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Stevia: The Sweet Herb Stevia

Stevia – The Sweet Herb Stevia is the Sweetest Natural Product Known.

Stevia, The Sweet Herb


Stevia: We get requests for information about Stevia, the natural sweetener, from friends of AboutEating.com almost every day. So, I’ve put together an article with information about growing Stevia, Preserving Stevia and how to use it in food. I’ve also included a few recipes.

*Growing and Using Stevia
* Preserving Stevia
* Homemade Stevia Extract
* Stevia Mint Syrup
* Chocolate Panna Cotta with Berry Coulis

So many of you have asked about this herb. For years, I have been literally up on my herbal soap box talking about Stevia. It comes from Paraguay and the leaves of this plant are the sweetest natural product known.

Stevia can be several hundred times sweeter than sugar, is non-caloric and diabetic safe. It doesn’t promote tooth decay.

Stevia Plant from Rita's Garden

Stevia Plant from Rita’s Garden

S. Rebaudiana, Stevia is a member of the aster family (Compositae) and grows to be a small perennial shrub like plant native to Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. The natives in those countries most likely have used the leaves to sweeten their foods since pre-Columbian times, but it wasn’t until 1887 that a scientist discovered it.

The Japanese started growing Stevia in the 50’s. When their government banned some artificial sweeteners due to health concerns in the late 60’s, Stevia use skyrocketed. It is now the main sugar substitute in Japan.

Stevia use in the U.S. has been increasing, and you can find Stevia in the health food aisle of your local grocer. I like the Stevia that NuNaturals puts out (email ron@nunaturals.com). It doesn’t have bitter after tones and is available in several varieties. To me, it has a one-dimensional sweet taste.

Growing and using Stevia

I have had my Stevia plants for several years, wintering them over in the house since in our climate it’s a tender perennial. Best started from cuttings or small plants, Stevia does best in sun with a moist soil.

Preserving Stevia

Harvest it just as it begins to flower, as this is when the plant is at its sweetest. To dry, strip an inch or so of the bottom leaves from the stem, hang upside down in a cool, dry place. When the leaves can be crumbled between your palms, the herb is dry enough. Store away from heat and light.

I am constantly pinching leaves off to bruise for sweetening hot and cold beverages and I do that long before the plant flowers.

Stevia in Panna Cotta

Stevia in Panna Cotta

Panna Cotta

Chocolate Panna Cotta with Berry Coulis

If your plant is extremely sweet, one large leaf will sweeten a pitcher of ice tea. Go to taste on this, though. You may need several leaves.

Stevia’s components are heat stable. You can even combine it with other sweeteners. It doesn’t have the caramelizing effect like sugar, because it doesn’t brown or crystallize like sugar. If you use pulverized dried leaves, they may color your food a bit.

Start using Stevia to sweeten applesauces, smoothies, nut butters, bread puddings, custards, and pies. I don’t have much success using it in cakes that require much leavening, but I’m learning. I like using Stevia extract in drinks, etc.

How much? Start using one teaspoon in place of one cup of sugar, too much and it tastes bitter.

I have several recipes for this, and here’s one of them:

Homemade Stevia Extract

Mix together 1 cup very hot distilled water with 1 cup bruised fresh Stevia leaves or 1/2 cup dried crushed Stevia leaves. Put in a jar with a cover. Let it stand for a day, then filter through a coffee filter. Refrigerate, covered, up to a month or freeze up to 6 months. You can dilute it with water if you want.

Stevia Mint Syrup

Sometimes I add crushed mint leaves to the hot water with the Stevia to make a mint extract. To make it more like a syrup, soften a teaspoon or so of unflavored gelatin in a tablespoon of cold water, then dissolve it in the hot liquid. This is wonderful on fresh or frozen, thawed fruits.

Chocolate Panna Cotta with Berry Coulis

1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
3 cups chocolate soy milk
Stevia: start with 1 teaspoon liquid or powdered Stevia and go from there
Pinch salt
2 teaspoons vanilla

Sprinkle gelatin over cold water in small bowl. Set aside to soften/“bloom”, about 5 – 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine in a pan soy milk, Stevia and salt. Bring to a boil; remove from heat and whisk in vanilla and gelatin mixture. Whisk until gelatin is dissolved.

Pour into glasses or ramekins. Chill, covered, until firm, about 4 hours or up to 3 days. Serve with fresh berries, mint or berry coulis.

To sweeten with sugar: Use 1/2 cup or bit more

Berry Coulis

12-16 frozen or fresh berries, any kind – I like the mixture of blackberries, blueberries & raspberries or simply raspberries
Splash of lemon juice
Pinch salt
Stevia to taste
Cook everything but Stevia together until berries can be mashed. Run through a strainer, then sweeten to taste.

Why Write an Article about Stevia? Here are some notes from our readers -

- Dear Rita, I am very interested in learning to use Stevia. I have heard you and Ron Wilson talk about how one leaf will sweeten a whole pitcher of iced tea, but I do not know how to use it — pick a leaf and put it in the hot water, in a cold pitcher of ice tea, crumbled, dried????? Can you please help me? Thanks so much! Cynda

- I purchased a Stevia plant to use for sweetening. How do I use it? Do I cut it up or make a syrup or what? Thanks, Barb

-Hi Rita!
I have heard you speak several times (especially at Speaking of Women’s Health conferences) and heard you mention Stevia. My friend and I sent away for seeds this year, but they did nothing. She did find us two plants at White Oak Nursery and they are growing away in pots. How do we use it? The seeds had instructions to pick the leaves before the plant blooms and dry them and use that way. How long does it take before the plant blooms? How is the best way to dry the leaves? Obviously we are excited and anxious to start using this sweetener. Any help would be greatly appreciated. We love to listen and learn from you! Connie

-Please tell me how to harvest and use fresh stevia leaves. Palse
Pluck the leaves from the stem, bruise lightly and add a couple or so leaves to your beverages, water, etc., either hot or cold. Let infuse a few minutes – check out my Healthy Drinks Video.

-HI Rita I love all the recipes and information I receive. My question is would I get Stevia at a health food store? Thank you for your response. Robbie
Stevia is available at health food stores but also your local Supermarket in their organic/natural foods aisle. One of the larger Kroger or Giant stores should have it in their health food section. You can also check out Susan’s Natural World off Beechmont Ave. Susan is a friend.

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