Growing a stevia plant is a way to enjoy sweet leaves whenever you want. You can use them fresh, dried, powdered, and as a liquid to sweeten drinks and food. Stevia grows well in garden beds and containers and makes an edible houseplant. They are high-yielding plants that produce all year. They grow much like basil.
We explain how to grow a stevia plant, how to care for it, plant uses, and more so you can grow this herbal alternative to sugar at home.
Where Does Stevia Grow
Growing Stevia rebaudiana in the garden means you can enjoy all the benefits like you would when you grow herbs. Simply pick some leaves and enjoy.
It grows as a tender perennial plant in zones 9 – 11 where it is winter hardy. Outdoors, stevia plants thrive in warm and mildly tropical climates. It’s open pollinated by insects, wind, and birds.
If you don’t live in one of these climate zones, you can grow stevia as an annual. It also grows well indoors with enough light. It only needs to pollinate to produce seeds, not to grow edible leaves. Therefore, growing it indoors is okay.
The sweet stevia plant is native to Brazil and Paraguay. It’s also known as yerba dulce which means sweet herb in Spanish. It is now grown in Japan, China, the United States, and elsewhere.
This plant is considered to be a healthy substitute for sugar in various meals, drinks, or food products. People harvest the leaves.
How to Grow Stevia
Stevia plants thrives in warmer, temperate climates. It can only be grown year round in an environment where the ground does not freeze.
Stevia seeds need a lot of light to germinate. Germination takes 7 – 21 days. They are known to be difficult to germinate.
Days to maturity when planting from seed is 100 – 120 days. This means from the day you plant your seeds, the stevia plant will be mature 3 – 4 months.
To speed up the process, you can purchase an established plant.
Stevia Plant for Sale
If you live in growing zones 9 or higher, you may be able to buy stevia plants from your local nursery or garden center. Home improvement centers such as Home Depot or Lowe’s may also carry stevia plants.
If you don’t live in a climate where it can grow outdoors during the winter, you likely won’t find stevia plants for sale in your area. You may live plants on Etsy.
Instead, purchase stevia seeds. It’s important to choose organic stevia seeds when possible. For the negligible difference in cost, it’s worth it.
What’s great is once your stevia plant is established, you can snip branches from it to root and grow additional stevia plants. Put root cuttings in water to propagate additional plants.
If your plant dies in the frost, you’ll already have the cuttings to plant the following spring. This is an easy way to continue growing stevia from one plant.
To keep it developing during the winter, even in colder climates, it is best to root the cuttings at the end of the summer and grow the plant indoors. Using small side branches is advised.
How to Plant Stevia Seeds
Growing stevia from seed isn’t always easy. Light is essential. Start seeds indoors at least six weeks before the last expected frost date. Choose well-draining, nutrient rich, potting soil.
To plant, gently press stevia seeds into the soil. Do not cover with additional soil. For successful germination, seeds require direct light and moist soil. Take care to not overwater. Seedlings should emerge in 7 – 21 days at 68 – 75 degrees F.
Transplant stevia plants outdoors or into a larger container when they are a few inches in height. If you are planting in a garden bed or directly in the ground, space plants 12 inches apart.
If you are growing in a container, transplant one stevia plant per pot. It should be have enough drainage holes. The container should be a minimum of 12 – 14 inches in diameter. Be sure to plant stevia in an area with plenty of sunshine.
Stevia Plant Care
Regular watering is important. Avoid soggy soil to prevent root rot. Look for signs of wilting.
If you live in a hot, dry climate, be sure to provide afternoon shade for the plants in the hot months. This is especially important if you are container gardening.
Fertilizer isn’t necessary as long as you are growing the plants in nutrient-rich soil. Be sure to avoid adding fertilizers high in nitrogen. This will cause the plant to produce large leaves without flavor.
Pruning is important to help it grow into a bush. The upright branches of this plant need to be nipped back every four to six weeks in the first few months. Simply pinch off the growing tips. Stevia plants attract few pests or insects.
How to Grow Stevia from Cuttings
Growing stevia from cuttings is easy. If you’ve ever propagated basil, the process with stevia is much the same. Once the plant is mature and established, gently snip of branches from the main stem. Remove the lower leaves to enjoy.
Place the cut side down in room temperature water. In several weeks, roots will grow. In time, you can transplant into a larger container or in a garden. This is a good way to save your crop from freezing during the colder months.
During the winter, in areas without a lot of natural daylight, you can use fluorescent light indoors to keep the stevia plant growing. Roots will start growing in two or three weeks. Once the weather warms up, and spring is in full bloom, the plant can be taken outdoors and replanted in warm soil.
Stevia Plant Appearance
Stevia grows to 18 – 30 inches in height. If you’ve pruned within the first several months after transplanting, it will grow bushy. It has slightly woody stems. Stevia leaves are light green, oblong, and small-toothed. The leaves are tender and sweet with prominent veins.
A stevia plant flower will bud and bloom in the fall. Stevia flowers are tiny and white. Pinch them off to keep the plant growing edible leaves.
Harvesting Stevia Leaves
When it comes to harvesting stevia, the leaves can be gathered and dried once the plant is established. This is generally four months after planting. With a mature plant, you can harvest leaves anytime of year. This makes it convenient to pick them when you want to use them which is when they are most fresh.
It’s best to pick leaves in the morning to enjoy the highest sugar content and flavor.
Be sure to pick the leaves by early fall. Once the stevia flowers, it will begin to lose its leaves. Alternatively, you can pinch off the blooms to encourage it to continue to grow leaves. If you live in growing zones 9 – 11, it’s important to do this.
In general, harvesting a stevia plant is mostly a simple task. Gardeners merely need to pick off the leaves and let the rest of the plant keep growing. If you’ve ever grown mint, basil, or other herbs, the process is similar.
How to Use Stevia Leaves
There are many stevia plant uses. You can use fresh leaves, dried leaves, ground up dried leaves as a powder, or make liquid stevia.
Chop or crush just-picked stevia leaf to use in hot liquids. To release the sweetness, they must be in hot liquids. If you want to drink the beverages cold, leave them in the refrigerator overnight.
Fresh stevia leaves are ideal to make hot tea, iced tea, coffee, iced coffee, lemonade, and more.
Use dried leaves for months as long as they are stored in an airtight mason jar. However, dried stevia leaves will only have a robust and sweet flavor for a few months. You can use a food dehydrator to quickly dry stevia leaves. If you have a few leaves, you can dry them by putting them between the pages of a book.
Another drying method is to hang them in a well-ventilated, dark and dry location indoors.
Ground up dried stevia leaves into powder for baking or storage. One tablespoon of ground stevia powder equals one cup of sugar in baking.
In addition to dried or fresh leaves, the stevia plant can be made into a liquid extract similar to syrup. To make liquid stevia:
- Stevia leaves need to be chopped and added into a jar filled with vodka.
- The jar should be left out for two days. Shake periodically.
- Strain the liquid through a coffee filter.
- Cook in a pot for 30 minutes to boil off the alcohol. The liquid extract will become syrupy.
- Store for up to a month in a glass jar.
Liquid stevia extract should be measured by the drop and stored in a refrigerator after completing the boiling. Use it as a type of sweetener as you would syrup or honey.
Tips for Using Stevia Plant Leaves
Here are some tips for using homegrown stevia leaf extract:
- 1/8 equals one teaspoon of granulated sugar
- It won’t caramelize like sugar
- Heat releases the sweetness in stevia leaves; for cold drinks, let it steep overnight in the refrigerator
- Stevia won’t feed yeast for homemade waffles, breads, etc.
What is Stevia?
This herbal supplement contains zero calories and is regarded as a healthy alternative to sugar because it doesn’t impact blood sugar levels. It may be appropriate for people who have diabetes. Furthermore, this sweet leaf plant is known to be 200x sweeter than standard sugar. When used in moderation, no medical risks were found from eating the stevia plant.
Commercially, the stevia plant needs to undergo long processing times. This includes harvesting leaves, drying, extracting water, and purifying. This process will prevent bitterness, and a foul taste often found with crude stevia.
Commercial stevia concentrate can be up to 300 times sweeter than when you grow it yourself. It’s also may have a bitter aftertaste.
Leaves grows on a bushy shrub. There are 150+ species of stevia but only two produce the useful sweet leaves that contain steviol glycosides.
The stevia plant is composed of the following building blocks:
- Dulcoside A
- Rebaudiosides A, C, D, E, and F
Stevia Health Benefits
There are also several health benefits from this plant. Research has found no change in blood glucose levels and no response to insulin levels from eating the stevia supplement. Essentially, this plant can benefit people with type 2 diabetes to improve their health.
The stevia plant contains nearly no calories and no sugar. This means it can help those looking for help with weight control. In addition, a study from 2003 found that the stevia plant reduces blood pressure. It may also help control the heartbeat.
The sweetener is beneficial for children’s diets as it can help transition children to a low-sugar diet without compromising sweet flavors. This may even lower the rates of childhood obesity. These primary health reasons are why consuming stevia benefits the general population.
Along with being a natural sweetener, it is also known as a herbal supplement. Traditionally it’s used in beverages for sweetening and also medicinally.
Even if you don’t live in a growing zone with a warm or hot climate, you can grow stevia plants. They grow well as productive houseplants. Outdoors, you can plant them in a container garden. This makes stevia herbs ideal for areas with poor soil or limited gardening space.
Stevia plants grow very sweet tasting leaves. While it’s a non-nutritive sweetener, it is calorie free. Many people prefer it over artificial sweeteners. You’ll likely find many uses for them, including adding them to a hot cup of tea. People have used stevia leaves for hundreds of years medicinally.
These plants can make a great addition to your homesteading efforts if you are interested in homegrown food ingredients for yourself and your family. Grow stevia at home for an easy-to-grow sugar substitute.