Stevia rebaudiana - Another plant to add to your home garden.
At City Greens, we have tried to highlight the variety of plants that can be grown at home in one's kitchen garden. Today, we bring another such possible crop to grow- albeit this can be done more for commercial purposes. All who are scouting for a zero-calorie natural sweetener can attempt to grow this plant. Botanically, Stevia rebaudiana is known by many vernacular names viz., sweet herb, candy leaf, sugar leaf, bio sweetener, etc. This plant originated in South America. Many years ago, people in South America used these leaves to sweeten beverages (Tea), as medicine and chewed them raw for its sweet taste. Though the entire herb can be used as a sweetener, the maximum sugar content is present in the leaf.
What makes Stevia sweet?
Steviol glycoside, which is naturally present in the leaves of the plants, gives it its sweet taste. There are about 11 types of steviol glycosides present in this plant, of which Rebaudioside A and Stevioside are the most abundant.
Will Stevia replace our table sugar?
Highly likely, it will, though it may take time. Stevia is 200 to 300 times sweeter than our sucrose and it does not come with a lot of side effects that are commonly attributed to the processed sugar.
How to grow this natural sweetener?
The most common method to grow Stevia is by planting cuttings. One can attempt to grow the same by sowing the seeds as well, but the germination percentage is very less.
What type of climate does it need?
It needs a temperature of around 30-32 degrees Celsius. For commercial growing in soil media, well-drained red soil is most suitable for this plant. In the hydroponic method, you can use Cocopeat as growing medium to grow.
After how many days will stevia be ready to taste?
You must wait for four months after planting to be able to get the sweet taste in the leaf- directly while chewing it. But, to get more sweetness in the leaf (more of Steviol glycoside content), pluck the leaves before flowering. After the first harvest - subsequent harvests can be done at three months intervals.
How to use the leaves after harvesting?
Simple! Pluck and Eat! Fresh and Healthy!
To store the leaves for an extended period, one needs to shade dry the leaves immediately after harvest, as exposure to harsh sunlight/high temperature may reduce its characteristic aroma and essential oil contents. A long period of drying reduces its stevioside content (sweetener content). After drying, pack, and store it in a cool and dry place. Enjoy it by adding to your tea, food, etc.
Commercial potential of Stevia?
Stevia is used widely on a commercial scale.
- It is used in powder and tablet form in almost all artificial sweeteners.
- Herbal tonics and tablets containing Stevia are also available.
- It is safe for diabetic patients.
- It is suited for obese persons.
- It has antibacterial, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, hypotensive, diuretic, and cardiotonic properties.
- It also prevents skin diseases like dermatitis, eczema, wrinkles, skin blemishes, acne outbreaks, scarring, rashes, and itchiness
- Stevia also acts as a synthesizer of oral contraceptives, cholesterol suppressing medicine, anti-tumor activity against prostate tumors, and activity against rheumatism.
Some studies have tried to understand the negative impacts of stevia consumption. These studies have not found any direct co-relation yet. However, some claim that if consumed in vast quantities, Stevia may lead to antifertility.
The next time you go to a store, don't forget to check out the ingredients mentioned on any of the many available artificial sweeteners present in the market. See if you could spot Stevia Rebaudiana.