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Homemade Stevia Extract

10.21.2013


I have this fantasy of using exclusively all natural products in every facet of my life and eliminating those nasty harsh chemicals and preservatives from my cleaning products, food, makeup, etc.  It's so trendy these days to eat organic and go all natur-al, but quite honestly I'm just really freaked out by all the chemicals that are so prevalent in our lives. 
I find it no coincidence that juvenile diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and CANCER are much more common today than decades ago when these chemical solutions weren't so commonplace.  I guess we can blame it on our desire for instant gratification these days- but that's a whole other tangent...  While I do make an effort to go the more natural route when possible, laziness or economics usually win out.  It's typically quicker, easier, and cheaper to go the chemical filled route.  However, I have found a dirt cheap way to save some green by growing greens while going green- yes, I know that was horribly cheesy. 

This past spring I was browsing the plant section at my local Lowes when I came across a stevia plant.  Now I like to fancy myself a true southern woman that enjoys playing in the dirt and growing things that I may or may not have a use for- circa Steel Magonlias' Ouiser. 

But I had no experience with stevia.  As I mentioned, I have a healthy fear of the processed and chemical foods rampant in our diets these days so I was curious to try out a more natural solution to alternate sweeteners.  Having a Type I diabetic husband, I'm always looking for alternate sweeteners and had obviously heard about stevia.  I really hadn't heard anything about growing your own to harvest but thought I'd give it a whirl.  I figured "Hey, what have I got to lose?"  Besides the $3-5 I spent on the plant.  At worst, it'll die like oh so many others before it (Why do you hate me ,lavender???). 

So to home my new little plant and I went.  I planted it in my small herb bed off the front porch where it got 8-10 hours of sun a day and gave it minimal watering (my forgetfulness has been the downfall of many a plant).  To my surprise, the little sucker grew thigh high and began fighting with the mint to become the alpha male of the herb bed!  I decided to start researching how to harvest the plant to make my own sweetener.  My husband was kind enough to Google a few articles while I oh-so-normally sat in the dirt whispering sweet nothings to the lavender that was on its last leg.  Not that Brad ever batted an eye because the reality is (sadly) this is commonplace around our household.  But I digress...

The general consensus between articles found via Google said you could use the leaves any time of year, avoiding the blooms.  Leaves of any size can be used as well.  I assumed the leaves needed to be dried ahead of time but apparently they can be used dry or fresh.  Some sites stated that dried can be more bitter.  All in all the process was much easier than I'd anticipated. 

Generally when I get a wild hair to do something, as I had on this date, I want to do it right then (because I'm a child like that).  As a result, I decided I wasn't going to wait for the leaves to dry- whether I wanted a sweet or bitter extract was of no relevance to me at that point because I was tackling this project RIGHT NOW!  So I laid the leaves out to dry for a whopping 30 minutes and then started on my project. 

There are different routes you can take for making the extract.  I went the alcohol based route and fetched a bottle of the ABC store's ::ahem:: finest bottom shelf vodka.  There is no recipe of how many tablespoons of vodka to this many ounces of leaves, blah blah blah... I mean, really, so easy a caveman- or Julie- can do it.  The amount of vodka needed is simply just enough to cover the leaves in a jar. 

I clipped a few bundles of stevia from the plant and cleaned off the fluffy blooms. 




Next, I washed the leaves just to remove whatever traces of urine had been so kindly sprayed upon my herb bed, thanks to the feral dogs running rampant in our neighborhood.  After that, I chopped or tore up the leaves.  You don't want them fine chopped or pulverized, as this would cause problems later in the process.  




After tearing/chopping the leaves, place them into a glass jar such as a mason jar or old jelly jar. Pour enough vodka into the jar to cover the leaves.  Put the jar into a cool, dry place, out of direct sunlight.  I just placed mine in a shelf in the pantry.  Leave it there for two days, gently shaking the jar a few times each day.  Don't leave it to sit for longer or the extract will turn bitter.  



After two days, you need to separate the leaves from the extract.  To do this, I poured the extract into a pot, using a coffee filter and colander as a strainer.  This is why it is important to not crush the leaves into too small of pieces. 


 


After you have strained the extract into a pot, simmer the liquid for 20-30 minutes over low heat to burn off the alcohol.  DO NOT BOIL!  



 Next, strain the liquid again into a jar.  Some sites recommended an opaque bottle but I used a clear old jelly jar and mine tastes fine. 

 

Cover and date the bottle.  The extract lasts for about three months in the fridge.  Supposedly, it only takes a few drops to sweeten a beverage so use sparingly.  I've found that it's kind of trial and error and may be dependent on if you dried your stevia, how long you boiled it, etc.  




I typically use about a half a teaspoon in a cup of hot tea and it is plenty.  I'm still trying to figure out the right amount for a gallon of iced tea.  All in all, the process is simplistic and majorly affordable.  There are some debates on the heath benefits of stevia, but it has to be better for you than genuine sugar.  Sugar isn't an option for my husband so we have to use sugar substitutes and I feel this route is better than those processed, chemical filled powder packets.  

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