As a natural substitute devoid of the harmful chemicals commonly associated with artificial sweeteners, stevia is fast becoming a buzz word among weight watchers and diabetics who are on the lookout for the next best healthy alternative to sugar.
Of course, there are a lot of natural and healthy sweeteners readily available on the market. However, none compares to the versatility and value-for-money that stevia offers. While sugar substitutes like molasses and honey may be easy to procure, they are not necessarily as easy and as cost-effective to grow or maintain. With stevia, however, keeping a healthy habit can also promote sustainable living.
Growing and Using Stevia Leaves
Stevia sweetener is actually derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana shrub that is native to the tropical regions of South America and Asia. It has also been successfully grown in the colder climates of North America and Europe.
As a natural shrub, the plant is easy to grow and maintain. It does not take too much space for spreading out its roots. Keeping a patch or two of stevia in your garden will provide you with a round-the-clock source of sweetener using stevia leaves.
Planting stevia is easy. You, however, need to keep in mind that it is best to scour gardening shops to find the sweetest and most fertile sample available. For those who prefer starting their stevia garden from scratch, they have to take note that seeds with deeper color tend to have higher rates of growing roots and sprouts.
Growing a stevia plant from scratch, no matter the type, is not a walk in the park. You may alternately opt to buy starter or baby plants that you can just transplant into your garden. You need to be sure that you are transplanting your starter plants into loamy, rich soil.
A stevia plant needs light watering in order for it to retain the moisture it needs. Your plant can take in all the nutrients it needs from the rich soil, frequent watering and a healthy dose of sun. But, if you want to fertilize your plant further, you may opt for organic fertilizers (which slowly release nitrogen into the soil).
You will know that your stevia plant is right for the picking when its leaves and stalks are starting to blossom. This occurs during late summer or autumn just before the colder winds begin to shut off the warmth from your sun-loving plant. To have the best tasting stevia sweetener, remember that the leaves of the stevia plant are a lot sweeter than its stems. Thus, the stems are usually discarded.
Creating Your Stevia Sweetener
You can enjoy the sweetness of stevia straight from your harvest by simply adding a leaf or two to the hot water you use when steeping tea or preparing a cup of coffee. You may also prepare alcohol-based stevia extracts by following these steps:
- Half fill a clear jar with chopped fresh stevia leaves.
- Pour enough vodka or any clear alcoholic drink to fill the glass jar.
- Put the jar away from direct sunlight for about two days but make sure that you shake the jar gently a couple of times each day in order to maintain a uniform mixture.
- After two days, slowly strain out the leaves and simmer the alcohol mixture until it becomes thicker and darker than before.
- Cool the mixture.
- Pour into opaque or tincture bottles and keep it inside the refrigerator to lengthen its shelf life.
But for an even more versatile stevia sweetener, you can choose to dry your newly harvested stevia leaves. Like most herbs, harvested stevia is best dried to prepare it for even long-term storage. Leaves should be sun dried for about 12 hours and then crushed using a mortar and pestle or with the aid of a coffee grinder to churn out dry stevia leaf powder.
From your collection of dried leaves, you may also make your own stevia syrup. All you have to do is throw in a teaspoon of dried stevia leaves into two cups of distilled water. Then, you simmer the mixture until most of the water has evaporated. This will leave you with a syrupy concoction. Once your syrupy concoction is cooled, you need to strain it using a piece of cheesecloth to take the leaves out. You can prolong your syrup’s shelf life by refrigerating it.
Category: Stevia Products