Stevia (stevia rebaudianais) is a native South American plant whose leaves are edible; and, having a sweet flavour, can be used as a sugar substitute.
I began using stevia about two years ago as a sugar substitute in my tea. Up until then I had switched back-and-forth between Sweet-N-Low and sugar. I first heard about stevia from my mother, who first learned of stevia from either her chiropractor (who is also a licensed nutritionist) or from Dr. Oz. Around the same time stevia plants began to be readily available at retail garden stores. While I usually purchase NuNaturals bulk stevia from iHerb.com, last summer I bought my first plant and began harvesting the leaves. If you treat the plant well, it will act as a perennial and come back year after year.
Once the plant begins to bloom, you must pinch off any buds or flowers. Otherwise the leaves will begin to have a bitter flavour. (The plant is maturing and producing flowers so that it can go to seed.) Throughout the growing season, periodically pinch off large leaves and dry them. At the end of the season, when the weather begins to cool (before frost), cut stems at base of the plant and cover stalks with mulch. Dry whole stalks, then pluck leaves. If you would prefer to make a stevia syrup (see recipe below), use fresh leaves, not dried.
Once you have a good batch of dried leaves you can crush, or “powder” them in a small electric chopper (or food processor.) (My mama says that a coffee grinder works wonders as well.) Pick out any stems or other debris. (The veins of the leaves tend to be a little “stringy” and do not break down if you’re crushing or using small chopper). Store powdered stevia in air-tight container. “Green” stevia is approximately 10-15 times sweeter than sugar. You can use home-grown stevia to sweeten tea or coffee. The powder is usually so fine that it disintegrates in liquid.
For baking, I recommend using commercially processed bulk stevia. But even then you will need to use a stevia/sugar combo. Stevia is so concentrated that it does not have the same bulk as sugar, so in order to get the consistency of your recipes correct, you will still need to use some sugar. Commercially processed “white” stevia can be 200-300 times sweeter than sugar. If you are trying to remove all sugar from your diet, there is also a new “baking blend” stevia that has added dietary fiber and starches so that the bulk equivalency ratio to sugar is 1/1. I recommend preparing “test batches” for recipes that use all stevia and no sugar. Also be aware that unlike sugar, stevia does not caramelize.
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6 cups fresh stevia leaves and stems, chopped
2 cups inexpensive vodka
4 cups, approximately, distilled water
Chop stevia and place in an air-tight glass or ceramic container; add alcohol and shake. Set aside for 24 hours. After 24 hours, test the mixture for sweetness. If it isn’t sweetened to your taste, let stand for another 12 to 24 hours. Strain alcohol through cheesecloth or metal strainer. Place the strained liquid in a non-reactive pan (glass or ceramic) and bring it to a simmer (not boiling). Continue simmering for 20 minutes. Cool liquid and store in glass or ceramic jar.
Recipe source: theherbgardener.blogspot.com
Informational source: stevia.com
Image Source: wikipedia.com
11/17 Update: I was recently corrected on my usage of “syrup” for this recipe. The recipe is actually a “tincture“. However, since most folks are probably not familiar with the word tincture (nor will they be searching for a “stevia tincture recipe”, I’m still going to call it a “syrup”, but offer this paragraph for clarification. (Definition of syrup for comparision is found here.)