The weather this spring has been weird. We had unseasonably cold weather until May! Even though I hadn’t planned on putting in a garden this year, a couple weeks ago the whole clan was at the garden center buying plants and soil. It sort of felt like the late frosts were a “gimme” from nature saying “Go on, you still have time!”
So we planted a ton of stuff…tomatos, basil, spearmint, carrots, onions, swiss chard, spinach, broccoli, and stevia.
I’ve never grown stevia before, but it seemed like a good idea. Stevia is my only sweetener of choice on this elimination diet, and while I haven’t seen any problems with the one I’m using, making things from scratch is almost always better!
So I was looking forward to later in the year when I could harvest some stevia and make some extract.
My stevia plants, on the other hand, had a different plan. One day when I was out saying “hi” to my garden, I noticed some blooms on the plants. I know you’re supposed to pinch back before they bloom so the plant will keep growing, so I started doing some minor pruning. These stevia plants were so sad looking when we put them in, and we got such high wind for a few days afterwards (think the remains of the Oklahoma tornados) that I guess it just was a bit too much for my little plants: whole stems broke off in my hands from the slightest touch!
So now here I sat with a mess of stevia in my hands and I wracked my brain trying to remember how to do this! Turns out, it’s insanely simple, and insanely tasty!!
It’s very similar to making homemade vanilla extract. So here’s what you do:
Pull off the leaves of the stevia plant and put them in a jar. Be sure not to use the stem; it makes the extract bitter!
Then cover the leaves with vodka. Be sure to use potato-based vodka if you have a corn sensitivity!
Swish it around quite a bit, and leave it alone for 24-36 hours.
Then pour the liquid into a saucepan, straining out the leaves with a mesh strainer and maybe a coffee filter, if necessary.
It will fairly well REEK of vodka, so you need to cook off the alcohol to have a sweet extract. Turn the fire on low or medium-low; do NOT boil this! Cook it at a low temperature for 20-30 minutes until it thickens and reduces.
Then pour that into a glass bottle and store in the fridge! Easy peasy!
A few notes:
I did this from memory; I’d read about making stevia extract over a year ago, before Zac was born but never had any stevia leaves to try it with! I went back to refresh my memory right before cooking it, and saw that I may have messed up from the beginning!
About half the tutorials I saw said to dry the leaves first. They claim it makes for a sweeter extract that way.
The other half that used fresh leaves bruised or even chopped the leaves first.
I, obviously, did neither!
And you know what? My extract was delicious! So I don’t know if those steps are necessary, but I’ll be willing to give them a shot next time I make it.
The other thing is pretty obvious: did you see how much vodka I poured into the pan versus how much extract is in the brown bottle? Yeah, this reduces A LOT. So unless you’re starting with a considerable amount of leaves and vodka, you will not get enough to even sweeten one tall glass of tea.
But it is OH so worth the effort! It was sweet without any of the typical stevia sweetened aftertaste!
In fact, thanks to this little experiment, I went out and bought three more stevia plants for my garden.
I’m thinking there’s no way I can possibly grow enough stevia. I’m in love with this extract!
Try it – I think you’ll like it!
Oh, and one little caveat: apparently, not all stevia’s are created equal. “Stevia rebaudiana” is the species of stevia you’ll want for this. It’s also called “sweetleaf”, for obvious reasons.