The question: Where has this cheap sugar substitute been hiding, that is estimated to be several hundred times sweeter than sugar?
The answer: Since 1995 the U.S. FDA has labeled Stevia an "unsafe food additive" and gone to extensive lengths to keep it off the U.S. market. At one time they even initiated a search-and-seizure campaign.
Finally, after years of use in other countries, citizens of the United States can also enjoy the use of Stevia. As a safe, natural sweetener, Stevia is virtually calorie-free and a herb to which other possible health benefits have been attributed.
Growing Stevia from seed can be frustrating due to very poor Stevia seed germination and inconsistent quality of the sweetener level (stevioside) in the resulting Stevia leaves.
Growing Stevia in your herb garden is best accomplished by starting from quality Stevia seedlings ordered from reputable an online herb supplier. As growing Stevia in home herb gardens becomes more common Stevia seedlings will become more available from other local herb suppliers.
Single Stevia plants, from a quick check of online suppliers shows Stevia seedlings, in 3” pots, available for $4 to $5 each. From another herb supplier, twelve Stevia plants in plug trays are available for as low as $1.00 a plant.
Wait until the danger of frost is past. Stevia plants should not be planted in your outside herb garden until the daytime temperature is an average of 60° F.
Place the Stevia plants in rows 24 inches apart, 16 to 18 inches between plants.
Stevia Plants respond well to "slow release" or low nitrogen fertilizers.
Keep Stevia plants moist but not soggy with frequent light watering preferred. A layer of compost or mulch helps to conserve moisture.
Harvest of Stevia should be performed as late in the day as possible; shorter fall days intensify the sweetness of the stevia plants.
After Stevia leaves have been harvested they will need to be dried for storage. The drying process is not one that requires much heat; more important is good air circulation. A home dehydrator provides the low temperature and the needed high volume movement of the air.
Crushing the dried Stevia leaves is the final step in releasing the sweetening power of Stevia. This can be done either by hand, or in a food processor with a small chopping bowl for herbs.
Stevia Extract can also be made in your own kitchen by adding 1/4 cup of fresh, finely-crushed stevia leaves to a cup of warm water. Let it steep for 24 hours and then refrigerate it.
Stevia was labeled as an "unsafe food additive," by the U.S. FDA in 1995. It has since gone to extensive lengths to keep it off the U.S. market. No one has documented the supposed list of the dangers of stevia that might exist. Since 1994 Stevia could only be legally sold as a “dietary supplement”, as long as no mention is made of its use as a sweetener or tea.
Thanks to Cargill, this ridiculous FDA ruling has changed. Recently the FDA approved Stevia for use as a sweetener. Cargill has released it under the name, Truvia, and will be used in Coca-Cola products with others to follow. Soon, we should be able to look to a safe and healthy sweetener derived from the herb Stevia.