I had heard so much about the sweet plant, used for a natural sweetener, that I had to get one to try it out. I was totally shocked to find one at Home Depot!!!! I grabbed it up, and took it home!
Stevia has been used for century's as a natural, safe, sweetener!
WOW!!! I plucked a tiny piece of leaf.... to check out the report of sweetness, and popped it in my mouth..... SWEET!!!! REALLY SWEET!!!! STRONG SWEET!!!!
I was amazed! and happy. So I checked up on how to raise this little sweetie, and how to harvest it's leaves.
First the ticket on the plant says "full sun", nope tried that and almost killed the baby. It actually likes morning son, and light, but no direct sun in the afternoon. Works fine on my patio table.
I checked the web to figure out how to use this plant.... besides popping a leaf into my coffee.... by the way.... NEVER USE A WHOLE LEAF!! the sweetness was waaaaay toooooo muuuuuch!
So drying it seems the better idea.
Harvesting should be done as late as possible, since cool autumn temperatures and shorter days tend to intensify the sweetness of the plants as they evolve into a reproductive state. While exposure to frost is still to be avoided, covering the plants during an early frost can give you the benefit of another few weeks' growth and more sweetness.
When the time does come to harvest your stevia, the easiest technique is to cut the branches off with pruning shears before stripping the leaves.
As an extra bonus, you might also want to clip off the very tips of the stems and add them to your harvest, as they are apt to contain as much stevioside as do the leaves.
If you live in a relatively frost-free climate, your plants may well be able to survive the winter outside, provided you do not cut the branches too short (leaving about 4 inches of stem at the base during pruning). In that case, your most successful harvest will probably come in the second year.
I was told you can bring smaller plants inside for the winter, so I will harvest leaves to prune the plant, and see how it does in a sunny window, over the winter.
Three-year-old plants will not be as productive and, ideally, should be replaced with new cuttings.
In harsher climates, however, it might be a good idea to take cuttings that will form the basis for the next year's crop. Cuttings need to be rooted before planting, using either commercial rooting hormones, and potting soil.
After dipping the cuttings in such a preparation, they should be planted in a rooting medium for two to three weeks, giving the new root system a chance to form. They should then be potted -- preferably in 4.5-inch pots -- and placed in the sunniest and least drafty part of your home until the following spring.
Unlocking the sweetness in your harvest
Once all your leaves have been harvested you will need to dry them. This can be accomplished on a screen or net, or like I do, just hang them in a cool dry place with the rest of your herbs.
The drying process is not one that requires excessive heat; more important is good air circulation.
On a moderately warm fall day, your stevia crop can be quick dried in the full sun in about 12 hours. (Drying times longer than that will lower the stevioside content of the final product.)
A home dehydrator can also be used, although sun drying is the preferred method.
Crushing the dried leaves is the final step in releasing stevia's sweetening power. This can be done either by hand or, for greater effect, in a coffee grinder or in a special blender for herbs, or just use a mortar and pestle.
You can also make your own liquid stevia extract by adding a cup of warm water to 1/4cup of fresh, finely-crushed stevia leaves. This mixture should set for 24 hours and then be refrigerated.
I can not recommend this plant more!!! It's such a treat, to have something sweet, with no after taste, and all natural!!!
I should also report that the government is trying to stop the import of these plants. Since sugar is a big part of our economy, they don't want this one to get out. So, check your gardening catalogs and store, and buy them while you can!
Friday, June 18, 2010
Posted by Judith at 4:56 AM