Name: stevia, sweet leaf, sugarleaf (Stevia rebaudiana).
Height: up to 1m.
Climate: prefers humid tropical and sub-tropical regions, but can be grown in other areas that are protected from frost.
Soil: fertile, well-drained.
Position: full sun or part shade.
Flowering: small white flowers in late summer/autumn.
Foliage: green leaves can be used in place of sugar.
Feeding: organic fertiliser in summer.
Watering: regular watering.
This fascinating herb has small white tubular flowers and dark green leaves. It tends to die down in winter, so in many areas is grown as an annual. It’s widely used as a sugar substitute due to its remarkably sweet leaves, which are said to be 150 times sweeter than sugar.
The sweet leaves can be eaten straight from the plant, or they can be dried, powdered or made into a syrup. Stevia is commonly used by people who want to reduce their sugar intake. Approximately one-eighth of a teaspoon of dried, powdered stevia leaves is equivalent in sweetness to a teaspoon of sugar.
Stevia is tricky to grow from seed, so purchased plants are best.
Stevia requires regular watering during warmer periods to prevent the roots from drying out. The addition of a layer of compost or mulch will help keep the roots moist and cool. If your stevia is in a pot, water it if the surface of the soil feels dry. Avoid overwatering in the cooler months, as stevia is prone to root rot. Stevia doesn’t require much fertiliser, although a feed in mid-summer with a liquid fertiliser will give the plant a boost.
Protect your stevia from slugs and snails using a snail gel or a snail and slug barrier. Aphids also find these sweet plants tasty—use Yates Bug Oil Insect Spray to treat these. In warm–humid climates, fungal leaf spot diseases are common. Make sure your plants have good air circulation, and treat with an organic fungicide. Root rot can be a problem if your soil is too wet, so take care not to overwater your stevia.
Growing stevia from cuttings
Stevia seeds can be difficult to germinate, so the best way to propagate stevia is by cuttings in late summer.
After applying fertiliser, delay harvesting for a few days and rinse well before cooking and eating. If using products to deal with pests, diseases or weeds, always read the label, follow the instructions carefully and wear suitable protective equipment. Store all garden chemicals out of the reach of children and pets.
Basil: a great herb that has the same growing requirements as stevia. Perfect for savoury dishes.
Peppermint: a popular and easy-to-grow herb with a delightful mint flavour.
Oregano: a quick-growing, low-maintenance culinary herb for the garden or in pots.
Parsley: curly parsley or Italian parsley; both are hardy herbs for sun or shade.
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