commercial drink mixes and packaged sugar substitutes are sweetened with a derivative of stevia. This sweetening compound is called Rebaudioside A and is listed on labels as either Reb A or Rebiana. These are highly processed products developed by large food corporations. Most of the raw stevia used to produce these products is grown in China. These “natural sweeteners” have been stripped of many of the plant’s healthful properties. Teas, extracts and tinctures made from high-quality, whole-leaf stevia, on the other hand, contain up to seven sweet compounds (glycosides) and an array of antioxidants.

Growing Stevia Plants

Growing stevia is easy in well-drained beds or large containers, and the leaves can be dried for winter use like any other herb. Stevia grows best in warm conditions similar to those preferred by basil. Plants grown in warm climates will grow to 24 inches tall and wide. Where summers are cool, expect stevia plants to grow up to 16 inches. Grow three to five plants for a year’s supply of dried stevia leaves.

Stevia can be started from seed indoors in late winter, but it’s best to grow it from rooted cuttings. Germination of stevia seeds tends to be spotty, so keep seed-sown plants under bright lights until the weather warms in spring. Look for stevia plants in the herbs section at garden centers, or locate mail-order suppliers using our Seed and Plant Finder. 

Choose a well-drained site, and set out the plants 2 feet apart after your last frost. Be sure to choose an accessible spot, because you will need to gather stems often. Where summers are extremely hot, stevia benefits from slight afternoon shade. Elsewhere, grow stevia in full sun.

ttolnay
4/24/2016 7:30:31 AM

Add a pinch of salt when you use stevia to make it taste better.


elsabe
12/30/2014 1:08:26 AM

I just want to learn more. Started veggie and herb garden. Got 2 big stevia plants and ya, don't know what to do!


aldy
8/2/2013 6:01:10 PM

I'm curious if heating the tincture shortens its shelf life.  Stevia was one of my few successes with self-irrigating pots(found on MENews website)  in a very hot dry climate.  I made a tincture using alcohol but didn't heat it - just strained it when it was ready to bottle.  It has lasted more than a year in my cupboard.  It only takes about 4 drops to sweeten a cup of tea (to my taste) so it doesn't get used up quickly.


bill.uhler.3
4/24/2013 5:44:31 PM

How long have you tried using it before giving up?  I find that a lot of food changes taste funny at first, but after a week or so you don't notice it.  Now when I use sugar, it tastes funny.


jennifer.kongs
4/23/2013 1:59:37 PM

Does anyone else think stevia has a funny taste? I love the idea, but just can't get past the flavor. Any tips?






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