Common Names: stevia, sweetleaf, sugarleaf
Family: Asteraceae/Compositae (aster/daisy Family)
Perennial Annual Can be Grown in Containers Grows Well Indoors.
Edible Plant Has Medicinal Uses
Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) is an herbaceous short lived perennial
that reaches about 20-30 in (50-75 cm) in height with a spread of
around 18-20 in (45-50 cm). It has opposite leaves that are oblong
and have toothed margins. The tiny white flowers appear late in the
summer. The leaves and young stems are sweet to the taste and the
plant is grown for use as a sugar substitute.
Piqueria trinervia is also called Stevia, but this member of the
sunflower family is cultivated for its pretty sprays of little white
flowers that are commonly used commercially in floral arrangements.
Stevia rebaudiana is native to Paraguay, Bolivia, Argentina and
Brazil, where it has been cultivated for centuries by the Native
American Guarani. Stevia is grown commercially in many parts of the
world and especially in Japan, China, Korea, Malaysia, Thailand,
Israel and much of South America, where it and its extracts are used
as sweeteners in many applications.
Light: In the warmest climates, stevia does best with some shade; in
more temperate regions it likes full sun.
Moisture: Stevia grows well in ordinary garden soils. It is
susceptible to root rot, so be sure not to overwater. Stevia plants
have fine roots near the soil surface, and a layer of mulch will
help keep these from drying out between waterings.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 9-11. Stevia rebaudiana is often grown as an
annual in the ground, set out after all danger of frost has past. In
frost free climates it can be grown as a perennial, but for a single
plant, a container that can be brought in before frost is the way to
go. There is some evidence that established plants can take a light
freeze, dying back in winter and returning in spring. If this turns
out to be true, stevia should be listed as hardy in zone 8. Stay
Propagation: Stevia seeds germinate poorly and propagation is
usually done from cuttings. Furthermore, seedlings can vary greatly
in sweetness, so cuttings taken from plants of known quality will
produce new plants with the same quality of sweetness.
Stevia is grown commercially for the glycosides that give it its
sweet taste. Stevia extracts are used to sweeten drinks (including
soft drinks), other food products, and are used as a table sweetener
in many countries.
Native South Americans used stevia medicinally to treat a variety
of ailments. More recently, studies on extracts from the stevia leaf
have suggested possible benefits in treating obesity, hypertension,
and osteoporosis. Stevia is a useful sweetener for diabetics and
others who need to restrict carbohydrate intake.
Grow stevia in pots or in the vegetable garden. Concentrations of
the sweetening chemicals increase with shorter days and cooler
temperatures, so pick the leaves in autumn before the first frost.
When the plant flowers, leaf production declines, so to get the
biggest harvest of leaves, nip off flower buds as soon as they
appear. The fresh leaves should be dried and then ground for use as
a sugar substitute. Ground stevia leaves can be added to drinks or
foods to provide sweetness without any food value. A tablespoonful
(15 ml) of dried, ground Stevia sweetens as much as one cup (236 ml)
What makes stevia taste sweet are a couple glycosides that have been
named stevioside and rebaudioside. (How clever to come up with these
names!) These chemicals are reportedly up to 300 times sweeter than
ordinary table sugar, sucrose. The leaves of the Stevia plant
contain about 12% of these chemicals and are said to have as much as
40 times the sweetening action of sucrose. And this with virtually
no calories, no carbohydrates, and a glycemic index of zero. Nor are
the glycosides susceptible to fermentation as is sugar. They just
In the U.S., stevia has been variously relegated and regulated as
a food additive (sweetener) or a dietary supplement, and has even
been banned from time to time, some say because of political
influence from makers of artificial sweeteners. Today stevia
extracts are available commercially, and most often used to sweeten
tea and coffee.