Health Benefits of Stevia and How to Grow this Herb

Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) plant

Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) plant (Photo: Dennis Rito)

Last Saturday, I encountered someone interested about stevia. He bought the growing kit with a stevia plant we are selling  at the 6th International Ayurveda Convention at Shaw Mall, Mandaluyong City. A number of questions from him challenged me. I grow stevia myself from cuttings and propagating them is also quite a challenge; and with that,  I felt the need to share these bits of information about stevia with the rest of you.

What is Stevia?

Stevia (Stevia Rebudiana) is a sweet-leaf, perennial herb that has originated in South America.

It is 40 times sweeter than artificial sweeteners.

Other common names:honey leaf plant, sweet chrysanthemum, sweetleaf stevia, sugarleaf…etc.

What makes Stevia sweet?

It contains several glycoside compounds. These are the stevioside, steviolbioside, rebaudiosides A-E, and dulcoside.

How the taste is like?

Stevia has a mild, bitter, licorice-flavored aftertaste.(Rodales Organic Life)

Is Stevia just a plain sweetener?

No, it has many health benefits too. While it contains no calories and carbohydrates, it also helps control blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure.

Stevia can also reduce the risk of Pancreatic cancer by 23% according to a study Source: American Journal of Epidemiology.

Stevia plant has also many sterols and antioxidant compounds like triterpenes, flavonoids, and tannins.

How Stevia is used?

You can sweeten your drinks by using fresh leaves, or dried leaves.

For fresh leaves, take a three to five leaves, wash them clean, and add them  to your morning hot drinks as your natural sweetener. While first taste test for some find it slightly different with a bitter after taste, for me I like its sweet taste blended with fresh tarragon leaves on my coffee.

With dried leaves, it should be crushed finely or blended. Steep them in your hot cup of drinks or on a tea pot. You may drain the leaves to enjoy your naturally-sweetened drinks.

It can also be used in the form of an extract. I have no experience doing this yet. Maybe I can share it with you in the future once I get my hands on it.

Growing Stevia

Where to grow Stevia?

Well-drained plots or pots will do.

What soil Stevia plant needs?

It needs sandy loam soil and grows best on soil that ranges from 6.7 to 7.2 pH.

What part of Stevia to grow and how?

Stevia is grown commonly from cuttings. It can also grow from seeds.

Stevia is quite challenging to grow compared to basil and other herbs. It needs extra effort and care to grow them and to last it longer.

Here are the things to consider when growing them through cuttings:

Select the right cuttings. Stem must not be too old nor too young. The color of the stem must not be brown; best is brownish green.

Cut that part of the stem and plant at least two of them in a pot with the soil and vermicast.

Place them in a shaded area when newly planted in pots. Avoid moving them from one place to another si as not to disturb them from rooting.

If indoor, you can position it near the window or any area where there is sunlight coming in. It is ok to expose them to moderate sun two weeks after when it has already rooted. During hot summer, it favors a shady area. Water it regularly, seeing it does not dry out of moisture.

If you need to grow from seeds, you have to sow them on any seed germinating soil medium. You can sow them on seed trays or if you want it cheaper, paper cups, or egg trays will do. Place them under the shady area. Use spray when watering them. After a week or two, seeds should spring to life. Fertilize them with vermicasts; or you can also use organic inputs like Fermented Fish Amino Acid once a week to aid their growth.

Once fully grown, stevia plant can reach 16 inches to 24 inches in height depending on the soil used, the climate, and how you take care of it. Just pay attention to the branches when moving them, they are surprisingly brittle! They can break easily leaving them with few leaves. That for sure you don’t want to happen to your stevia plant!

How many stevia should we plant for a year supply of dried leaves?

It depends on how much you use and how often you use it. But more or less, 3-5 garden pots of stevia is commonly recommended.

That’s all folks for now.

Happy planting!

On the uses of stevia, you can read it via a previous article “Vegetable Orange Salad: A Natural Medicine Recipe