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microcollie
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Anyone growing Stevia?

In my ongoing quest to be a "localvore", I'm trying to find an alternative to sugar. I currently use agave nectar, not because it's locally produced, but because it's a healthier alternative to processed sugar. I'm curious about stevia, and before I spend time researching it, thought I'd see if anyone's been growing it. I know nothing about its growth habit (annual? perennial? suitable for zone 4?) or how to use it once grown. Anyone have any experience? I did a search here, but not much came up.
Thanks.

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rainbowgardener
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It's a tender perennial, hardy only to about zone 8. If you get it going and you are not in zone 8 or above, you should be able to bring it in for the winter.

I tried starting it from seed one year, but failed to get any established, so I can't be any more help than that.
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thanrose
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I'm in Zone 9b. That's subtropical, which means not quite tropical, but for most readers here you'd think I'm tropical. Bananas need winter shelter, geraniums (pelargoniums) bloom year round, and palm trees are everywhere.

My stevia will frost to the ground in colder winters here. I keep it in a pot, can shear it to close to soil level and it will still grow from that. Since I've cut it back a few times this summer, it's only now starting to bloom.

When I've cut it back, I wash the leaves and stems to remove sand and debris, then hang them to drip dry. Plucked the leaves, let air dry in a single layer overnight. Crumbled and sieved to get out the more fibrous parts so that I'd have green dust.

I still have commercial stevia in liquid and stevia white powder, both of which will be more concentrated than the home grown green leaf dust, but I have used the green stuff to sprinkle on plain yogurt. Good. Used it in coffee and it floated bits, but did sweeten the coffee. I'll probably use it in tea with a strainer. I'm not sure how heat affects it in cooking yet, but hot coffee was fine.

If you cook a lot with sugar, homegrown powder will probably need a lot of taste trials. I'd think it might work well in something dark like barbecue sauce, but may taste like nothing in ice cream. I do not know how much to use for that tiny pinch of sugar I might use in a curry or marinara, for instance. I'm always adjusting for taste anyway.

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applestar
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I bought 2 stevia plants last spring. I planted one in the ground and potted the other one in a 10" clay pot. I took cuttings from both in early fall, and brought the potted one in to overwinter.

The potted plant did well in my SE kitchen window supplemented by a clamp-on utility light with daylight CFLb. Late winter the sweet pepper plant next to it became infested with aphids, but the stevia did OK for a while... until early spring when the ants invaded and decided stevia made a good pasture for the aphids. :evil: It became rather spindly despite the supplemental light and I cut it back by 1/3 when I set it out in spring when I planted out the tomatoes, but by that time, it was sending out new shoots both from the stems as well as from the base of the plant -- I pruned to just above the new shoots and pruned off spindly side shoots and branches. I think I didn't repot but just added a layer of compost, but I'm not positive on that. There WERE two earthworms in the container the entire winter and they were still in the pot when I put it outside.

The cuttings were grown in 4" square plastic pots upstairs where it's about 5 degrees warmer, also in SE windows, one with supplemented light (actually it got the prime spot directly under the light bulb). The one with supplemented light grew well, even though it was infested by red spider mites and aphids by early spring. A few cuttings succumbed to the bugs, but enough -- 2 or 3 survived (I had 5 cuttings in each pot originally). The cuttings without supplemented light died off (which is unfortunate because I put the cuttings from each plant in each pot -- of course I didn't label them properly, so I don't know which plant survived and which didn't).

Anyway, this spring, I planted out the surviving cuttings in the front of the tomato bed. The potted plant I placed in somewhat more shaded location by the path behind one group of tomatoes. They are both doing well. I just trimmed the cutting grown plants by 1/3 (They were about 20" tall). I believe this is the time to harvest since we're experiencing cooler 60's nights -- heading for upper 50's tonight -- and I'll be taking several more harvests from all three? plants. (Actually if I had a longer season, they could be harvested again for 2nd cutting)

They tell you to keep pinching the flower buds and not let them get in "flowering mode" because the leaves will become bitter. I think the dried ground up leaves "leaves" a slight aftertaste on the tongue -- and I noticed the floating ground stevia effect too :lol: Interesting to nibble on sweet bits with each swallow, but not really the ideal :roll: I've run dried leaves/stems in the coffee grinder along with the coffee beans. That adds a mild sweetness. I also add the dried leaves to herbal tea mixes. I also stir my hot coffee and tea with fresh stiffer stems, leaves attached.

I gave a leaf to the kids and told them to try nibbling it. DD8 LOVED it and ran to tell her sister. :() DD11 is a bit more cautious and hadn't tried it yet, but she decided it was great and tried making tea with it, adding warm water since she said she can't tolerate hot. :wink:

I think all three of us will be continuing to experiment. I want to try making tinctures -- maybe with brandy for adding to tea and ... what? whiskey? for adding to coffee? 8) Maybe hot water decoctions? I need to research some more.... :wink:

cynthia_h
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Horizon Herbs (https://horizonherbs.com) sells seeds for stevia. I'm not sure whether they offer plant starts in season or not.

Sounds like a good experiment!

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Cerbiesmom
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I have 1 plant I've had in the ground since spring. The heat down here in Texas is giving it a hard time. I might have to try getting some cuttings into pots, so I can keep them under the shaded patio. I haven't tried to harvest any yet, it isn't doing well, so I've just been babying it.

organo
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Once the plant is established it grows really well I would wait till spring if you are in a cold area and try to get the plant established before the next winter.

You can make a hot water decoction with results in a very sweet syrup by drying out the leaves. Then grind them up and boil reduce to simmer. Strain out leaves and leave to simmer until the consistency you want.

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applestar
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I'm trying fresh leaf vodka extraction -- in fact just started it this PM. Instructions say to strain after 24~36 hrs, then you can gently simmer the strained extract to eliminate the alcohol. This is supposed to be sweeter, clearer colored when made with fresh leaves. Supposed to get bitter after 48 hrs if not strained and bottled.

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applestar
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I decanted the vodka extract this morning. Clear? No. :lol: Very dark green liquid. :roll:

Still has that stevia aftertaste....

HOWEVER! I decided not to press out the remaining liquid from the leaves, and instead, poured hot water over them and strained it over my once used English tea teabag for a 2nd cup. Mmmm, mmm! Yeah, yeah, it's middle of the day, but OH BOY it's yummy! :lol: I don't think there's that much vodka left in it :wink: but there's just enough to give it an extra punch, and very sweet. 8)

I had considered drying the extracted leaves, but that probably doesn't make much sense. Off to compost they go!

I did come across a youtube video called Pearls of Wisdom in which the woman said fermenting powdered stevia mixed with water eliminates the aftertaste, and that leaves should be stripped from the stems and dried in a paper bag until they're brown with white veins. Then scrunch up and sift out the white powder. This is interesting because I always tried to dry them the normal way -- i.e. preserve as much of the green color as possible. I have beautifully dried green leaves in the cupboard.... :?

I'll be trying the "letting them go brown: method with my next harvest.

Caveat -- some commenters said fermenting the stevia water didn't work.

ETA -- I can't find any other reference to fermenting stevia. I did find this interesting link: https://www.rain-tree.com/stevia.htm

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applestar
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Scratch that -- here are two references to fermented stevia from: https://www.owndoc.com/stevia/stevia-against-osteoporosis/
Stevia is not just consumed as a sweetener in Japan, but they use it liberally in all kinds of brews – fermented, powdered leaves etc. One would be able to test this by growing a patch of Stevia in one’s garden and drying and powdering the whole plant. The Stevia extract powder can then be mixed into yoghurt, for example. It will surely taste sweet!
[img]https://www.owndoc.com/uploads/stevia-concentration-11.jpg[/img]

And this: https://www.owndoc.com/stevia/fermented-stevia-stems/
During my research into the medicinal properties of the Stevia plant, I came across a “folk medicineâ€

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lorax
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AS, Fermented Stevia, also called Chicha de Stevia (in places where Quichua speakers live), is used for stomach complaints since it restores the balance of intestinal flora/fauna, and as a topical antibiotic for deep or otherwise likely-to-be-infected scratches. As your link mentions, it's also used against osteoporosis, since it helps the body maintain a proper calcium-phosphorus balance (to prevent bone leaching).

For fresh, here's a little tip - your DD11 has the right idea. WARM-HOT, and not boiling water, will reduce the metallic aftertaste characteristic of the plants, and will also reduce the bitterness you perceive in the drink.

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applestar
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Thanks for elaborating, Lorax! :D
... and I'll remember that about the water temp. :wink:

Heh... I've been saving the stripped stems to use as stirring sticks -- adds just a bare hint of sweetness -- but maybe I'll try using this batch of sticks for a NEW PROJECT! 8) :lol:

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Ozark Lady
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I got Stevia seeds in a seed swap, now to figure out how to germinate and grow them!

Thanks for the info here.

I did discover in my search for getting rid of the bitter aftertaste in Pawpaws that sweet, salty, and sour do minimize it.

I tried sprinkling a bit of salt and it did decrease!

May I suggest: try a few salt grains in your drink and see if it helps?
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Runningtrails
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I looked at the Japanese research with Stevia. Wow! Sounds like a great plant to add to my herb collection. I have wondered about its use as a sweetener for years but have not, to date, had the time to look into it. I think I will search out some seeds to trade for and give growing it from seed a try!

bustani.mama
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im in zone 5 trying againn to over-winter my stevia plants they WILL die in our winter they have not come back eighter

howeveer last year i got about 250+ seeds from my plant (looked soo pretty flowering) but of those seeds only 2 germinated this spring of those neighter survived so i just baught a plant from the greenhouse i go to

ive put stevia leaves in a HUGE vat of pasta sauce like 4 leaves and it turned out delish use less then sugar tho

in my stevia research i saw an article that said the fda outlawed it for a time that articfical sweeteners (say splenda) that were not as heavily tested as stevia were concidered "generally safe" (illl let yall decide if thats so) as well celestial seasonings was actually in trouble with the fda because they used stevia

i have also heard the japanses did extensive testing with 0 side effects to stevia and indegionious cultures in central and south america have used it for thousands of years withought issues

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applestar
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With the last harvestable crop in, I have what I would consider to be a lot of stevia, so I've been experimenting with some direct use:

(1) Ground coffee - I ground up the coffee beans with whole dried stevia stems (leaves and stems) and lemongrass
(2) Pasta sauce and curry sauce -- generous amount of whole fresh stevia leaves and stems stewed in the sauce

Both turned out great. :D

This morning, I wanted a "warming" cup -- it was COLD! So for my single-serving French Press pot with 2 level Tbs of the coffee mix above, I added a good sprinkling of cinnamon and heavy grind of black peppers. Believe it or not, it was delicious!

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applestar
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I thought I hadn't posted about grinding the Stevia sticks with coffee bur I see I have ! :wink: It's been working out really well. (in fact, I've also started experimenting with mint and lavender stems' etc. in ground coffee 8))

I'm mixing the smaller dried leaf petioles, etc. that I can crunch/crumble with my fingers in the herbal tea blends along with whole dried leaves.

The other day, I happened to use ground coffee that didn't have Stevia in it, and just put a 1/8 tsp or so pure green-dried ground Stevia leaves in with the coffee to brew. Ugh! I almost spit out the first mouthful -- the flavor was so awful! I see from reviewing this thread that Lorax said boiling water will exaggerate the metallic aftertaste so that might be what happened, but all in all, I think I'll stick with stems in the coffee. :roll:

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GardenRN
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I'm starting to think maybe I wasted my time/money buying this Stevia plant before I researched it more. I thought you could just use the leaves as-is or maybe use them dried. I didn't think I was going to have to do a bunch of processing to use it was a sweetener. It seems like those of you that have used it dried or fresh aren't getting many grand results.

Heads-up for those starting from seeds. I read that the germination rate was only about 4%. Unless you (and I don't know how big they are) pick out the dark seeds. A university research report said that if you separate the dark seeds out and plant those ones the germination rate jumps to over 85%. Only a read, not experience but I thought it may be useful. Good luck!
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applestar
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Oh don't get me wrong, I've blended dried Stevia leaves in herbal tea mixes and they taste great. My mix is primarily peppermint, pineapple sage, lemon grass, lavender + few other ingredients. I don't have a formula -- just crumble up the dried leaves and add to the canister as it is depleted. My most recent addition was some dried lemon flowers. 8)

Glad you reminded me. I should try tasting that vodka extract -- I put it in the fridge after straining and bottling and forgot about it! :oops:

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GardenRN
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yeah let me know how that vodka extract tastes when you do! I watched a youtube video on how to do it and I was wondering about it. How do you know when you've burned off all the alcohol when you warm it? Just by taste? I suppose I have all summer to ponder which method I'll use since I only got a 3" pot and I only got one of them. When it gets a bit bigger I think I'll try to root some cuttings.

Anyone tried rooting cuttings? I'm curious if it's real easy like basil or if I'l have to get some of the root hormone stuff. I have use seeds and cuttings only for so long it felt weird to go into a nursery and buy an actual plant!

I did however score about 50 free 3" and 4" pots from the recycling bin there, and a few 2gal pots as well! So I felt like I got my money's worth lol.
Jeff

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applestar
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Propagating from cuttings wasn't too difficult. I described my experience somewhere before. I can't at this moment remember exact survival rate -- not as easy as basil or pineapple sage, not as tricky as Rosemary maybe. I had something like 4 rooted cuttings last spring. Warmth and good light were the key I think. I didn't use rooting hormone.

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ozark_rocks
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GardenRN wrote:
Anyone tried rooting cuttings? I'm curious if it's real easy like basil or if I'll have to get some of the root hormone stuff. I have use seeds and cuttings only for so long it felt weird to go into a nursery and buy an actual plant!

.
Two weeks ago I took my Stevia and turned it out of its pot, shook the dirt off, and cut the three biggest stems apart leaving some roots on each. Then I re potted each in new soil. Now I have three healthy plants , with new growth.This worked so well I think I will do It again.
Last edited by ozark_rocks on Fri Mar 04, 2011 6:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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applestar
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Since they each had roots, this would be called "dividing", but that's a good idea! I'll have to take a look at my roots when I repot in the spring and see if division is a possibility. :?

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ozark_rocks
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applestar wrote:Since they each had roots, this would be called "dividing", but that's a good idea! I'll have to take a look at my roots when I repot in the spring and see if division is a possibility. :?
:oops: Dividing, your right. I was confussed because it was so tough, that I cut it with scissors. The plant I started with was root bound, light starved and sick looking. After dividing it and repotting, it started growing and looks healthy. Maybe I should say they all look healthy and are growing?

How many stevia plants do grow? With all of your experiments, I'm guessing alot?

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applestar
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Most likely, what happens is that because the seeds are so tiny, multiple seedlings are allowed to grow in a clump when grow from seed. Then they get all tangled up together looking like a single plant.

As for how many stevia plants -- if you're asking me -- I had 6 plants. Two I gave away, and 2 I allowed to get killed by frost when they were overlooked during my rush to bring in as many hot/sweet pepper plants as possible to overwinter last fall. :oops: :roll:

I may actually be down to one plant because I'm letting the other one overwinter in dormant state in the unheated garage, along with a couple of large pineapple sage, a heliotrope, a Japanese Maple seedling, and a parsley.
Oh! That reminds me. I should bring inside the potted tulip bulbs I left there to force. This is probably a good time.

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ozark_rocks
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applestar wrote:Most likely, what happens is that because the seeds are so tiny, multiple seedlings are allowed to grow in a clump when grow from seed. Then they get all tangled up together looking like a single plant.
That would explain the unhealthy part, they were too crowded. It would also explain why they took off so quick when given thier own space.

This gives me the idea for an experiment. I'm going to look for a multi-stemmed Stevia at the nursery, to divide, and I'm, going to take one of my new plants and try to seprat the new shoots from the base of the plant. I want to see which grows faster, the older plants or the little new ones.

thanrose
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My stevia, frosted back to the soil surface, has been growing again since mid January. Trying to set blooms already, rather insistent about it. I've cut those stems for the third time today. Just the nascent buds. Hope i clipped them early enough so they don't get bitter.



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