How to Grow and Harvest Your Own Calorie-Free Sweetener

If youíve never tried the herb stevia, youíre in for a sweet treat. Thatís because natural compounds in the herb taste hundreds of times sweeter than sugar. And, unlike sugar, this plant-based sweetener wonít affect your blood sugar levels. Its sweetness is found in a unique compound known as rebaudioside A, not from glucose, sucrose, fructose or other types of sugar molecules. And, unlike artificial sweeteners concocted in a laboratory that have lengthy side-effect lists, Iím not aware of any harmful side-effects of stevia.

Of course, there are a wide variety of stevia products on the market and some are heavily processed and best avoided. The closer the product is to the original stevia plant (Stevia rebaudiana), the healthier it is. And, the best way to ensure that the natural sweetener you select is natural is to grow your own.

Fortunately, growing your own stevia is easier than you might think. Several years ago I picked up a small stevia bedding plant and with little attention other than regular watering, the plant grew to a fairly large size. And, that was in a northern cool-weather climate. If you can find a stevia bedding plant at your local nursery thatís the easiest way to get started. You can grow it in a garden, a pot on a balcony or deck, or on a windowsill. Keep in mind that it can grow up to two feet tall and about the same width so youíll want to choose a fairly large pot.

You can also grow stevia from seed. Ideally, it is best to start it indoors in late winter if youíre growing the plant from seed. Alternatively, you can grow stevia from rooted cuttings. Donít plant them outside until after the last frost, which wonít likely be a problem this time of year. Choose well-drained soil and if youíre planting more than one plant in a garden bed, leave at least two feet between them. In most places youíll want to plant them in full sun, unless you live in a place with extremely hot summers then youíll want a spot with some afternoon shade. Allow the soil to go almost dry between waterings.

If you plan to grow enough for your yearís supply youíll probably want a few stevia plants, or more if you have multiple family members in your household.

Ideally, youíll want whatever place you choose to be close to your kitchen or fairly accessible since youíll probably harvest the leaves on a fairly regular basis. You can add a fresh leaf to your tea as it is brewing to sweeten, or you can cut the stems at the base of the plant and hang them upside down to dry. Then, remove the dried leaves and store in a glass jar and finely grind to use the powder as desired to sweeten baked goods or beverages.

Keep in mind that the dried leaves still contain small amounts of fiber and wonít completely dissolve in tea. But, the tiny amount of grit at the bottom of your tea or coffee cup is a small price to pay for an affordable, zero calorie sweetener that wonít throw off your blood sugar levels.

Only a teaspoon to a tablespoon of dried stevia is needed for baked goods, but so little is used youíll need to adjust your liquid to dry ingredients ratios for standard baking recipes to work properly. Better yet, choose recipes that are made for stevia as the sweetener.

Stevia is safe for diabetics and an ideal choice for anyone suffering from conditions that are aggravated by sweeteners (most health problems). Better yet: it offers health benefits from use. Preliminary research in the journal Oncotarget found compounds in stevia that inhibit cancers of the gastrointestinal tract. Other research in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition found that stevia contains health-promoting antioxidants that fight harmful free radicals. In an animal study published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, researchers found that not only did stevia not affect blood sugar levels, it also has anti-diabetic properties.

The research on stevia is still in its infancy but stevia is a worthwhile choice to grow and use to naturally sweeten foods and beverages. It may be zero calories but it is packed full of natural sweetness that elevates the taste of your favorite foods without damaging your health.

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Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM is the publisher of the free e-newsletter Worldís Healthiest News, the Cultured Cook, co-founder of BestPlaceinCanada, and an international best-selling and 20-time published book author whose works include the vegan cookbook: The Cultured Cook: Delicious Fermented Foods with Probiotics to Knock Out Inflammation, Boost Gut Health, Lose Weight & Extend Your Life.

 

65 comments

Leo C
Leo C6 hours ago

Thank you for posting!

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Mia G
Mia Gyesterday

thanks for sharing

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Tara W
Tara W4 days ago

Stevia is easy to grow and dries well for storage. I like it best in tea blends so you don't need to add a sweetener.

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Danuta W
Danuta W4 days ago

Thanks for posting .

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Danii P
Danii P4 days ago

thanks

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Danii P
Danii P4 days ago

thanks

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Danii P
Danii P4 days ago

thanks

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Lisa M
Lisa M5 days ago

Noted.

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Lisa M
Lisa M5 days ago

Noted.

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Chrissie R
Chrissie R5 days ago

Can't stand the aftertaste...but thanks for posting.

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