Also known as sweet stevia. The US FDA once banned the sale of stevia products in 1991, but 3 years later approved their sale as dietary supplements. Stevia cannot be sold for use as a tabletop sweetener, which is considered a conventional food.
Stevia is an herb from a semitropical perennial shrub of the daisy family, native to the mountains of Brazil and Paraguay. This plant packs so much sweetness into its leaves that they can be used in place of sugar.
One dried leaf, ground, is 10 to 15 times sweeter than an equal amount of sugar, and powdered extracts made from the leaves are up to 300 times as sweet, without the calories (make that no calories!). Plus it is a very attractive plant that pots well.
Nonetheless, people can buy stevia powder and use it as a sugar replacement at home. One fresh stevia leaf is enough to sweeten a cup of tea, coffee or a glass of lemonade. The leaves can be added to barbecue sauce, salad dressings, soups, and stews.
Cultivation of Stevia
Site: Stevia plants like a rich loamy soil and it must get about 3-4 hours of sunlight per day. Their feeder roots are near the surface, it is best to ad compost for extra nutrients if your soil is sandy. Stevia roots are sensitive to excessive moisture. Be careful when watering and make sure their soil drains easily. Frequent light watering is best during the summer months.
Propagation: Stevia is difficult to start from seed. It is best to buy "proven-sweet" starter plants from a reputable nursery.
Growing: Young Stevia plants are sensitive to low temperatures, so you should wait until any chance of frost has past and soil temperatures are 50 to 60 degrees F. before transplanting them into to your herb garden. Plant 18 to 24 inches apart. This plant will grow to about 1 - 2 feet high and wide. You can also grow Stevia indoors. Hydroponics systems work well or a 10 to 12 inch container filled with a light weight growing mix. Add some much around the top for the swallow roots.
Harvesting: To harvest Stevia, cut off the tips of the branches about a third of the way down. The branches will have new growth at that point which will make it grow fuller.
Culinary Uses: To enjoy Stevia's for sweetening powers, the flavor must be extracted from the leaves. You must steep the leaves in hot liquids (either water or tea, coffee etc.) for about 5 minutes. Sweetened hot water can be condensed and used to sweeten baked goods, fruit, and desserts of all kinds. One fresh stevia leaf is can sweeten a cup of tea or coffee or a glass of lemonade. Or add the leaves to baked beans, barbecue sauce, salad dressings, soups, and stews.