The Home-Gardener’s Sweetener – STEVIA!

by Texas Homesteader ~ 

Several years ago our daughter mentioned casually that she was growing Stevia.

Wait, Stevia? You mean, the sweetener? You can GROW THAT!!?? I had no idea!

Excitedly I sat out to find a place to purchase the plant. I found mine at a local discount-type store and brought it home.

But now that I’m growing my own zero-calorie sweetener, what should I do with it?

Stevia is a plant you can grow in your edible landscape. Harvest the leaves to make your very own home-grown sweetener. #TexasHomesteader

I’d just just plunked my new stevia plant into my landscaping bed as part of my edible landscape. It’s a pretty enough plant, so why not?

I’ve now had this plant for several years. It always comes back for me every spring here in zone 8.

The home gardener's sweetener, and zero calorie too - Stevia is easy to grow and easy to use. #TexasHomesteader

How Does Stevia Compare To Sugar?

Now just because Stevia is sweet doesn’t mean it has the same properties as sugar:

Stevia Is Sweeter Than Sugar – It’s said that Stevia powder is 200x to 300x sweeter than sugar. So about 3 tiny teaspoons of Stevia powder has the same sweetness of about a cup of sugar. Wow! 

Stevia Can Taste Bitter If You Use Too Much – I found out the hard way – if you measure too heavily with granulated sugar for your recipe you just get too much sweet flavor. But if you measure too heavily with Stevia you’ll not only get too much sweet flavor but a bitter taste as well. So a light hand is best when using Stevia.

Stevia Doesn’t Dissolve – Remember Stevia is just dried and powdered plant leaves. So it doesn’t dissolve like sugar does. Don’t try to stir dried powdered stevia into your morning coffee. It’ll float!

Careful Replacing Sugar In Recipe – Granulated sugar may offer any number of qualities to a recipe such as adding bulk, helping cakes set properly, retaining moisture, etc.

Replacing all of the sugar with powdered stevia may cause your recipe to turn out much differently than you’d expected. I feel it’s best used as a part of or in addition to the sweetener in your recipe.

Stevia Doesn’t Taste Like Granulated Sugar –  I’m not sure Stevia actually has a specific taste to me, just ‘sweet‘. Although I’ve heard others comment that it tastes fresh & green. (I’m just not sure what that means)

Making Dried Stevia

I’ve read that Stevia is sweetest when harvested when it’s cool outside. So I harvest early in the morning after the dew has dried. Then I wash the harvested Stevia and remove the leaves.

If I want to dry stevia, I quickly wash the stems, strip the leaves and allow to dry. #TexasHomesteader

You can dry the whole leaves on a screen I suppose. But I activate the lazy-gardener method & just lay the washed & air-dried leaves on a flat plate and fluff them occasionally.

They dry just fine and are typically dry for me in about 24-48 hours. But I always allow them to dry a day or so longer before storing ‘just to be sure’.

I find the stevia leaves dry just a bit faster if I chop them first. So I often wash the stem, remove the leaves, lightly chop and then spread them on a flat plate. I still fluff them occasionally to make sure air can reach all surfaces.

When they’re completely dry I can store the leaves in a covered jar in my pantry. But I often powder them first in a coffee grinder for even more compact storage.

Plus by having powdered stevia on hand I can just use my measuring spoon to add a touch of extra sweetness to my recipes. 

Making Stevia Extract

Although I’ve never done it myself, some folks like to make a Stevia extract. According to Prairie Homestead  you just fill jar with chopped fresh Stevia leaves & top leaves with vodka. Shake & allow to steep for 48 hours

Then you remove leaves & place the liquid in a pan.  You’ll want to gently heat it for 20 minutes, but don’t allow it to boil. This step is said to remove the alcohol.

Afterward she states that you can store your cooled Stevia extract in the refrigerator for a few months.

Making Liquid Stevia

Here’s an even easier way I’ve read about to use your Stevia plant – liquid Stevia. I watched a video from Whole Lifestyle Nutrition  about making liquid Stevia.

She just measured 1/4 cup Stevia powder and added 1 cup warm filtered water, shaking thoroughly. Then she let it sit out 24 hours to allow it to infuse. (although I’ve read elsewhere that it needs gentle non-boiling heat to properly infuse)

Then it needs to be stored in the refrigerator. I’m guessing it’ll last several weeks?

How I Use Stevia: Sweet Drinks

But I’ve never utilized either of these methods for using my Stevia. My use is much more straightforward!

You see, RancherMan likes his tea crazy sweet. That usually involves adding copious amounts of processed (and purchased) granulated sugar. But now I use my own Stevia plant to provide sugar-free sweetness for him instead.

When I’m making sun tea I simply harvest about four to five fresh 8-10″ stems of Stevia. I bring them inside, give them a quick rinse and then strip the leaves from the stems. 

Then I’ll roll them tightly between my palms to crush the leaves and then toss them into my sun tea jar along with my tea bag.

Sweet tea - sun tea. Stevia is a plant you can grow in your edible landscape. Harvest the leaves to make your very own home-grown sweetener. #TexasHomesteader

I place that jar outside in the sun to brew into a delightful refreshing sweet-tea beverage. Since I drink my tea unsweetened I can’t speak for its sweetness. But RancherMan says it’s perfect!

I also make a Sweet Sugar-Free Minty Beverage using the same sun-brewing method. It uses only fresh stevia and mint leaves harvested from my garden. 

Fresh mint and stevia leaves steeped into refreshing cool drink #TexasHomesteader

Let me tell ya, it sure is refreshing on a hot Texas summer’s day!

How I Use Stevia: Sweetening Food

As I mentioned, it’s not recommended to just pick a recipe and change the measure of sugar to stevia to make it sugar free. Plus, remember, Stevia is about 300 times sweeter than sugar! So it’s best to use it as part of your recipe instead of a sugar replacement. Here’s examples of how I do that:

Sweetening Brownie Recipe –  I make Guilt-Free Brownies from sweet potatoes. It’s sweetened with only a tiny 1/4 cup of honey. So it’s a lightly sweet chocolate treat I enjoy and it’s pretty guilt free in my diet too.

Sweet guilt-free brownies use only a tiny amount of honey to sweeten, but I add powdered stevia if I want it sweeter. #TexasHomesteader

But RancherMan has quite a sweet tooth, y’all. He doesn’t give a flyin’ flip about guilt-free eating! He prefers the brownies to have more sweetness.

So I often add a eensie 1/4 teaspoon of dried stevia powder to the brownie batter. It’s natural and sugar free, it’s still guilt free for us yet it pacifies his sweet tooth.

Pumpkin Granola – RancherMan likes to snack on handfuls of my Pumpkin Granola. But he likes it sweet. So I’ll usually add about 1/2 teaspoon dry stevia powder to the wet ingredients when I’m making it for him.

Sweetening Unflavored Yogurt – I make my own Homemade Yogurt unflavored and unsweetened. That way I can use my yogurt as an ingredient in my Chocolate Fudgesicles, a low-fat Substitute for Sour Cream on my baked potato or to whip up homemade Creamy Salad Dressing in about 1 minute.

When I want to enjoy sweetened yogurt for breakfast I’ll typically stir in some honey, a handful of berries and maybe a sprinkling of granola. 

But remember, RancherMan has a sweet tooth. So I’ll section off some plain unsweeteend yogurt for him and add a small amount of powdered Stevia and maybe stir in some of my Pear Preserves.

He loves it that way and the texture of the preserves masks the fact that the finely-ground stevia powder doesn’t dissolve.

Stevia Safety Notes

If you ever have a question where you need honest-to-goodness real information, check with a trusted source such as your doctor or your local extension agent!

Don’t rely on documentary or opinion-type stories that shouldn’t be taken as factual.

Our local extension agent is an absolute dream. I asked her about Stevia safety & she sent me a few authority sites. I used them to do my own research, and found the Stevia Wikipedia information interesting as well. But in researching there are a couple of things to note:

FDA Information. Looks like they have an ‘important alert‘ on leaf Stevia. Not anything about its safety per se, but how this zero-calorie sweetener affects your sweet-food appetite.

I’m seeing that just like other zero-calorie sweeteners, it’s possible that it actually makes you crave MORE sugar if you consume enough of it. I’m not worried about the small amount in RancherMan’s iced tea. But just fyi –> FDA Information On High-Intensity Sweeteners

Effects On Health Conditions – And this is a very informative piece about Stevia and its possible effects on certain health conditions –> https://www.livescience.com/39601-stevia-facts-safety.html

When In Doubt, Check With Your Doctor

All-in-all I think it’s important educate ourselves before taking the leap into something new, whether it’s a new exercise regime or a new diet. If there are any concerns about anything you eat, your doctor is always your best source of counsel!

But for RancherMan & me, this Stevia has been able to replace some table sugar that we would otherwise have to purchase. And it’s zero calorie to boot!

Growing my own sweetener? Well I think that’s pretty sweet!

~TxH~

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