Stevia has recently gained popularity as a natural sweetener, especially among dieters and diabetics. The stevia plant produces leaves that have powerful sweetening properties, supposedly 10x that of ordinary sugar, but without the calories. The best part of it all, especially for home gardeners like me, is that it’s actually easy to grow and propagate stevia right in the comforts of one’s home.
When growing stevia at home, it’s best to start with a few fully grown seedlings. Fortunately for me, stevia easily grows in warm tropical zones like the Philippines. While they can thrive under partial sun, their leaves grow faster when exposed to at least 6 hours of sunlight. When grown in pots, make sure to use well-draining soil or potting mix, in a container that has enough holes for the excess water to fully drain. An ideal container for growing stevia should have at least 10 inches in depth and diameter.
The plant does not need frequent watering, but it is important to ensure that the soil is kept moist (not soggy). Prune the top leaves when the plant is at least 10 inches tall to encourage more branches and leaves to grow. Trimming also prevents the plant from becoming leggy. Fertilize once a month with compost or any organic fertilizer.
While stevia can grow from seeds, it is easier to propagate stevia from cuttings. Click on this link http://www.urbangardeningmom.com/propagate-herbs-cuttings/ to learn more about how to propagate herbs from cuttings.
A mature stevia plant can grow to about 25 – 30 inches. When harvesting the leaves, cut the stems from the plant, with the leaves intact. Bundle them together and air out to dry under full sun for around 2 days. Once fully dried, remove the leaves from the stem. Discard the stem and store the dried leaves in dry containers or paper bag.
To use stevia as sweetener, crush the leaves by hand, grinder or blender, and use the powdered herb as sugar substitute. As sweetener for coffee or tea, start with just 1/4 teaspoon, and then adjust gradually according to taste. Make sure not to add too much stevia, as it has the tendency to taste a little bitter (like medicine).