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HOME GROWN: Stevia – nature’s sweetener

Suzanne Griffith

HOME GROWN: Stevia – nature’s sweetener

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Mother Nature is pretty cool, there’re no two ways about it. She never ceases to amaze.
Did you know that there is a herb that acts as a natural sweetener called stevia?
I had read about stevia and scoured the shelves of the natural food store for it in its refined form, a close facsimile to sugar as we know it, only to suffer extreme sticker shock.
A small pouch of refined stevia was enormously expensive. A few weeks ago, when my eyes spotted a seedling for sale, I knew that I just had to try my “green thumb” at growing it in the kitchen garden.
Stevia, nature’s natural sweetener, is said to be ten times sweeter than sugar. The plant is native to Central and South America, and with correct care can reach significant size. The bushy plant thrives in full sun, with consistent even watering and it absolutely requires more than adequate drainage.
My seedling is just starting out but my research indicated that regular, dramatic pruning of the sweet elongated leaves, and pinching of any flowers that may appear, will promote rapid regrowth.
Now, wait just a minute, this is Barbados, after all – land of the sugar cane. Don’t go tossing your cane sugar out the window just yet.
Strictly speaking, stevia in the leaf form just isn’t capable of sweetening your favourite recipe.
It is, however, a smart, calorie-free, sugar-free, substitution in beverages or sauces, for example.
Harvested stevia leaves can be sun or oven dried, at low temperature, crushed to a powder and stored in an airtight container for later use.
Alternatively, an infusion can easily be made from the fresh leaves by crushing one quarter cup of leaves and steeping them in one cup of hot water.
Experiment with steeping times and reducing the infusion, strain off the leaves and store the resultant liquid in the refrigerator.
If simplicity is your style, a single leaf straight from the plant to your beverage of choice is just as nice!
Enjoy Mother Nature’s sweetener guilt free. Just keep in mind that stevia is sweet stuff so don’t go overboard; even a teaspoon is way too much.