Grow Your Own Sweetener – Stevia

steviaHave you ever used stevia? Do you know about this sweet herb? Stevia is a calorie free, all natural sweetener native to Paraguay. It is 300 times sweeter than sugar, but does not cause a spike in blood sugar levels making it diabetic safe. The leaves of this plant can be dried in a dehydrator, hung upside down to dry as you would other herbs or dried in a low temperature oven.

My first successful attempt at growing this herb was last summer when I grew it in a container. I dried it at the end of summer in a dehydrator and used it during the winter as a sweetener in my teas. I didn’t bother to crush the leaves, steeping them with my loose tea and then straining both out. I was so impressed with the ease of growing, drying and using them, that I grabbed 5 plants last week when I saw them at a local organic farm (Simpler Thyme), that I bought my other organic plants from.

Last summer I bought my stevia plant from a Fortinos garden centre, so check around your local nursery or garden centre for this easy herbal sweetener.

Stevia is available in health stores as a powder or liquid extract.  There are several flavours available in extract form and I love to use lemon stevia to make a delicious lemonade in the summer. The liquid form mixes/dissolves easily in water.

Lemonade

1/2 – 2/3 cup of either fresh lemon juice or organic, bottled, not from concentrate lemon juice
1-2 droppers of lemon stevia extract
4 cups of filtered water
1 tbsp. of maple syrup (to neutralize any after taste from the stevia)

I did not use any of my home grown stevia in baking as I just didn’t have enough of it, but I have used store purchased stevia to reduce the amount of sugar in a recipe. Unless you are using a recipe that calls for stevia though, you will need to experiment to find the right balance of stevia to other sweeteners. What you don’t get with stevia is the bulk that other sweeteners give you. When using both stevia and other natural sweeteners together in a recipe, it eliminates any kind of after taste that some may experience with just stevia. I generally find much less of an aftertaste with the liquid flavoured extracts.

This is the perfect time to be on the look out for this herb. Give it a try in your garden or in a container if you have a sunny spot.

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