Origin: Brazil & Paraguay
Improvement status: Cultivated wild material
Seeds per packet: ~25
BOTANICAL SAMPLE - NOT GERMINATION TESTED
Life cycle: Annual or tender perennial
Stevia has become quite famous over the past couple decades as people have sought safer (and better tasting) replacements for sugar than artificial sweeteners like aspartame and saccharin. Stevia became the first natural sweetener to really make a dent in the market. But most people never interact with the plant itself, and we're hoping that changes!
For those who don't like the flavor of drinks sweetened with stevia, we can't stress enough that the raw leaf is a very different story. It's only about a quarter as sweet as stevia extract powder, so if you find stevia to be "too sweet" or "so sweet it's bitter", you might like the raw leaf. (Personally, I don't much care for most stevia-sweetened drinks, but I actually really love stevia-sweetened chocolate!) Some people use raw stevia leaf to sweeten tea or coffee, because the bitter flavors of those drinks mask the stevia flavor. Believe it or not, stevia glycosides (the compounds that make it sweet) are actually some 250 times sweeter than sugar! To put that in context, the sweet compounds in licorice are only 50 times sweeter than sugar — but that comparison probably helps to explain why some people who don't like licorice also don't care for stevia.
Guaraní peoples of Paraguay and Brazil were probably the first people to discover the joy of stevia. It's said they've long used it to sweeten the treasured caffeinated drink they make from Yerba Maté (Ilex paraguayensis, a South American holly species), and that stevia has also been used medicinally for a range of ailments (from high blood pressure to diabetes).
Stevia is a relatively easy plant to grow. A member of the aster family (like plants from sunflowers to lettuce), it likes well-drained soil, but doesn't like to dry out. It can grow to a height of 2 to 4 feet. Considered a tender perennial, it can grow back from its roots in Zone 9 or warmer (or even Zone 8, if protected), and can also be kept alive all year-round as a houseplant. Our seed comes from Restoration Seeds in Oregon.
Give stevia a try — and let us know how you end up using it!