An herb entry from the Ancient Herbs and Modern Herbs book by James K. Sayre, Copyright, 2001. All rights reserved.
Stevia - Stevia rebaudiana - family: Asteraceae (Compositae) (Sunflower Family) (Composite Family).
This perennial plant grows to about three feet high. It has lance-shaped
leaves and in the summer it produces clusters of tiny white flowers. Following
the flowers, it produces seeds which are contained in hard-cased fruits.
This plant is native to some of the mountainous areas of southern Brazil
and Paraguay. Its leaves have been used for centuries by natives of Paraguay,
Brazil and other nearby countries to sweeten their Maté drinks. This
small shrub contains a glycoside in its leaves called Stevioside, which
is a virtually non-caloric, natural sweetener that is about three hundred
times sweeter than regular cane or beet sugar on a weight basis. It is now
used in Europe, South America and in Japan as a regular sweetener. In 1991,
the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an import alert
against Stevia, claiming that it had demonstrated a mutagenic effect on
a particular strain of Salmonella bacteria. (I guess that the FDA wants
to keep our Salmonella bacteria healthy and free from mutagens). A more
plausible explanation is that the FDA wants to protect the profits of the
large corporations in the U. S. which manufacture synthetic chemical sweeteners
such as NutraSweet (Aspartame), Saccharine and Sucralose. A natural calorie-free
sweetener such as Stevia would pose a severe threat to these synthetic chemical
sweeteners in the US market. Stevia is now allowed entry into the U. S.,
but only as a "food supplement" and cannot be labeled as a "sweetener."
Stevia has been widely accepted for use as a sweetener in South America
and Asia. Stevia is mainly cultivated in Paraguay, Brazil, China and Japan.
It is also cultivated in Canada, Mexico and Europe. It comes in several
forms: a green powder, composed of the dried leaves of Stevia; an extract
form as a white powder or in liquid extract. It should be noted that in
its green powder form, Stevia has a strong "grass" or "hay"
flavor, which may take some getting used to. It is currently available in
some health food shops in the United States. The Stevia genus of plants
contains about three hundred species. Stevia would appear to be useful for
adult diabetics, as it would provide sweetness without raising blood glucose
levels. Native to Paraguay and Brazil in South America. Cultivated as a
crop in South America and Asia. It is sometimes cultivated as an ornamental
in North America, but it is very frost-tender and on the fussy side. Stevia
plants are available from mail order nurseries.
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Web page last updated on 24 May 2003.