Until recently (within the past 5 years or so) no one in the U.S. had heard of stevia. It was prohibited. No plants, no seeds could be imported. Then the soft-drink lobby figured out it was a Dirt Cheap way to sweeten stuff and Presto! it’s OK at last. I like the plant and it likes me. I am lucky!
For those of you fortunate to be growing stevia, here is a recipe for stevia water. Stevia, aka Paraguayan Sweet Leaf, is 300% sweeter than sugar, has no calories, is safe for use by diabetics, can be used fresh or dried, and can be easy to grow. Seeds are available on the internet (tell your search engine “stevia seed”) and plants can be found at many local nurseries and at Wheatsville Coop’s Herb Fest in March. Stevia reproduces by seed and root. One plant will multiply nicely in 3 years to a forest! As with any herb, harvest before 10 AM, do not harvest when flowering, dry in a paper bag hung in a dry, airy place. Stevia water may be used to sweeten coffee, tea, lemonade, etc. I find that 3 iced-teaspoonfuls of stevia water in my mug of morning coffee is just fine for me, but use it to taste. Stevia water may be frozen in ice cube trays, kept in the freezer, and dropped into punchbowls, big glasses of tea, etc. Stevia water made with the fresh herb will be a pale yellow color; made with dried herb, it will be more the color of flat cola. The taste stays the same.
To grow stevia, give it partial shade, good soil, and plenty of water. Too much sun and it will droop and need watering twice a day! The seed packets say it needs mulching in the winter; I never have. Stevia is a perennial. It dies down in the fall (October or November) and sends up new shoots in February/March. It does not take kindly to transplanting when mature, so try to start it where it will live. Smaller plants transplant well. The trick is to get as much of the (extensive) root system as possible.
Lore says that stevia, because of its intense sweetness, repels grasshoppers. Since I have planted stevia in my garden I have seen no grasshoppers and am, finally, able to grow lemon verbena. I have also noticed fewer tomato hornworms.
It is difficult to use stevia water in cookie recipes instead of sugar because it’s a liquid. There are recipes on the internet (tell your search engine “stevia recipes”), however, that may be useful.
Pack fresh or dried stevia into a 4-cup Pyrex measuring cup*. Bring water to a rolling boil in a teakettle or pot and pour the boiling water over the stevia to where it is level with the spout of the measuring cup. Cover with a plate and let sit until cool to the touch (at least 3 hours). Pour liquid into a bottle (I use old 20-oz soda pop bottles). Be sure to strain out all the liquid. Throw the stevia away. Keep the liquid in the refrigerator and use as needed. This much stevia makes about 25 oz. of liquid and lasts my household about 2 – 3 weeks.
*Do not use metal or plastic; metal may have a strange reaction with the stevia and plastic may not stand up to the boiling water. Non-Pyrex glass may break from the boiling water.