As the weather has gotten colder I finally got motivated to figure out how to 1. harvest & 2. overwinter my stevia plant. It has been happily residing on the side of my house next to the air conditioner all summer, but I haven’t done more than nip a leaf off to munch as I run by. So let me share what I’ve learned . . .
Side note about cultivating stevia; it is a warm weather perennial originally from South America, and is hardy to zone 7 or 8 (I found conflicting info) It likes a warm, sunny, well draining area, which is why I think it did so well on the side of my house out of the wind. There are a few things I didn’t do this year that I should have. Pruning the plant back as it is getting established will help it to branch out and develope a nice shape; I didn’t know about this and mine only grew 2 long woody main stalks that tipped over. You should also prune back the flowers it develops in late summer so it will continue producing nice large leaves. Clearly from the picture I did not do this, and my plant stopped growing before it could have. I also should have given it a major harvest, trimming it back to about 8 inches, in the summer. This way I could have given it enough time to regrow for a second harvest before winter. Hey, who said you can’t learn from failure? Next year I’m going to have a pretty awesome Stevia plant!
Okay, on to what I did do to harvest and overwinter my plant. First I googled, then I gardened. Tada. You may want more detail than that though.
I decided to harvest all the stalks off my plant about 6 inches from the base, leaving some leaves so it will be able to regrow. To overwinter it, I then dug it up and repotted it to bring it indoors for the winter. Apparently germinanting Stevia seeds is difficult, and I am terrible at starting things from seed (a story for another time) so I am going to try to replant my current plant and root some cuttings come spring. Providing I can keep it alive that long of course.
After I harvested all the stalks, I brought the giant pile inside and trimmed the flowers off. It seems like most people either make the leaves into an extract or dry them. I did not have any vodka sitting around to make an extract, but I do have a dehydrator, so I decided to dry this batch of leaves. I simply trimmed the stalks down to a size that fit in my dehydrator (I had to remove every other shelf to accommodate them) set it to about 110 degrees, and let it run overnight. Now that the leaves are nice & crunchy I will strip them off the stalks and store them in a mason jar in the pantry. I am super excited about building up my stash of homegrown herbs to use for my family!
To actually use the Stevia leaves I am planning to blend them onto a powder as I need them. I have done some preliminary research about the health benefits of Stevia and ways to incorporate it into your diet, and will be writing another post with more information shortly.