By Liz Baessler
Stevia is a buzzword these days, and this is probably not the first place you?ve read about it. A natural sweetener with essentially no calories, it?s popular with people but exactly what is stevia? Click this article for stevia plant information.
Although stevia is an ancient herb that people in tropical regions have grown for generations, gardeners in other regions are only recently learning about this interesting and versatile plant. Stevia is significantly sweeter than refined sugar and provides beneficial nutrients as it sweetens food. After you grow stevia in your home garden, harvest it and then dry the stevia plants to preserve them. Use dried stevia for making teas and for sweetening a variety of foods.
Cut the stevia stems from the plants with the pruning shears in late summer or early autumn. For best results, harvest the stevia before the first frost of autumn or when the stevia plant begins to blossom. Cut the entire plant down to just above the soil level if you are growing stevia as an annual plant. Leave 6-inch-long stems growing from the crown of the plant if you are growing stevia as a perennial plant.
Group two to three stems tightly together with a rubber band near the base of the stems to hang the stevia plants for drying.
Open a paper clip so that it looks like a long “S,” and hook one end of the paper clip through the rubber band holding each set of the stevia stems.
Hang the other end of each paper clip on a nail or hook in a warm and dry location. A breezy drying location hastens the drying process.
Allow the stevia stems to dry for two to three days, and then check the dryness of the leaves. Brush your hand lightly against the leaves. If the leaves feel dry and crumbly and they release from the stems easily, the stevia is sufficiently dry. If the leaves do not feel dry enough, allow the stevia to dry for two or three more days and then check it again.
Alternatively, place the fresh stevia stems onto trays in a food dehydrator, making sure the stems do not touch. Set the dehydrator to a temperature of approximately 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and allow the stevia to dry for approximately two hours. Check the drying progress after this time if the leaves are dry and crumbly, they are sufficiently dry.
Remove the dried leaves from the stems after they are dry. Reserve the leaves and discard the stems (the stems are not sweet). Store the leaves in a covered glass jar or a sealed plastic bag at room temperature. You can store dried stevia for years.
Stevia has the greatest degree of sweetness when you harvest it just before or as the plant begins to blossom.
Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana), also called sweetleaf, sweet herb or sugarleaf, is prized as an herb for its delicately sweet leaves, which you can use as a zero-calorie alternative to common sugar. Although this plant technically grows as a perennial shrub in its native South America and frost-free areas in the U.S., it is generally grown as an annual herb to ensure maximum sweetness, as the sweetness of the leaves drops drastically after the plant matures enough to produce flowers. Proper timing and methods of harvesting help ensure your stevia plant's leaves are as sweet as possible.
Inspect the stevia plant regularly for the development of flower heads. Plan to harvest the stevia as soon as you see flower heads starting to develop and before the flowers open.
Cut the stevia plant off cleanly at its base, just above the soil's surface, early in the morning.
Tie a length of string to the base of the stevia plant's stem and hang the plant to dry upside-down in a warm, dark place with ample air flow. In ideal drying conditions, the leaves will be ready in a few days.
Pinch, cut or rub the leaves off or thresh the entire dried plant to remove the desirable, sweet leaves from the bitter stevia stem.
Transfer the dried leaves into sealable plastic bags or airtight containers until you are ready to process or use them.
Angela Ryczkowski is a professional writer who has served as a greenhouse manager and certified wildland firefighter. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in urban and regional studies.