Sweeten It Up

By Bonnie Grant | March 28, 2022
Image by joloei
by Bonnie Grant
March 28, 2022

I love my edible garden. There are lots of things to eat during the growing season, which I preserve for winter use. One of the plants I grow is not hardy to our region, but I have recently become addicted to it. It is Stevia, a natural sweetener with no calories. My Stevia plant is indoors under lights in winter, but moves outside in summer. It provides me natural, sugary goodness year-round. 

Growing Stevia

I have long been an avid coffee drinker. For decades that has meant a nice cup of Joe taken black. I like the stark, intense flavor just as it is and never put cream or sugar in the cup. That all changed when my neighbor started to come over for morning coffee and chats. She prefers sweetener and cream. Her sweetener of choice is Stevia. So, I started to purchase it for her, but then I wondered, could I grow it? I also began to indulge in what I call “comfort coffee” and adding the stuff and some non-dairy creamer to my brew. Now I am hooked.  

First up was looking into the USDA hardiness of Stevia. Sadly, growing Stevia in the ground in my zone was not possible. Undaunted, I found a plant and potted it up. I was determined to have this homemade sweetener always at hand. The Stevia plant prefers tropical conditions, so my plant has to make do with a cozy space inside most of its life. 

My Stevia plant is doing great. I moved it outside last summer in a place with a little protection from noon day sun. Its leaves still frizzled a bit, but it soon got its sea legs and grew more fresh leaves. I give it fertilizer during the growing season that is a bit high in nitrogen to fuel that leaf growth. In summer, I harvest the leaves and dry them on a dehydrator. Then I crush them up and put the stuff in sealed bags. When I want some homemade sweetener, either for my coffee or for baking, I pull some out. The flavor is amazing, super sweet in even the tiniest doses. 

Indoor Stevia Care

Now it is winter and I can snip fresh leaves as I need them, although I mostly use the dried powder so I don’t reduce the plant’s vigor too much. By spring, I will gradually introduce my plant to the outdoors, until it has habituated and can remain outside until the end of summer. Growing Stevia in a container is a great way for us northern gardeners to have a Stevia plant year-round. The plant is easy to propagate if the bush gets out of hand. You can grow Stevia from stem cuttings and start a new plant if the original gets too large for a container. 

Now that I am addicted to having creamy, sweet coffee, I am thankful to my plant. I don’t have to use refined sugar or even honey. I have a steady supply of all natural sweetness in my wonderful Stevia plant.  

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