Share |

Grow Your Own Stevia!

Kathy Abascal’s recent article, Time to Quit Using Stevia, brought up some excellent points. That said, I’d like to encourage you to “consider” Stevia, rather than simply quit it. While there is much to “throw out” when it comes to zero calorie sweeteners, amid all that bath water, there is a baby worth keeping.

Five years ago, Joe and Celina Yarkin asked me to babysit their Stevia plants while traveling abroad. Stevia grows very well in our region, but it must be brought into the house during the winter. I babysat two or three of their plants, and they gave me one as a thank you gift.

What a wonderful gift! My family LOVES our stevia plants, which has reproduced happily so that we now have four large potfuls! For most of the year, my family nibbles the leaves straight from the plant and for 5 months out of the year we harvest the leaves, dry them at low temperatures, and store them in jars along with the rest of our homegrown herbal tea.

You see, much like mint, stevia offers flavor without calories, and no one is suggesting we stop drinking mint tea. Or nettle tea. Or chamomile. Or lemon get my drift.

There are many reasons to appreciate island-grown herbal tea and especially Stevia! First, using the Transition Town model, informed and aware communities are seeking to meet their needs locally through re-skilling and establishing alternatives to typically transported/imported goods. Every time I see imported tea, I see an opportunity for re-skilling, because most “herbal tea” ingredients grow like weeds with no help, are exceptionally easy to harvest, dry quickly, store readily in mason jars, and taste so very much BETTER than the stuff in little, paper tea bags. Also, homegrown herbal tea is an easy way to put a dent in our island’s dependency on imports. My family drinks tea year round and my sons (12 and 15) love to share it with their friends! It’s free, decreases our carbon footprint, oozes health benefits, and with the help of a couple of stevia leaves per perfectly, gently sweetened.

Let’s stick with the Transition Town concept a bit longer. Consider sweeteners that are produced locally. Honey? Beneficial but tricky to produce and the effort involved far exceeds watering a pot on your porch a few times during the summer. Concentrated fruit juices? You can freeze down or boil down apple & pear juice, largely available on the island, but so much edible, nutritious, fiber-full fruit is lost in the food-scarce times, we won’t want to do that. Berries are great for natural sweetness, but even they take more effort to harvest than stevia. Long story short, while other options exist, there is a place for stevia in a culture that is transitioning (by choice or necessity) from oil-based import/export to a sustainable, localized food ecology.

Now let’s move over to diabetes. Diabetes is impacted by diet. Whether you have full-blown diabetes or are borderline at risk, a craving for sweetness often comes into direct conflict with what is best for your body. This is important to really get - raw fruits are not a perfect boon for a person struggling with diabetes. These excellent, natural, beneficial and raw foods still carry a sugar load that can be injurious or dangerous to diabetics. Yes, a 100% raw diet can, in some cases, reverse diabetes, but most people don’t do this...and therefore, many naturally sweet foods are frustratingly off the menu. So, people turn to “diet” this and “artificial” that, which is awful because we KNOW that many/most artificial sweeteners are linked to everything from migraines to cancer. So, what’s the diabetic to do?

For one, they can grow their own stevia plant, harvest the leaves, and use them to sweeten tea! Whether it’s steaming mint/chamomile on a cold day, a Spring Cleanse of nettle/rosehip/lemon balm, or myriad Iced Tea combos in the summertime...imagine replacing a spoonful of honey or 3 cubes of sugar (per cup!) with 4-5 dried leaves (per teapot!) of a plant that you grew on your back porch? It won’t change the world, but for the diabetic or anyone with a desire to minimize sugar-based won’t hurt and it will taste great!

Finally, I’d like to address the reputation stevia has for a licorice aftertaste. I happen to dislike licorice immensely. My first introduction to stevia came with the warning that “it has a licorice aftertaste” and when I tasted a tincture of stevia from PCC, my love-affair with commercially sold stevia came to a swift end. It wasn’t until fifteen years later, when I tried one of the leaves on this lovely plant, that I discovered that (for me) - in it’s natural, green leafy form - stevia doesn’t taste like licorice, after all!

Want to try some of my tea? I packaged most of my homegrown, family-picked, low-temp dried tea for Cornerstone Farm, located just a few driveways east of the high school. Pick up a bag and give it a try. All of them include stevia leaves (more than I typically use for myself, as I know many people like sweet tea). Brew it in a pot, be conservative first or you’ll waste it (my tea is very flavorful), and feel free to email me with questions about growing stevia at:

For the sake of your pancreas, your carbon footprint, our island’s increased self-sufficiency, and your palate...explore this lovely plant with a mind that is open to the role it can play in your life.