Stevia "A Sweet Deal" - Bootstrap Farmer

Stevia "A Sweet Deal"

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Stevia Plant Bunch

Stevia has gained significant popularity in recent years.  With the ever growing amount of research highlighting the negative affects of sugar, many of us are seeking out alternatives.  

The two most popular artificial sweeteners, Aspartame and Sucralose, are quite controversial.  Aspartame is a chemical compound made by chemical reactions between phenylalanine, methanol and aspartic acid.  Sucralose is in short, chemically altered table sugar.  Stevia (the plant) on the other hand is an all natural sweetener that is zero calorie and can be used with no chemical processing.

Stevia can be grown on a windowsill, your porch, or in the greenhouse. 

It’s easily dryable, blendable, storable and a breeze to use in your kitchen. 

It comes with potential health benefits which we’ll dive into below.

Health and Nutritional

Kills the Lime Disease Pathogen?

Not only a healthy alternative to sugar, stevia can possibly prevent and kill certain diseases.  According to the European Journal of Microbiology and Immunology, stevia has the potential to terminate late-state or chronic Lyme disease that conventional antibiotics often fail to do.  The stevia extract was found to fight even the most antibiotic-resistant bacteria that causes Lyme disease. 

Ideal for Diabetics?

Researchhas shown that stevia does not affect blood glucose or insulin response.  This allows diabetics to expand their variety of consumable foods, while still adhering to a healthy meal plan.  The stevia plant also has many sterols and antioxidant compounds, such as kaempferol, which studies have shown can reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer by 23 percent. 

The Whole Leaf Difference

If you are buying the white powdery brand name Stevia, its most likely a derivative of stevia (Rebaudioside A).  These derivatives are highly processed products that strip stevia of its healthful properties.  Alternatively, whole-leaf stevia, which will have a pale green color, contains several glycosides (sweet compounds) and an assortment of antioxidants.

How to Grow Stevia

Growing Stevia From Seed

You can grow your own stevia plants from seed with little hands-on care.  Stevia requires a long and warm growing season.  Therefore it is usually best to start seeds indoors about six weeks before the last spring frost.  

  • Start seeds indoors in 2"-3" seed starter pots (you can also use a seed starter kit) 6 weeks before the last spring frost.
  • Fill each pot either with soil or a mix of half perlite and half vermiculite.
  • Use 3-4 seeds per pot as germination of stevia is lower than most plants.
  • Press seeds firmly onto your growing medium and add a thin layer of your medium to the top.
  • Mist your seeds thoroughly to make sure everything has settled.
  • Cover your pots with a clear humidity dome to keep the moisture in.
  • Mist twice a day to make sure your growing medium never fully dries out.  Use a spray bottle to avoid disturbing the seeds.  You just want the top ½" to be moist at this stage.
  • Optional: Use a germination heat mat to germinate your seedlings faster
  • After 10-15 days seedlings should begin to emerge.  If multiple seeds germinate in a single cell only keep the strongest seedlings.
  • Grow your seedlings another 4-5 weeks or until any danger of frost has past.  Keep the seedlings in an area that gets plenty of sun or use the aid of a grow light.
  • You can transplant your seedlings to a sunny or lightly shaded area spaced about 20 to 24 inches apart.

 

Growing Stevia Using Cuttings

Germination rates of stevia seeds can be spotty.  Instead, you can grow your own by using a starter plant or shoot. 

  • Find a shoot that is 2"-4" long.  You want to find a shoot that has several nodes.
  • Cut shoot off of an existing stevia plant preferably near the bottom.  Make the cut at an angle rather than a straight cut.
  • Pull off the leaves on the bottom of the stem leaving about the top 4 leaves
  • Place the cutting into  2"-3" seed starter pots filled with moistened soil or a mix of half perlite and half vermiculite then cover with a clear humidity dome
  • At this stage you want to keep cuttings out of direct sunlight to avoid any stress.
  •  Water lightly about 3 times a day to maintain moisture.
  • After 4 weeks cuttings should develop a strong enough root system to transplant into a grow bag or another planter.

Harvesting Stevia

Stevia becomes sweeter the longer you wait to harvest.  You want to harvest your stevia leaves in autumn before the first frost.  You can try to extend your growing time by covering your plants should you have an early autumn frost.

When you are ready to harvest, cut the branch with small pruning shears before removing the leaves. 

If you want to over-winter, move your plant from the garden to a pot to bring indoors.  You can also take stem cuttings from your outdoor plants to be grown indoors during the winter for a continuous supply.

 

 

How to Use Stevia Plants

Dried Leaves

An excellent use of stevia leaves comes in dried form.  It is a convenient method of keeping stevia close-at-hand during frosty months when your plant isn’t producing.  There are multiple ways to dry the leaves, but air circulation is a very important factor.  You can place leaves on a screen or net and let them quick dry outside on a sunny day for about 12 hours.  You can also use a dehydrator on low heat. 

Once your leaves are dried (you will know they are fully dried when they are crunchy), you can simply crush them by hand, grind in a coffee grinder, or use a mortar and pestle.  Crush until you have a fine powder and use it to sweeten breakfast cereal, in baking, or in beverages.  Keep in mind, stevia leaves are much sweeter than your average table sugar; one teaspoon of stevia is equal to that of 10 teaspoons of sugar.

Whole Leaves

Stevia whole leaves are best used fresh off the plant and there is a variety of ways to use them.  You can steep a couple of leaves in boiling water for sweetened hot tea, or add to lemonade or sauces.  Having a sweet craving?  Chew on a couple of fresh stevia leaves and the sweet taste will remain for up to an hour.

Stevia is an all-natural sweetening agent that doesn’t possess the negative attributes of sugar but contains all the sweetness (plus some!).  The plant is easily maintained and the uses are abundant.  Its nutritional and the health benefits are just icing on the stevia-sweetened cake!

Questions or comments about growing stevia?  Feel free to reach out to us or leave a comment below.

If you know someone that has a green thumb or wants to grow their own natural sweetener please share!


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