When you start out, you really need to buy a store bought seedling. Trying to grow a viable plant that will yield a good crop of sweet leaves from a seed is almost impossible. Stevia plants only produce good leaves for two years and after that they should be discarded. In order to keep from having to buy new plants every year, at the end of the season, you can take cuttings from your plants, root them, pot them and store them inside for the winter. In the spring, bring them outside after the last frost and you are good to grow. :)
Place the leaves on a screen and put in full sunlight for 12 hours. The faster they dry, the sweeter they will be. You can use an electric dehydrator, but I have had much better luck for sweetness when I just let them sun dry. When they are completely dry, crush them into powder, using a blender or whatever method you prefer. You can store the powder in an air tight container.
You can add the crushed leaves straight as sweetner, but I prefer making a liquid. To make liquid sweetener, mix 1/4 cup crushed leaves to one and a half cups of warm water. Let sit at room temperature for 18 to 24 hours and then strain out the leaves and refrigerate.
If you want to use fresh leaves instead of dried, it takes 5 times the amount. According to GardenWeb.com approximately 6 large leaves chopped finely is a substitute for 1/2 cup of sugar for baking or in cooked recipes and 1 teaspoon of ground Stevia is equal to 1 cup of sugar; 2 drops of liquid essence is equal to 1 teaspoon sugar. I find these to be less than accurate, but I could not find any others, to take them with a grain of salt. :p
Stevia has been found to have no ill health effects. It is completely healthy and natural. Below are a couple of my favorite baking recipes using Stevia.
I hope you enjoy them,
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a cookie sheet
2 and 1/4 cups of flour
1 1/ 2 cups of chocolate chips
1/2 cup of chopped walnuts (optional)
1 cup of butter
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1/4 teaspoon of salt
3/4 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of stevia powder
Stir all the ingredients until the mixture thickens into dough.
Form small balls with your hands and drop onto cookie sheet 4 inches apart
Bake for 60 minutes until golden brown (may be up to 30 minutes more to be done)
Remove from cookie sheet with a spatula and set on a cooling rack.
Serve immediately to eat or wait until totally cool to put in a tightly covered bowl and store in the refrigerator
Pie Filling Ingredients:
4 large yams
1/4 cup orange juice
1 teaspoon of liquid stevia
1/ 2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/ 2 teaspoon of ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/ 4 teaspoon of cloves
Directions to Make Filling
Bake 4 large yams for an hour, or until soft at 400 degrees
Let cool, peel and mash with a potato masher
Add the orange juice, Stevia, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves and mix well
You can mix with an electric mixer or by hand.
Pie Crust Ingredients
2 cups flour
1/3 cup of real butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon of liquid Stevia
1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
1/8 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspooon allspice
Directions to Make Pie Crust
Mix the flour, baking soda, and salt.
Slowly add Stevia and butter mixing well until smooth dough
Roll dough out with a rolling pin and cut round
Put in greased pie plate, folding in around the edges
Bake for 10 minutes at 350, remove from oven and cool
Pour filling into the pie crust and put back in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour, or until a butter knife inserted in filling comes out clean.