Sweet Sweet Stevia

martha cinader
Stevia re-emerging from the roots in early spring

Three years ago I planted some stevia seeds in starter cups, and later transferred them to a raised bed with artichokes and asparagus; all three are perennials. I love perennials. Probably because I’m lazy. I don’t have to do anything but cover the roots with compost in the winter time, and year after year they just show themselves in spring. Now just pushing up little leaves close to the ground, they will grow to about five feet this summer, with stalks that get about an inch thick at the base.Situated close to the parking pad by the kitchen, my boys can’t resist walking by the plant without pulling off fresh leaves and eating them. They make a great breath freshener, like chewing on a mint leaf except it is sweet.

We used to grow stevia in a container in California. It didn’t get quite so big, but it was just as good. For those who dwell in apartments, and keep little pots of basil, chives and thyme in their kitchen windows for seasoning, you could add a little pot of stevia to the group. Stevia flowers in late summer and fall. They are delicate little white flowers. After that the leaves die and the plant goes bare. The stalks can be cut back all the way to the ground. I harvest batches all summer long. When they start flowering, I harvest what remains.

Refined stevia is in fashion right now, a non-caloric sweetener. I don’t know what kind of process they put it through to come up with the liquid, or crystal forms of it that you can buy at the supermarket. One benefit of its growing popularity is that you can find it in local nurseries now, usually in late spring. I use the leaves all summer long, and I dry them too, so that I have dried stevia in my kitchen at all times.

I use the fresh leaves chopped up in salads. When cucumbers are in abundance I make cucumber salads with a vinegar and water sauce, and dried stevia leaves instead of the sugar that is traditionally used. I also like to put some dried stevia in melted butter to paint the top of biscuits and dinner rolls.

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