About 2 years ago, I answered a request in a local gmail group to help someone with a project. The project entailed a grow – op, and had us meeting a complete stranger in the Wal-Mart parking lot to pick up some plants.
Now that I have your attention, the plants we picked up were Stevia seedlings. And the “clandestine” transaction took place at 2 o’clock in the afternoon under the blazing summer sun within, sight of parking lot security could not have been less interested in whatever plants we were trading.
So, about the seedlings… they were TINY (yes, “tiny” in caps could be considered an oxymoron)! Having barely passed the 2 leaf stage, there must have been 30 of those little guys all clumped together in a couple of tiny seedling trays – you know the ones I mean, sort of like ice cube trays, except for plants – all hoping for a great new home in their own pot. They were so tiny, the instruction video (which I was required to watch prior to picking them up), included a gardener lovingly swishing the little plants thru water in order to gently separate their roots.
I can promise you the gardener in the video had more patience for this type of thing than I did, but I did manage to successfully transplant only 6 of the little guys, 3 of which succumbed to my poor gardening skills within the first month of being transplanted. Sigh.
I kept the three survivors in filtered sunlight for the first year of their little lives hoping for some sign of strength in the plant, and living in fear that the person who had entrusted these little guys to my care would call for them back.
A year later, those little guys still had not died, but they weren’t thriving either. They looked too delicate for full sun, but out of desperation, I moved them to a much sunnier (and HOTTER) location. Soon I had 3 much happier plants which very shortly needed transplanting to larger pots. Turns out, they LOVE full sun during the Puerto Vallarta winters but need to be babied a little in the heat of our summers.
It seems that Stevia will never be the full bodied beauty I had imagined it would be. It is straggly, unruly and never quite behaves the way I want it to. Much like my hair, only on good days, the stevia is greener than my hair.
As I said earlier, we were offered these plants as part of an “experiment” but after all this time, we have never learned what that experiment was, but the plants continue to thrive in their pots by our pool.
The sweetness of the leaves when eaten right off the plant has become a topic of fascination and conversation amongst us and our guests, and more often than not, I am asked how I use this plant. Until a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t have an answer for that, which, as you can imagine made me crazy.
So, I finally decided to see just what I can do with our plants.
Naturally, I turned to Pinterest for ideas and I was not disappointed! So many entries, I chose to try making my own Stevia Extract. … pack a jar full of stevia leaves, add vodka, wait a couple of days, heat (to remove the alcohol), strain and enjoy.
Being too cheap to use the “good vodka”, on an experiment, I opted for a much cheaper brand, “Salamander”, with which to conduct this experiment. Figuring that the alcohol was just an agent to extract the sweetness from the stevia, I concluded that the flavour of the vodka before being added to the leaves would be unimportant.
The results of the “Salamander” vodka experiment, while sweet, had a very strong and rather unpleasant aftertaste, much like the vodka itself. If you go this route, heed this warning and use a decent vodka. Mine was barely palatable mixed with tea or coffee. In a glass of limonada, it was more bearable because the lime juice somewhat masked its taste.
In spite of the aftertaste, I considered trying this in baking, as a sugar substitute. Alas, it is a liquid, and I was not able to translate that to a sugar substitute in baked goods.
Still unwilling to give up on finding a purpose for this plant, (and trying to avoid potentially wasting 2 cups of “the good vodka”), I grabbed some leaves yesterday, stuffed them in a jar and poured boiling water over them.
After about 4 hours I had a wonderfully sweet “tea”. I left the whole thing in the fridge overnight to extract maximum flavour from the leaves and then strained the leaves out and wow, what flavour! Still a tiny aftertaste, but not too bad. For those of you who use artificial sweeteners already, you won’t even notice it.
For me, the answer to the question “what do I do with it” became crystal clear – use it to sweeten tea! It can’t be more simple. Our guests this coming winter will be encouraged to add the fresh leaves to whatever tea they are brewing. How many Stevia leaves will depend on personal tastes.
Because summer is on its way, I had to try some Sun Tea, which turned out rather well. The recipe is below, if you want to try this at home.
Stevie Sun Tea – 4 cups water, 2 tea bags – any kind you like, Roiboos, Red, Green, or Black, 1 large handful stevia leaves. Put everything in a glass pitcher or jar, and set in the sun for a few hours. Once the water has darkened, strain out the stevia and the tea bags, pour over ice and enjoy a refreshing, sweet, sugar -free, therefore guilt-free glass of goodness.
I encourage anyone interested in this fascinating little plant to check your local greenhouses. Once established, it thrives here in PV, in the morning sun. I recommend keeping it in a container, as it could be like mint and will overtake your garden if allowed to do so. Oh, but one caution, Stevia can have side effects. Click this link to read about that before totally committing to using this as your sweeter substitute http://www.livestrong.com/article/368454-known-side-effects-of-stevia/