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Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Growing Stevia

About a year ago I bought a little stevia plant online, hoping to grow some natural sweetener to replace some of the sugar in my cooking.  I'm so excited because I've just dried and powdered my first harvest, and it's worked!!

My stevia plant!

The plant is actually called Stevia rebaudiana, and is commercially processed to make stevia extract - a fairly widely available natural sweetener.  Since I'm not a fan of processed sweeteners, I decided to take a punt and see if I could grow the stuff at home!

Apparently stevia is almost impossible to start from seed, and starting plants from seed doesn't guarantee that they will actually be sweet.  The best way to get a stevia plant that you know will be sweet is to obtain a cutting from another good plant.

I bought my plant from http://www.beautanicals.com.au (their website is not working at the moment, so I'm not sure if they are still around).  They sent it all packaged up through Australia Post, and remarkably, the poor little plant survived the journey!  It did take a long time to establish and actually start thriving though - for ages it sat there looking miserable and not growing at all, but several months later it suddenly decided to start growing and looking happy! 

The almighty internet advised me that the best time to harvest stevia was when it was just beginning to flower, but before the buds had opened, so that's exactly what I did.

I harvested my plant by picking a few of the biggest stems and chopping them off almost at the base of the plant, then snipping off the individual leaves with scissors.  I placed the leaves in a sieve inside a metal bowl (the sieve for airflow, the metal bowl for heat retention), and left them in the sun for the day.

Drying stevia leaves
I shook them around a couple of times throughout the day, and by afternoon, they were all perfectly dried and crispy! 

I recently bought myself a mortar and pestle, which came in very handy for grinding up my stevia!  It took me only a few minutes, and came out perfectly ground. 

My mortar and pestle
The end result: stevia leaf powder!

Stevia leaf powder
Warning: this stuff is SWEET!  Like seriously explode-your-mouth sweet.  To test it out and see if it worked, I added maybe 1/4 tsp of the stuff to a cup of tea... and it tasted like it had 3 sugars in there!  I had trouble finishing the tea it was so sweet.

I read online somewhere that one heaped tablespoonful of crushed leaf powder is approximately equivalent to one cup of sugar in sweetness (of course depending on the individual plant and harvest), so hopefully when I harvest again and have more powder, I can try incorporating some in some baking to see what happens! 

For now though I am just excited that it actually worked, and that my little stevia plant is actually living up to its reputation!