For centuries, stevia has been widely used and highly valued for its sweet flavor and potential health benefits. It’s only recently that the herb has come to the forefront as a healthy alternative to sugar. Stevia can certainly add a sweet flavor to tea or coffee, but there may be benefits you haven’t considered.
- Great substitute for sugar: Healthcare and nutrition experts around the world agree on stevia as a sugar substitute. Stevia is 200 to 300 times sweeter than granulated sugar, so using excessive amounts isn’t a problem for most folks.
- Curbing calorie intake: While it isn’t completely free of calories, the calorie content is so low that stevia is considered a zero calorie food. There are no guarantees that stevia is an answer to today’s obesity epidemic, but if your sweet tooth sends your calorie load through the roof, stevia may help you reign it in to a more reasonable level.
- Doesn’t impact blood sugar: Stevia, which has no effect on blood sugar or blood glucose, is especially useful for people with diabetes. By creating a wider selection of “acceptable” foods, stevia may help people comply with healthy eating guidelines.
Growing Your Own Stevia Plants
Growing stevia plants (Stevia rebaudiana) is much like growing basil or any other herb. Stevia is a perennial in warm climates, but you can grow it as an annual if you live in an area with a shorter growing season. If you’re thinking about giving it a try, here are a few tips on growing and using stevia plants for healthy living.
Stevia plants are easy to find at most garden centers. You can also start stevia seeds indoors in late winter, although germination may be spotty. Be sure to provide warmth and bright sunlight.
Either way, transplant stevia into well-drained soil after the last frost in spring. You can also plant stevia in a container filled with commercial potting mix. Full sun is critical unless your climate is extremely hot during the summer. In that case, a little afternoon shade is beneficial.
Harvest stevia plants at the end of the growing season by cutting entire stems. Strip the leaves from the stems and place them on a non-metal screen or a layer of loose-weave fabric. Let the leaves dry in the sun, or use a food dehydrator. Once the leaves are dry, store them in an airtight container or make your own powder in a grinder or blender. If you plan to use the powder for baking, the general rule is 1 cup of sugar to 2 or 3 teaspoons of powdered stevia.
Use fresh stevia leaves to sweeten beverages throughout the growing season, or toss a few into a smoothie. Keep in mind that fresh leaves are only about one-quarter as sweet as commercial stevia products.
Want to learn more about healthy eating and living? SteviaBenefits.org is chock full of helpful information, including additional facts, stevia recipes and information on how to use stevia as part of a healthy lifestyle.