Stevia, the sugar herb, is native to parts of Brazil and Paraguay where it thrives in a humid environment with free draining soil.

It has been cultivated by the Guarani people for over 1500 years to sweeten their teas and bitter medicines.
It was given the name to honour early Spanish botanist and physician, Petrus Jaime Esteve (1500-1556). It wasn’t extensively researched to analyse its properties until the 20th century and was only deemed safe as a food product by the World Health Organisation in 2006.

Since then it’s been widely used as a non-caloric sweetener replacing Saccharin in everything from Coca Cola to weight loss foods and as a sweetening option for diabetics.

Growing Stevia

Stevia is really easy to propagate from cuttings but a bit harder from seed.
From a cutting, even without the benefit of rooting hormone, it strikes relatively quickly as long as it’s kept evenly warm and moist for the first week to 10 days. You’ll even see the first sign of roots developing on a sprig of Stevia sitting in a glass of water after a few days.

From seed it can be a bit trickier. Following the general rule of thumb, not covering seed any more than twice its diameter and with Stevia seed, having a very fine needle shape, its best to just press the seed into the surface of your seed raising mix rather than covering it.

Keep the humidity (moisture) up on the surface by encasing the tray or pot with a clear plastic bag or cling wrap.

Germination is quite quick with a very tiny shoot emerging from one end of the needle seed that will head downwards to anchor itself before any leafy growth heads upwards.

Take great care at this stage as it’s at its most vulnerable until the seedling gains a bit of size and strength with first roots and leaves.

Coming from a temperate sub-tropical climate, Stevia grows vigorously during the warmer months going to seed in late summer and dying back to its base over the winter. In cooler and inland areas of New Zealand, it’s likely to resent constant frosts so might survive longer than its Tender Perennial tag suggests, by growing it in a large pot and moving it into a warmer position until spring gets underway again. Aphids are the only main insect pest for Stevia but are easily controlled if they get up in numbers.

Using Stevia

Sweeten your tea or coffee with stevia leaves either fresh or dried. Experiment with a little bit at first so you don’t over-sweeten it.
Add a leaf to your smoothie to lessen the bitterness that some vegetables have.
Dry your excess Stevia leaves, grind them into powder and they store for ages in a sealed jar or tin. Ideal for cooking and baking. 2 to 3 teaspoons Stevia Powder = 1 cup sugar.
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