Stevia is a plant known throughout the world for its sweet taste. The leaves and stems, when harvested, can be dried and crushed to form a sweetener that is over 100 times sweeter than sugar. But the innocuous little plant has big controversy attached to it. The FDA has in the past barred the importation of the plant into the U.S., and while some herbalists tout its benefits over sugar and artificial sweeteners, others worry that use of the plant comes with hidden side effects. If you want to grow and use stevia for a sweetener, it is easy to process the plant into usable form.
Wait until fall to harvest leaves and stem tips. Cooler temperatures and shorter days cause the plant to release sugars into the leaves and tips of stems.
Pick the leaves by grasping them near the branch and pulling firmly. Pinch out the tips of the stems to harvest them. Place them in a basket.
Transfer the leaves and stems into a colander by tipping the basket on its side and shaking the contents into the colander.
Place the colander at the bottom of a sink and run water over the contents to rinse the leaves. Pick up the leaves and place them on a paper towel. Pat them dry.
Spread the leaves over the drying racks of a food dryer. Plug in the food dryer, adjust the racks and turn on the food dryer.
Put the dried stems and leaves in a mortar and crush them to powder with a pestle. The powder is suitable for using on food.