Also known as Sweet Leaf and Sweet Herb.
The leaves of the Stevia plant are used as a herbal, calorie-free substitute for sugar in food and drinks. One teaspoon of sugar is equivalent to two – three fresh leaves of Stevia. Leaves that have been dried and powdered are much sweeter.
The leaves of the Stevia plant can be harvested at any time of the year, although they will be at their sweetest in late summer when the Stevia plant is in flower. If you’re wanting to dry the leaves, it is best to harvest them before flowering occurs then hang them upside down in bunches.
Stevioside is the chemical extracted from the leaves and it is said to be around 300 times sweeter than sugar. It is a glucoside, not a carbohydrate.
Stevia can be grown in the ground or in containers and enjoys a full sun location with moist, well draining, rich soil. Growing up to a metre in height, this popular perennial is a great addition to most gardens.
The plant originates from South America where the Guarani Indians of Paraguay used it as a medicine plant, not just a sweetener.
It can be difficult to grow from seed but cuttings from the parent plant generally strike readily. Tip prune to encourage bushy new growth.