Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) is an herb with some very powerful marketing connections. A sweetener extracted from stevia is making waves in the United States these days. This is probably a bit of a surprise to the Japanese, who have been using stevia extracts for decades.
The stevia plant originated in South America, probably in Paraguay. Stevia extract is promoted as being 200 times sweeter than sugar, but you'll have to be the judge. Some people swear by it and others find it has a chemical aftertaste. Specific plants can vary in sweetness as well.
Some folks prefer dried stevia leaves to the processed product available in your local supermarket under the name Truvia. Dried, homegrown stevia does have a less "refined" taste that the processed alternative -- in a good way. It has a "clean" sweetness, and plants are relatively easy to grow once established. Drying and using stevia in recipes, or making a batch of stevia syrup, is pretty easy too.
If you want to avoid all the marketing hoopla and growing pains, try buying dried stevia leaves from your local health food retailer to sweeten your coffee, tea or just about anything else that suits your sweet tooth.
If you like the naturally sweet taste enough to make room for stevia in your garden, there are some tricks you should know:
Stevia plants can vary in its sweetening ability, so purchase stock from a few suppliers and try some different cultivars until you find a compatible flavor profile.
If you're growing plants from seed, expect a low germination rate, so plant plenty.
Plan on giving stevia some TLC. These plants aren't hardy. Provide them with optimum conditions as stipulated on the materials that come with the plants or seeds you purchase. Even though they're persnickety when young, stevia behaves much more predictably once established. To learn more, visit:
|Dried and Ground Stevia|
How to Make Stevia Syrup
Photo 1 - Stevia4_WikiBy Crobray (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/99/Stevia2.JPG
Stevia blossom photo courtesy of Tamara Dourney at Flickr. You can also visit her at: Saponifier