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Stevia is a leafy herb with an upright growth pattern. The stems of the Stevia plant are not very sturdy, so the plant is often referred to as “tender.” Plants can reach up to two feet in height with elongated, green, oval-shaped leaves ranging from one to three inches long. The edges of the leaves may be slightly serrated. In the summer, leaf stalks bloom with small white flowers. The flowers give off no fragrance. It is said that leaves harvested just before the flowers bloom are the sweetest. Stevia leaves are up to 300 times sweeter than sugar. Compounds in the leaf are responsible for its sweet taste. The flavor of fresh Stevia leaves can have a slight licorice flavor. Dried leaves are said to be sweeter than the fresh ones.
Stevia is available year-round in warm climates, and in the summer and fall in cooler environments.
Stevia is an herb known commonly as "Sweet Leaf" and considered to be one of the sweetest substances found in nature. Botanically the plant is classified as Stevia rebaudiana and is a member of the chrysanthemum family. It may also be known under the classification Eupatorium rebaudiana. The naturally sweet herb has gained world-wide popularity as a sugar substitute, particularly with diabetics. The body does not metabolize Stevia the same as it does sugar. Stevia was called ‘ka'a he'e’ by the Guarani, the indigenous people of what is now Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil in South America. There, the herb has been used for centuries for both culinary and medicinal purposes.
Stevia leaves contain antioxidants and natural compounds called glycosides that are responsible for the plant’s natural sweetness. These compounds include steviocide, steviol, flavonoid glycosides, and four other glycoside compounds. Studies conducted show that Stevia has properties that may prevent the growth and reproduction of the bacteria responsible for tooth decay. In addition, Stevia contains no calories so it has gained popularity as a sugar substitute for diabetics and those who maintain a sugar-free or low sugar diet. The powdered Stevia available in stores is made from an extraction of compounds found in the Stevia plant, called stevioside and rebaudioside A. Raw Stevia used in the production of the extract is most likely grown in China, where the majority of cultivation for production exists. Processed Stevia powder does not contain the same health benefits and properties that the raw leaf provides.
Stevia leaves can be chewed fresh to satisfy a sweet craving. The naturally sweet leaves of the Stevia plant can be used to sweeten tea, dressings, fruit, custards, and other creamy desserts. About 1/8 of a teaspoon of dried, crushed Stevia leaves is equivalent to one teaspoon of cane sugar. Stevia is not a one-for-one substitute for cane sugar. Though it can be used to sweeten baked goods, it does not have the same properties of cane sugar and will not caramelize or feed yeast for breads. Store fresh Stevia leaves for a few days in the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic. Stevia leaves can be dried to reach their full flavor potential and preserve; leaves should be crushed only just when ready to use. Grinding the leaves into a powder is ideal for some applications, whereas others call for slightly crushed leaves. Make an extract by steeping leaves in water, or make a tincture using heated alcohol and Stevia leaves. With Stevia, a little goes a long way; too much of the extract can create a bitter or medicinal taste.
In Brazil and Paraguay, Stevia is used in traditional medicine to treat various disorders such as depression, obesity, and diabetes. Native tribes in the area used the herb to sweeten bitter teas and medicines. They also used Stevia to help aid digestion and to combat fatigue. It is said, the Guarani used the leaves to ease the bitterness in their mates.
Stevia is native to the semi-humid, subtropical areas of South America, and can still be found growing wild in the highlands between Brazil and Paraguay. There may be as many as 200 varieties of Stevia, but it is the Stevia rebaudiana plant that offers the sweetest flavor. Stevia was discovered and classified in 1889, by Swiss botanist Moses S. Bertoni. By 1931, French chemists had isolated the steviol glycosides (stevioside and rebaudiosides) which gave Stevia its sweetness. The Japanese began using compounds from Stevia in lieu of artificial sweeteners in the 1970s and China followed suit in the 1980s. Stevioside, one of the compounds in Stevia, has been approved for use as a food additive in Korea, China and other Southeast Asian countries. To date, the United States Federal Drug Administration has not approved Stevia as a food additive, but it has approved one of the compounds derived from it, rebaudioside A, as a dietary supplement. Stevia plants are often more widely available than are seeds due to poor germination. Aside from commercial cultivation, Stevia is often grown by home gardeners and smaller, local farms in sub-tropical regions or where over-wintering conditions are ideal.
Recipes that include Stevia. One is easiest, three is harder.
|Angie's Recipes||Banana Rolled Spelt Cookies with Fresh Stevia Leaves|
|Food Renegade||Liquid Stevia Leaf Extract|
|Common Sense Homesteading||Homemade Stevia Extract|