Stevia rebaudiana is a tender perennial which is considered to be native to Brazil & Paraguay in the genus Stevia of the sunflower family and is commonly known as Sweet herb or sugar leaf.
Stevia is grown for its sweet leaves that contain Steviol glycosides e.g Stevioside & rebaudioside and is considered to have 300 times more sweetness than sugar & declared non-glycemic that do not affect the blood sugar level in patients having diabetes. The name Sweet herb was given by South Americans who had long been using its leaf to sweeten teas & medicines since years.
Plant Description & Climate Suitability:
Stevia is a perennial herbaceous plant that grows as an annual plant in a cooler climate, may reach 2-3 feet in height; leaves have a length of 1-2 inch with a midrib, leaves arranged opposite to each other on the midrib having white flowers with 5 petals in clusters. Planting is done through cuttings and seeds as well. Stevia grows well in soil having good drainage in warm humid climate up to 97 °F, without chilling factors or below 41 °F and is least affected by diseases and pest attacks.
How to grow from seeds:
Sow seeds indoors using seedling trays having potting soil under artificial lights 8 weeks before the last snowfall in your area. Seeds may take 7-21 days for germination. There is almost 2500 seeds/gram. Both high temperatures above 97 °F & Below 41 °F stuns plant growth & it may die. Bury seeds gently into the potting soil or peat moss ¼ inches deep.
How to make cuttings:
Summer is ideal to make cuttings from the existing plants & transplants in your garden. Get cuttings from the existing plants having a length of 4-6 inches, and 3-4 prominent buds.
When to Transplant Stevia:
Select a well-drained soil to enrich its fertility with home-made organic compost at a location well exposed to direct sunlight. Stevia is adaptable to soil having a pH range of 5.5 to 7.5 but ideal pH is 6.5.
In case of high pH, amend it with the addition of 1 Kg of compost per square meter. Stevia is ready to transplant outdoors when it has got a plant height of 6 inches or above. Follow plant to plant distance of 18 inches in a cooler climate, and 24 inches in the warm humid environment when the surface day temperature reaches above 55˚F. The plant reaches its maturity within 3 months after transplanting in an open environment.
Leaf harvesting begins just before the start of flowering in late summer or early autumn after 3 months of planting while 3 to 4 harvest can be taken during a growing season. Harvesting must be initiated early in the morning as the leaves posses’ maximum sugar content at that time. A maximum of a one-third upper portion of the plant may be cut if you want to retain the crop for the next year & entire leaves can be removed at this stage before the plant prepares itself for dormancy.
Sugar Extraction from Stevia Leaves:
Take one part of finely ground Stevia Powder to mix it with 4 parts of boiling water. Put in the blender after it gets normal temperature & leave it as such for the next 24 hours. Strain the liquid for green contents & store the liquid in the refrigerator for use.
Uses of Stevia