Stevia is by far the coolest thing I've grown this summer. And yes this is the same stevia that the powdered sweetener on the grocery shelves comes from. It's arguably the hottest new sweetener out there right now, since its extract is 200 times sweeter than granulated cane sugar, and doesn't raise blood insulin levels. We're still learning about this sweetener though.
For example, if you buy it processed like I have, in handy little packages, you're getting a little something extra. A lot of chemicals are used to process the extract from the leaf, some of which are known carcinogens. And one of the stevia products I've bought, lists stevia as the second ingredient, behind dextrose, which is a plant-based form of glucose. I don't claim to be a nutritionist, and can't argue the pros and cons of any of this, but since I'm trying to move away from highly processed foods, I decided to go another route with stevia.
I bought the plant itself.
A close friend of mine in Atlanta, Laurie, mentioned on Facebook that she was growing some. I thought, “Wow! How cool is that?” So when I saw it in my local gardening shop for $7.99, I grabbed it, and planted it in a small container on my deck. It gets some morning sun for a couple of hours, followed by shade. Then it gets another two hours of direct sun in the early afternoon. The plant is now about 15″ high, with lots of leaves growing directly off a central stalk. I harvest the leaves by pinching them off, allowing energy and space for new leaves to grow.
I wash the harvested leaves, dry them thoroughly, and place them on a paper towel in a sunny area of my kitchen to dry out. Here in the mountains, it takes about three days for them to be dry enough to crumble into a powder.
You can crumble it between your fingers a bunch of times, or throw it in a spice grinder. Both work fine.
Test a little on the tip of your finger to see how sweet it is. It's an herby sweet, not exactly like the processed stevia in the packets. I keep it on the counter in a small dish, and every morning now, I add it to my tea and yogurt. It's such a good feeling knowing this sweetener came right from my garden.
Next I want to try it in cookies, but it's going to take a little experimenting to get the amounts right. I'll let you know how it goes 🙂