If you are tired of buying expensive sugar, you may consider growing a plant called stevia in your backyard.
According to Ronnie Atuhereza Amooti, a gardener with Go Green Uganda located in Muyenga, a Kampala suburb, stevia is a calorie-free, natural sweetener, thanks to the glycoside compounds it contains like sativoside and rebaudiosides.
It is, therefore, a perfect organic substitute for table sugar.
Stevia can be used in beverages such as tea, confectionaries, sauces and soft drinks. Its extracts can be added to jam, yoghurt and also to sweeten bitter medicine.
“This plant originated from South America,” he notes.
Drake Kizito, a gardener with Superior Landscapes in Nsambya, a Kampala suburb, states that if stevia is grown and harvested well, it tastes 200 to 300 times sweeter than table sugar.
Across the world, stevia has been embraced because of its health benefits like having low calories and restricted carbohydrates.
Why you should own stevia
Dr. Yesero Mugume of Saidina Medical Centre explains that since stevia does not affect blood glucose or insulin response, it’s a significant guard against diabetes.
He adds that stevia also guards the pancreas against cancer because of the many antioxidant compounds like chromogenic acid and insosteviol that reduce the pancreas’ cancer risk.
“If regularly consumed, stevia has cardiologic actions that normalise blood pressure and regulates heartbeat,” he affirms.
It has also been said that regular use of stevia helps to fight bad breath, heals wounds, treats infections, strengthens the gums and boosts immunity.
How to grow stevia
Atuhereza says that stevia is a perennial plant.
“It grows better in warm, sunny climates and loves to be cared for,” he asserts.
For it to flourish, stevia requires well-drained fertile soils and for more sweetness, it should be planted in the direction of more sunlight.
According to Kizito, unlike many plants that need much space to grow, stevia can be grown in pots on the balcony, patio or verandah.
“Make sure the pot has holes at the bottom and add some sandy soils for good drainage,” he opines.
Plant them in rows, 20-24 inches apart and let them grow to a height of about 30 inches and a width of 18-24 inches before you harvest.
Kizito is of the view that since stevia plants have feeder roots that are close to the surface, always add manure for protection and regulate watering.
When they are ready, you can pluck off the leaves and add them to your tea. You can also dry them under sufficient sunlight before crushing the leaves to get stevia powder.
“Stevia can also be propagated with seedlings or fresh cuttings. However, seedlings are rare in Uganda,” he notes.
He adds that in order to ensure flourishing plants, stevia needs a lot of care.
Always remove the flower buds because even if you leave them to flower and produce seeds, they have minimal chances of surviving to grow back.