Stevia Rebaudiana is a plant used to sweeten drinks, cookies and other baked goods. It is also known as Ka'a he'ê, Sweetleaf, Sweet Leaf, Sugarleaf, Sweet herb of Paraguay, Caa-ehe, Honey leaf or Yerba Dulce and can be used in almost any way that ordinary table sugar or other sweetener are used.
We included stevia leaves and powder as natural sweetener in our teas (for better flavor add just before drinking it) last year and believe me, we were impressed by its taste. Also we love to sprinkle stevia powder on top of fresh cut fruits: grapefruits, pears and strawberries. It is a real delight to enrich any herbal herbal tea with scented lemon-rose pelargonium leaves and sweetened with stevia dried leaves. Stevia leaves can be used fresh or dried, like any other aromatic herbs.
Stevia Rebaudiana higher level of sweetens (30-45 times) than ordinary sugar cane and about its long usage by Guarani people (for more than 1500 years) as natural sweet delight and safe medicinal herb. In Canada, Stevia Rebaudiana is available just as a dietary supplement and for personal culinary use (http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/securit/addit/sweeten-edulcor/stevia-faq-eng.php
) although in Japan, China, Korea, Thailand, South America, Russia and recently in European Union (December 2011) is cultivated and used as food additive (sweetener), too.
There are a lot of information available online about its usage as a calorie-free sweetener in weight-loss therapy and treatment for people suffering from diabetes, hypoglycemia, and high blood pressure because has no carbohydrates. There are also a lot of products available in stores which contain stevia extracts like Truvia (by Cargill Ltd. ) and PureVia (by Merisant Worldwide Inc.). You know that something big is coming when brands like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Danone, planning to introduce products using stevia sweetener - you may read more on Globe and Mail website - an interesting article published 3 years ago: Stevia is sweet – but is it safe?
Well, important is that we really like the taste of stevia leaves, which is bitter and different flavored from the common sugar. So, we decided to grow our own Stevia Rebaudiana plants, from seeds.
We started our new adventure armed with a lot of information about what are the basic requirements to grow stevia plants:
- plant the seeds on the surface of a sandy-loamy soil with a PH on the acid side,
- keep them covered with a clear plastic (to maintain the humidity ) in full light during germination period,
- keep them indoor under fluorescent light 14-16 hours per day.
- wait for 5-10 days before uncover the plastic tray, to allow all viable seeds to germinate.
- water them moderately from bottom and spray the seedlings with chamomile tea to avoid dump-off.
Is said that the seeds have low germination rate and we sowed few seeds in small soil-cubes - our favorite method to start seeds for this winter :). Similar with scentedleaf pelargoniums, Stevia is a perennial plant that can be pinch it out to make it bushier and cut down to prepare for overwintering indoor. Very important is that any time when you prune it, you may use the trimmings, although the best time to harvest stevia leaves is when the plants started to bloom.
A month after we sow the seeds and the second set of leaves appeared, we replanted the seedlings outside, on rows, in a raised bed having 4 inches high and one feet wide.
We maintain the soil moist (In Vancouver it is a somehow difficult task to avoid overwatering) and we are amazed that after a full-week of sun exposure, the plant stems and new buds started to have a reddish color.
As we told with various occasions, we consider the returning to ancient knowledge about
plants the best way to improve our life and we like to find
natural alternatives to many chemicals used nowadays in processing foods
and medicines. Growing our own Stevia sweet-leaves is just another safe step to improve the taste and quality of our food.
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