Sugar’s low-calorie double comes from a plant that you can grow at home in your own garden! Used widely in South America and the Orient, herb gardeners in the U.S. began growing stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) when the safety of artificial sweeteners raised alarms roughly 40 years ago.
Stevia leaves, also known as sugar leave, are 10-15 times sweeter than refined sugar. Best of all, they are extremely low in calories and come from nature, not a lab.
Cold sensitive perennial plants — 1 to 3 feet tall –need protection when nighttime temps drop below 50˚F. Sometimes grown as an annual.
Fun Fact: Stevia is a member of the Asteraceae family which makes it closely related to daisies and marigolds.
Planet Natural offers heirloom stevia seeds that are non-treated, non-GMO and NOT purchased from Monsanto-owned Seminis. Planting instructions are included with each packet and shipping is FREE!
Quick Guide: Planting, Growing & Harvesting Stevia
- Leaves are used as a sweetener throughout the world
- Tropical plant grown as an annual in colder climates
- Start seeds 6-8 weeks before last frost
- Transplant into compost-amended soil in a sheltered location with full sun
- Harvest leaves in late summer or fall before weather turns cold
- Not bothered by pests or diseases
Sunlight: Full sun to partial shade
Maturity: 40-60 days from transplant, 90-100 days from seed
Height: 12 to 36 inches
Spacing: 18 to 24 inches apart
Stevia grows best in well-drained, rich soil and afternoon shade, especially in hot climates. Select a site that is protected from cool winds and harsh weather. This is a sub-tropical plant that should be protected, especially when nighttime temperatures fall below 50˚F.
How to Plant
Sow seeds indoors under plant lights 6-8-weeks before last frost. When plants are large enough to handle, transplant into 3 inch pots and keep indoors until nighttime temperatures are consistently above 50˚F. Stevia can then be planted 18-24 inches apart in garden rows.
Mulching with organic compost will help keep roots cool, deter weeds and prevent moisture loss. Do not overwater; provide liquid organic fertilizers that are rich in phosphoric acid or potash content. Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers, as they produce large leaves with little flavor.
Harvesting and Storage
Cool temperatures and short days tend to intensify the sweet flavor of stevia. As a result, plants should be harvested late into the fall, providing they can be protected from the cold (see Plant Protection). Most culinary herbs are best picked early in the morning just as the dew evaporates (see our article Harvesting & Preserving Herbs).
To dry, tie the cuttings in small bunches and hang upside down in a well-ventilated room. When dry, remove the leaves from the stems and store whole in airtight jars (watch our video How to Dry Herbs). Crush or grind just before use.
Insect & Disease Problems
Stevia is not bothered by many insect pest or diseases. In fact, plants have been found to have insect-repelling qualities.
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