A Natural Herb With Natural Sweetness and No Calories
Suddenly, the world is talking about stevia. A natural herb with natural sweetness and no calories (at least none that are processed by the human body), stevia is promoted as a solution to many of the world's problems, including obesity and negative side-effects associated with artificial sweeteners.
I have been growing and harvesting stevia plants for more than a decade and have a few useful tips to share about how to grow, harvest, dry, and store it. Here's my experience.
Which Stevia Plant Should I Buy?
I have been an organic gardener with a special interest in herbs and spices for nearly 30 years and in that time I have developed very specific requirements when choosing plants to include in my garden. Here's my simple advice for how to choose the best one:
- When you first arrive at your local plant nursery, make a beeline for the herb section. That's where you should find stevia plants. Before you go anywhere else in the store, pick a stevia leaf from a plant that catches your eye and bite into it. The leaves of individual plants can look slightly different in size, shape, or texture. Don't worry about cosmetic differences— the test is in the taste.
If the plant is small and young, the leaf will be tiny. That's fine. Any leaf is good for this test.
- Bite it a couple of times. Whether or not you choose to chew the leaf and then swallow it makes no difference. You just need to break the leaf in your mouth, releasing the sweetness.
- Now set that particular plant in a position where you can identify it again, and wander around the store doing your other shopping.
- If you can still taste the pleasant sweetness on your lips and inside your mouth half an hour later, that's the plant to buy!
- If you don't have a pleasant long-lasting sensation, taste-test another plant.
How to Grow the Sweetest Stevia
Stevia is one herb that requires a good deal of attention if you want to keep it sweet.
Obviously, one reason for keeping an eye on it is to ensure it gets enough water. But the most important reason for checking it daily is to keep its leaves really sweet, you MUST NOT let it flower.
Make sure you look at it every day. In a nice, warm climate, plant it close to your kitchen door, or plant it in pots and keep it on your balcony or somewhere protected, but don't plant it at the bottom of the garden where it might be forgotten for weeks.
Top Tip: Do Not Let Stevia Form Flowers
As soon as it flowers, the leaves lose much of their sweetness. I don't know why, but take my word for it. I have been growing stevia for over ten years, and it happens every time. Suddenly, the same-sized leaf from the same plant has a very different taste. (I'm told it doesn't lose any of its medicinal properties, so if you are growing it to help address a health issue, it probably won't matter much. However, the taste changes dramatically.)
When growing it to use as a natural sweetener, pick the tops out of each stem as soon as you see the slightest hint of a flower bud.
With experience, you will find it is easy to watch your stevia plants and 'nip them in the bud' before you lose the sweet sensation.
Potential Problems When Growing Stevia
In many ways, stevia is an easy plant to grow. Give it a nice loamy soil in the ground or in a pot, water it regularly, and it will grow to a height of about 24 inches. It is not a very big plant, so it doesn't need much room.
There are, however, a few things to remember if you want to avoid problems:
- Don't let it become waterlogged. If you grow it in a pot, let it drain freely. Waterlogged plants will develop wet, dark leaves that die.
- Protect it from frost. I stupidly lost all my stevia plants by failing to anticipate an extremely severe early frost. Since then, I've taken cuttings from other plants (lucky I have friends in warmer climates) and grown enough to experiment with future options. I now have stevia growing in my greenhouse, in my enclosed shadecloth area (where chili peppers survived last year), and in pots. The pots will be moved indoors long before I anticipate any frosts.
- Water regularly, and mulch plants growing directly in the ground. You'll notice the leaves wilt when the plant is dry. The good news is that stevia revives effectively if you promptly give it a drink. (So again, I stress, plant it where you can see it daily!)
- Keep an eye out for slugs and snails. Many people claim it is a 'pest-free' plant, but I don't think that's really accurate. As with all plants, you'll need to keep watch for potential pests.
Tips for Harvesting Stevia
I love the way people make videos and make them available for us all to watch. A great deal of effort has gone into making the video below, which is great, but I'd like to make a few suggestions to help you get better results. Here are my personal tips:
- Don't wash your stevia in your kitchen sink. Wash it in a clean glass bowl under clean, flowing water. (Catch the flowing water in a bowl, and use it to water your plants.) You probably only use a tiny amount of stevia at any one time, so it is important to ensure that you are not storing it with any of the contaminants that might be in your sink.
- Instead of leaving the leaves outdoors for 10 to 12 hours to dry (exposed to flies and other insects plus a questionable outdoor table top) as this lady did, just shake the cuttings a little and sponge them off with a paper towel or tie them with a rubber band and hang them in your kitchen for long enough for most of the water to drop off. Then remove the individual leaves and put them in a paper bag in a warm place in your kitchen. Shake the bag every time you walk past it (to increase air flow and shuffle the leaves around.) Depending on the temperature of your kitchen, it could take them 24 hours to dry. As the lady effectively demonstrates, they'll sound crunchy.
- If you don't have a coffee grinder, simply use a rolling pin or a bottle to crush the leaves and create a powder. If they are crunchy enough and didn't dry flat, you may not need to remove the leaves from the paper bag. Just lay it flat and roll over the top surface of the bag.
The most important observation I made when watching this video is the timing of the lady's harvest. Her leaves would be much sweeter had she harvested them a few weeks earlier.
The Problem With Commercial Stevia Products
A couple of years ago when the makers of Coca-Cola and Pepsi decided to use stevia extracts in their diet drinks in America and produce packets of stevia-based sweeteners for general consumption, their PR machines moved into overdrive and the media was flooded with positive stories. Prior to that, the US was very opposed to stevia. The FDA, as I recall, condemned it.
When I used to write about the health benefits of stevia on another site a decade ago, the audience was very skeptical about it being a healthy alternative to sugar or artificial sweeteners.
Recently, at least a few scientists have complained that using ethanol instead of water when extracting Rebania-A from stevia leaves (in an effort to obtain a stronger, sweeter extract), makes a product that is promoted as being 'natural' not really natural enough. There is debate about whether or not ethanol-tainted stevia would meet the standards in some European Union countries. But the US, of course, has its own standards.
I am not in America so I cannot check for myself, but I've been told that Coca-Cola promotes its 'Fanta Still' as a healthier product because it includes stevia ... but the ingredients also include sugar. Where is the logic in adding sugar to a sugar alternative? I hope it isn't true.
Stevia Is Sweeter Than Sugar
Stevia extracts, we are told, are up to 300 times sweeter than sugar. Who needs a product 300 times sweeter than sugar? Is anyone who generally puts a teaspoon of sugar in their tea or coffee going to use 1/300th of a teaspoon of stevia extract instead? Of course not.
Companies making stevia products may use other additives instead of offering pure stevia. The next time you buy one of these products—even if it is a packet of sweetener in powder or tablet form—take a close look at the packaging and see if your stevia is pure. Many new stevia products reportedly have a strong aftertaste of licorice.
Surely the health benefits of using it in its natural form should be enough to excite the average consumer. A gift from nature, the plant is already extraordinarily sweet, but presumably the processing method is what enables a company to patent a product. If a company can't patent the food itself, why would they bother promoting it?
If you want true health benefits, I suggest you buy dried organic stevia leaves or grow your own!
Finding It in a Store (If You Can't Grow Your Own)
Is It Easier to Grow Stevia From Plants or Seeds?
If you are dealing with diabetes, taking steps to lose weight, or simply wanting to make healthier lifestyle choices, switch to stevia as your preferred sweetener. No other sweetener can claim to be both 100% natural and free of unwanted calories.
Buy one single Stevia rebaudiana plant and, with care and attention, it can be used to generate more. Take cuttings from your first plant once it has time to become established (pick and dry most of the leaves before planting the cutting).
I believe it is much easier to grow it from cuttings than from seeds. However, if you cannot obtain the plant in your region, purchasing a pack of seeds may be your only option. Either way, I believe it is worth the effort. You can improve your health— and save money— by growing and harvesting your own natural stevia.
A Doctor's Opinion of Stevia
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: Can I put a stevia leaf in my iced tea for sweetness, or do I have to dry the leaf?
Answer: Use your fresh stevia leaves. When making iced tea, I tear my stevia or crush it a little. I start with a tiny amount of hot water to release the flavor before adding cold.
Although, now that I think about it, adding a full stevia leaf to iced tea would look really nice ... and give the added advantage of chewing the leaf directly for the sweetness and medicinal qualities. I'll try that in summer.
Question: Can I dry stevia leaves in my dehydrator?
Answer: My preference is to pick the leaves, put them in a paper bag and then hang the bag somewhere warm and dry in the house. I try to remember to shake the bag every day to make sure the air circulates.
I expect you could use a dehydrator to dry your stevia leaves. Read the instructions and follow them. However, if you’re not happy with the result, I suggest you try using a paper bag.
Question: Last year my plant got quite leggy. I cut it to the soil level, and it is growing nicely, but the leaves aren't that sweet. What should I do?
Answer: Keep it growing and see what happens. It might sweeten up with new growth. Meanwhile, I advise you to check out the traditional medicinal qualities of stevia. You may decide to keep it growing even if it is not as sweet as it could be.
Question: Hi, after I dry and crush the leaves into a powder, do I have my final product? Is that what I put into my beverage or recipe? Thank you for sharing your experience!
Answer: Yes. You now have a healthy, natural sweetener ready to use. Congratulations! It takes some experimenting to establish how much to use in different ways. I suggest, for instance, using just a very small amount in your tea or coffee. You can always add more if you feel you need it.
© 2013 LongTimeMother
What is your experience with stevia?
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on October 09, 2020:
Happy to help, KRenninger. Stevia has so many health benefits, it is worth the effort of taking care of it at all stages.
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on October 09, 2020:
I’ve never tried to extract oil from my stevia leaves, George. I imagine you’d need a heck of a lot of leaves for starters. Can’t imagine why anyone with fresh stevia would want to extract oil. I’m a fan of using the whole leaf.
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on October 09, 2020:
Thanks, Judith. Hope you’re getting good results from your stevia plants!
KRenninger from Pennsylvania on June 28, 2020:
Thanks for all the good info in this article. Especially appreciated your advice on washing & drying the Stevia, and preparing it for use.
George Ayoma on May 16, 2020:
How can I extract Stevia oil (liquid Stevia) from the leaves
Judith on May 13, 2020:
Hi, I started to grow stevia during lock down when I realised I have a window porch that gets huge amount of sun and I am not using it, what a waste. I just wanted to say how helpful I found this page. Keep going, the world needs your kind of 'slightly eccentric'!
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on April 01, 2020:
Thanks, Cori. That will no doubt be helpful news for others.
Cori on April 01, 2020:
I had a stevia plant in a container on my front porch in North Georgia. It died back in the winter and came back in the spring. I just cut off the dead branches and it was fine.
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on November 22, 2019:
Your leaves aren’t ‘useless’, just not as sweet as they could have been. They still have health benefits and are worth using.
I’ll be interested to hear how sweet your new leaves are in the next season. I’m thinking the new ones will be sweeter than the current ones.
Water your stevia plants throughout winter but don’t drown them. You just need to keep them alive. In spring the new growth should kick in.
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on November 14, 2019:
Your leaves aren’t totally useless. They’re just not as sweet as they otherwise would have been. Stevia still has health benefits so perhaps you might want to add them to a cup of tea or pop a couple in the pot while cooking soup.
I’m hoping your new leaves might be sweet again next season but I don’t know for sure because I keep my stevia plants flower-free. If you think of it next season, I’d love to hear from you with an update. Good luck.
Anonymous Gardener on November 10, 2019:
I grew a stevia plant from the first time ever this summer. Being a newbie (and busy with a new job), I let the plant bloom. Now winter is fast approaching and I'm trying to determine what I can do with this plant. I have tried to save the seeds so I can try to grow them. I pruned the plant back to approximately 8 inches and moved it indoors under a grow light. But is there anything I can do with the leaves from the cutting? Or are they essentially useless since I allowed the plant to flower?
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on July 22, 2019:
I have never had a problem with that before, Philip, so I suggest you try googling it. You’re bound to find some answers there, even if you don’t mention stevia in your search. Whatever works for other plants is probably worth trying on your stevia.
Philip on July 19, 2019:
Hey I have a challenge treating septoria leave spots on my stevia, how possible can treat it without use of synthetic chemical, any organic or biological methods?
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on June 24, 2019:
You’re welcome, James. And if you’re not comfortable testing a leaf before buying, that’s fine. I test a stevia leaf before buying the plant in the same way I test a grape before buying the bunch.
I never eat more than one leaf (or grape), but I like to know I won’t be disappointed with the taste when I get home. Just the way I like to conduct my own ‘quality testing’ before buying.
James on June 24, 2019:
1. I think it is wrong to touch a plant you have not paid for.. Spoiling it for the person who does by it. 2. I am sure the sugar cartel would pressure the FDA to give stevia a bad rep.3. Thanks for taking the time and effort to provide all this information.
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on May 28, 2019:
Fools in Canberra. Anyone smart enough to grow stevia should be welcome down here!
Yes, you can partially harvest. Just leave about 6 inches of strong plant to keep growing. I used to remove each leaf before drying them. But for the past few years I just put the entire bits I pick (including stems) into a big paper bag, fold the top over, then hang it inside to dry. Works a treat.
freejohngalt on May 17, 2019:
I have a healthy 3 year old potted stevia plant that I grew from seed. (I bring it in each winter here in N Georgia, USA. It is outdoors for the growing season.) I have harvested leaves and made tincture with alcohol each fall. I'm wondering if I can do partial harvest several times during the growing season? If so, how much and how often?
Thanks for the informative article, LTM.
(I wish I was living in QLD, but Canberra doesn't like older immigrants;^)
amalia on March 29, 2019:
where can i buy stevia plant?
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on October 18, 2017:
Hi Doug. It doesn't hurt the stevia plant when buds are removed. I just pick them off, with a clean break. I've never bothered removing the whole branch. It is effective to remove nice leaves individually and put them in a paper bag to dry. leaving enough smaller leaves to allow the plant to keep growing.
New stevia leaves grow along the existing branches, so it makes sense to leave them in place. Otherwise the plant will have to grow new branches before providing more leaves.
I am not familiar with your climate, but if it gets cold over winter you'll need to protect it for it to still be productive next season. I'd dig it up from an outdoor garden, pot it, and prune the branches back about half way, then keep it indoors in the warmth. It will need watering occasionally over winter to keep the roots alive. You could certainly attempt to strike new stevia plants from the prunings.
If you only have buds at the moment and not full flowers, your stevia leaves should still be very sweet. But even if they're not as sweet as they would have been, the stevia leaves still have medicinal qualities ... and the plant should be supported in the hope next year's new growth is at full sweetness. Good luck.
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on September 28, 2017:
How many seeds can be harvested from one stevia plant? I'm not the person to ask, Yasmin, because I never let my stevia plants go to seed. I don't even let my stevia plants flower because the leaves remain so much sweeter if the flower buds are removed.
I grow stevia to use the leaves as a natural sweetener, and I'm unlikely to ever harvest the seeds. Sorry I can't help you.
Yasmin on September 26, 2017:
thanks for the good info. I have a question and been wondering about it for long time after i read several articles regarding this crop. how many seeds that could normally be obtained from one stevia plant. I mean a maximum number of it, i would be glad if you can tell me based on your experience handling stevia for quite a long time. Thank you :-)
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on August 31, 2017:
Yes, Maria, in theory you can keep a stevia plant growing year-round by keeping it in a pot indoors. You'll have to keep an eye on it to make sure you're providing an appropriate amount of water, and it will need some sunshine. But don't make the mistake of leaving your stevia plant near a window overnight if there's still a danger of it suffering damage from the cold if the temperature drops dramatically.
One last word of advice; if you fear your stevia plant may have 'died' over winter, don't give up. Keep giving water to keep the soil moist (not wet) and take it outside when the weather warms us again. I found new leaves growing on a stevia plant I thought must have been dead. Good luck.
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on August 31, 2017:
I'm pleased to have helped you, Karen. I trust you'll benefit from using stevia.
karen talbott on August 14, 2017:
thanks for the information. i have been beating my brain tring to figure out how to use the stevia as a powder. now i know how.
Maria on August 13, 2017:
would my stevia plant grow year round if I have it on a pot indoor?
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on July 15, 2017:
I like to think the day will come when more people take responsibility for growing their own foods like you are, Melody. Stevia is a 'must have' in my home and I'm pleased my hints are helpful to you. Now your stevia plants are growing, you can reap the rewards of pure, unadulterated goodness. Well done!
Melody Stankewycz on July 15, 2017:
Thank you for the propagation and sweetness tips. I have resorted to growing my own stevia because, as your article states, most manufactured stevia products have additives. The additives are usually a corn based product and I have an allergy to corn. I appreciate the tip you gave for moving a plant indoors. I planted seed, and it is extremely difficult to get the plant established. Germination and sprouting took over 2 months. I am happily keeping 6 plants outside at the moment but winter will come soon enough.
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on September 05, 2015:
I look forward to hearing news of your success, L Carswell. Good luck.
L Carswell on August 26, 2015:
Thanks, I will! I THOUGHT it might be something about the lack of enough sunshine, but wasn't sure, since most information I've seen warns not to let it have direct sunlight. Guess they meant TOO MUCH sunlight, eh? I will fix the problem and send you before and after pictures.
Looking forward to having better stevia plants!
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on August 24, 2015:
Oh, it sounds to me like your stevia is desperately trying to reach some sunshine. Many plants grow long and limp when their environment is too shady.
Stevia stems should be able to hold the weight of the leaves, upright and strong. Trim off some of the excess growth and just leave a stump for new leaves to form. Regular trimming helps make stevia bushier.
Stevia is said to grow best in a moist, sandy, acid soil but I have grown it in potting mix in pots as well as planted directly in my garden without problems.
Your problem is likely to be the location of your pot. Stevia definitely likes sunshine. One of mine receives dappled sunshine through a light shade cloth, but it also receives direct morning sun through the open end of my shaded area. Those in the garden grow among other, taller plants that block sunshine in the middle of the day.
I suggest you move your pot into a sunnier position - but don't leave it all day in relentless sun. Stevia plants wilt in the hottest summer months unless they have some level of protection.
Your pot should offer the plant rich, loose, well-drained soil. If your pot's soil is too compact, consider carefully replanting into fresh soil. If it is summer now where you live, water it regularly but never let it become waterlogged.
Mulch helps prevent the feeder roots from drying out. Liquid seaweed fertilizer is good for stevia. So is a nice comfrey leaf tea, if you grow your own comfrey. :)
Good luck restoring your stevia's health. Please let me know how it works out for you.
L Carswell on August 24, 2015:
Hi LTM! Really enjoyed this article and the one on chia seeds. One question/problem I am having with growing my own stevia: it seems to be very limp and grows more like a vine than a plant. I have been staking it like you would a tomato plant to keep it from simply laying curled on the dirt. Is that normal? I'm growing it in a pot on my back porch, which is screened in and fairly shady.
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on October 12, 2014:
Hello D Martin. I suggest you quickly remove any buds and flowers. Have you tasted the leaves? Chew one and please let me know how would you describe the taste?
D Martin on October 12, 2014:
Hello - thank you for this info. You're on my favs list now. I wish I had read this weeks earlier. My stevia has lots of buds and blooms, if I dead head the buds/flowers will the leaves get sweet again or am I just out of luck until next year?
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on May 15, 2014:
Hello Sheila. I am happy to have helped you. Good luck with your plants from here on. :)
sheila on May 12, 2014:
thank you do much for this information. Solves all the problems I had with my plants......... doing pretty much everything wrong so no wonder I was not happy with the results with my plants.
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on September 03, 2013:
Hi Kate. Stevia is nowhere near as exhuberant and lively as chia. Far more demure and polite (as far as plant personalities go, lol) but certainly worth the effort! A very good choice. :)
Kate on August 28, 2013:
You taught me how to grow chia in another article so I have come now to learn how to grow stevia. Your advice is always very clear and very helpful. I am one person who is very grateful.
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on July 24, 2013:
RTalloni, it is easy to continually pick and dry leaves throughout the season. Or you can wait until your plant is fully grown. The main thing is to keep nipping the buds. Might be worthwhile picking and drying some leaves while you think of it. :)
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on July 24, 2013:
Hi TDF. In our temperate climate the greenhouse keeps stevia alive. Not as active as during summer, but alive at least. :)
RTalloni on July 24, 2013:
An interesting read and your tips after the first video are top notch. Thanks for reminding me to go harvest my stevia and get ahead of its flowering time.
Jill Spencer from United States on July 24, 2013:
I can only grow stevia here in MD as an annual. Any luck overwintering it indoors?
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on July 12, 2013:
Hi Easy Exercise. Thanks for the vote.
I have a small mountain of dried stevia leaves in bottles to keep me going for a long time, which is lucky because the frost killed my most recent plants when I failed to move them into the greenhouse in time. I have photos of living plants somewhere but I am the world's worst when it comes to filing photos.
Fortunately I have started lots of my friends growing stevia over the years. As soon as I visit their homes (in warmer climates than where I currently live) I will dig up a few plants and take more care avoiding frost. Meanwhile I'll add a photo of some of my dried stevia leaves.
If I take a brand new photo I won't have time to lose track of it, lol. Thanks for the suggestion. )
Kelly A Burnett from United States on July 12, 2013:
America I am glad to hear has stepped up to the plate on plant. Voted up! Excellent source of information and I especially enjoyed your critique and helpful hints on the video given. I heard about this at work and wanted to learn more. Very comprehensive article. I would love to see a photo of stevia in your garden. Also, photos will help with the search engine being about to find this great hub.
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on July 06, 2013:
lol. There are lots of good foods and herbs that have been ignored and forgotten by entire generations. I am pleased to see more people becoming aware of natural alternatives. Until now, people like myself were considered 'slightly eccentric' for using a plant like stevia as an alternative sweetener.
Suddenly it has entered the mainstream. :)
Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on July 05, 2013:
I'm curious that since stevia has been around for so long, why people haven't heard of it? Why use the artificial junk?
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on July 05, 2013:
Thanks for the vote and the pin, liesl5858. I hope you manage to find it in your local garden centre. :)
Linda Bryen from United Kingdom on July 03, 2013:
Hello! LongTimeMother, what a great hub about stevia plant, to be honest, this is the first time I heard of it. I haven't even seen a stevia plant yet. I will have a look out for stevia plant in the garden centres. Thanks for sharing your most useful and interesting hub. Voted up and will pin it.