Stevia plant cultivation and its leaves processing at home!

Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) is a sweet-tasting plant which became well-known only in recent years worldwide. However, the sweet  taste of its leaves has been known for hundreds of years to indigenous populations of Paraguay and Brazil, which they used it as a sweetener in tea or in local traditional medicine recipes.

Today, stevia is used commercially around the world to replace sugar in soft drinks and foods, providing an important aid in calories consumption reduction and it is available in market both in powder and liquid forms. Stevia is a very good substitute for sugar because it has little caloric value and is grown essentially for its leaves, because its leaves are rich in glycosides. The steviol glycosides contained in stevia leaves have a strong sweetening power as they are 350 times sweeter than table sugar, which means that a small quantity of stevia is needed to present the sweet taste we want.

Stevia can be grown either by professional farmers or amateurs and can be planted in pots or gardens to meet the daily needs of a household. The usual loamy soil that common plants and vegetables need is also ideal for stevia plantation, which usually prefers neutral pH (pH 7) and not very heavy soils. Its seeds should remain in the nursery for at least 8-10 weeks before being transported outside and its seedlings will appear in 7-14 days. Once the nursery period is over the plants should be transplanted into pots or the garden, making sure that the temperatures during the night do not fall below 10 °C. The best period of harvesting stevia is the period just before flowering, which is good to coincide with a period of 80-85 days after transplantation, and usually the best season is autumn when the day begins to get  shorter.

Stevia leaves are used in dried form and in order to dry them we have to leave them under the sun for up to 12 hours but no longer, because the glycosides content of the final product will be reduced. In addition, desiccation of stevia leaves should be done immediately after harvesting, otherwise the leaves lose their good quality because the glycosides they contain are reduced in this case too. Stevia dried leaves can be kept for years in glass jars and we can use them as they are or by grinding them in the mortar whenever we want a quantity of sweetener for our household's nutritional needs.

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