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All About Growing the Stevia Plant

Learn how you can start growing organic stevia plants and provide your household with the perfect sugar replacement.

| 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
  • Stevia is a natural drink sweetener
    Sweeten your life by learning how to use stevia infused teas, tinctures and extracts as healthy sugar substitutes.
    Illustration By Keith Ward

  • Sprig of Stevia Plant
  • Stevia is a natural drink sweetener

(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.

1/12/2019 2:53:17 PM

Well, seems my plant is some 48 ". The problem is that it flowers during the winter, when I put in indoor. I dont like the plant to die when the winter comes, it is tropic creature, will not hibernate, it will just die at low temperatura. And the problem I have: when there are flowers the plant is not sweet any more. I prefer the leaves instead of dry leaves, probably just habit. If I prune the flowers and dead heads, the sweet taste comes back. Some similar experience? Some advise? Harvest seeds? And an advise: when you use the leave to sweet the coffee -- stear them, put them in the coffee when not so hot and wait 3 min. This plant is perfect for give a good sweet taste.

8/25/2018 7:51:43 PM

DO they come back each year or spread?

6/22/2018 2:19:52 PM

Thank you thank you, Mother Earth News. You are Heroes and Champions in keeping America healthy. How amazing stevia is. Diabetes is so far on the rose right now with 1 out of 3 people having diabetes. Horrible. Stevia, what a help it is. A friend grew it in Kiowa, Kansas. She brought the whole plant down to Oklahoma. Cut it up into pieces and made brownies, and also added it to delightful green tea. Leaves, stems and all, well except for the roots was used. Thank you and praise you once again. America is verging on malnutrition all due to the increase of GMO Foods. Also Scurvy. So horribly sad. We just must back and applaud the people qho are doing the good and the right thing: GMO FREE and Hydroponics.

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