JUNE 2001


Stevia – Stevia rebaudiana

Also known as Caa'he-e (Ca-he-he) by South American Indians

Origin – Paraguay and Brazil


This herb which grows wild as a small shrub is one of the world's sweetest kept secrets. It's leaves have been used as natural sweetener since Pre-Columbian days. Countries such as Japan, Brazil, China all utilize  it as a superior replacement for sugar. An all natural herb, Stevia, has been through dozens of tests around the world and found to be completely non-toxic. It won't raise blood sugar levels and in studies conducted at Purdue University's Dental Science Research Group, it significantly inhibited the formation of plaque. For folks who have pets with a "sweet tooth", Stevia is a great option.  My birds and my beagle all enjoy sampling a leaf.

 Stevia is a perennial often grown as an annual since it is not the easiest plant to over-winter. In my opinion, it's benefits far outweigh the extra effort. Here are some tips for container growing:

 Stevia grows best in cooler weather but requires a minimum of 12 hours light. The container can be moved from the south side to the east side during hot, summer months and then moved back again when cooler fall weather arrives.

 Use a three gallon container (wooden or double pot method to insulate the roots) which has drain holes. Stevia likes to be kept evenly moist and should never be completely dried out. Cover the bottom of the container with pea gravel, then add one part garden soil, one part potting soil and one part clean sand to approximately the halfway point of the pot. Next, use two parts garden soil, one part organic humus and one part clean sand to fill the container the rest of the way. You can mulch the top with spagnum peat moss or fir bark as the temperature rises. Gently misting the plant in the early morning hours will also help keep Stevia cooler. 

 Fertilize every two weeks with a good organic fertilizer such as fish emulsion or a combination of bonemeal and bloodmeal. However, too much fertilizer will cause large flavorless leaves.  

 Stevia does not do well in temperatures below 50 F so unless you live in zone 11, plan on moving your plants inside before the first frost. Keep it in a sunny windowsill or better yet, underneath grow lights. Stevia needs a minimum of 12 hours of light to prevent flowering and ultimately cause the plant to die-off.

One trick used by commercial greenhouses is to set a timer to turn the grow lights back on at around 10:00pm and off again at 3:00am. This night interruption will prevent flowering.

 Not only will your pets enjoy the benefits of  Stevia, but you can use it in place of sugar in many recipes (1 tsp crushed or powdered leaves equals 1 cup refined sugar) or to sweeten teas, coffee, etc.