Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) is a perennial plant in climates where temperatures stay above freezing. In areas that experience freezing temperatures, it is grown as an annual unless given protection from extreme temperatures. Stevia is grown for the leaves that contain stevioside, a sweet-tasting naturally occurring compound. Stevia grows best in well-drained moist soil in a sunny location. Obtain stevia plants that are propagated from stem cuttings or root divisions. Stevia seeds have a very low germination rate, and purchased seeds are not always viable. Unlike sugar, stevia has no calories.
Harvest stevia stems by cutting the stems off the plants when flower buds are just beginning to form at the end of the stems. Stevia produces small white flowers, and you can easily see the flower buds in their early stages. Cut the stems at ground level if growing Stevia as an annual. Leave 6 inches of stem standing if growing as a perennial in a frost-free or protected location.
Gather the stems in one hand and wrap a rubber band around the end of the stems. Hang the stems upside down in a dry location by a small hook or nail. The leaves should dry in three to four days. They will be crisp to the touch and bright green.
Strip the leaves from the stem and place them into a dry glass jar. Discard the stems. To process the leaves, grind them up by hand or use a coffee grinder. The finer the leaves are ground, the less noticeable they are in recipes.
Store the ground stevia leaves up to two or three years if needed. Because the active ingredient in stevia, stevioside, remains stable in high heat situations, it can be used in cooking and beverages the same way you use sugar (except in different amounts).
Follow the directions for using ground dried stevia in recipes.