Q: I have stevia plant growing in my garden. I also read about stevia being a good sugar substitute. How do you use fresh Stevia? Is it the leaves, flowers, stems? Do you use it fresh, dry or cooked? Thanks.
A: The sweetness of the stevia plant lies in its leaves, and you can use it in a variety of ways. I’ve used a fresh leaf right off of the plant in a glass of tea, and it provided just a bit of earthy sweetness. However, the best way to get the most out of your plant is to dry the leaves and make your own powder.
Harvest all of the leaves from the plant and dry them. On a moderately warm fall day, your stevia crop can be quick dried in the full sun in about 12 hours. Just place the plants on a piece of newspaper in an area with good air circulation. A home dehydrator can also be used, although sun drying is the preferred method. I’ve even used the heat of my attic during the summer to speed up the job.
You can crush the dried leaves by hand using a mortar and pestle or using a coffee grinder. You can use the stevia in this powdered form, adjusting the amount you use to achieve the desired degree of sweetness. Keep in mind that stevia is 30 times more sweet than sugar and a general rule of thumb is 1 generous tablespoon is roughly equivalent to one cup of sugar in terms of the level of sweetness.
You can also make your own stevia simple syrup by adding a cup of warm water to 1/4 cup of fresh, finely-crushed stevia leaves. This mixture should set for 24 hours and then be refrigerated. It works perfectly for sweetening beverages.
Dr. Brent Ridge is the health expert for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. You can call and ask him a question live every Tuesday at 2 p.m. Eastern on Sirius Satellite Radio, Channel 112 (1.866.675.6675). You can also follow along as he learns to grow his own food and raise goats on his farm in upstate New York by visiting www.beekman1802.com.
Got a health question for Dr. Brent? E-mail him at email@example.com.