Stevia (stevia rebaudiana) is a natural sweetener that is easily grown by the home gardener. The benefits of using the natural leaves to sweeten drinks and other foods are that it is chemical-free, unprocessed and contribute to one's overall health, especially among diabetics.
According to a research done by the University of Sao Paolo, as cited at http://energyfanatics.com/2009/06/17/stevia-natural-sweetener/, volunteers who took stevia extract had significant lower blood sugar levels than volunteers who did not. http://energyfanatics.com/2009/06/17/stevia-natural-sweetener/.
Using the processed stevia products now readily available in markets most often do not have the same benefits. It is sweeter and the chemical makeup and nutrients change dramatically. If opting for not growing your own, check the labels carefully to see if there are chemicals added that might interfere with your diet needs.
To grow your own stevia, purchase plants from reputable herb and nurseries locally or from Internet cites. Some plants are difficult to start from seeds and stevia is one of them.
Plant stevia in rich soil that is light, crumbly and fast draining. Do not over water and protect its shallow roots with compost. Los Angeles gardeners need not worry about freezing temperatures that kill the plant. Treat the young plants as you would any other one in your garden. Use low nitrogen fertilizers. http://www.stevia.net/growingstevia.htm
Harvesting is easy. Use garden shears to snip branches with leaves and hang upside down to dry in an airy location. Pick or rake dried leaves off with hands and store them for an indeterminate length of time in a clean, clear container. http://www.stevia.com/SteviaArticle.asp?ID=8077
Stevia is an easy plant to grow and the benefits from growing your own are rewarding, both nutritionally and in doing your part as a green gardener. Stevia deters many pests in the garden, eliminating the need for dangerous chemicals.