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Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana)

Stevia - Herb

Stevia is a true wonder. The leaves of this perennial herb are 20-30 times sweeter than sugar. The glycosides (stevioside and rebaudioside) within it are 200-300 times sweeter. It has no calories either, meaning diabetics can eat it because it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels. Stevia is a tender perennial that is native to the subtropical regions of Paraguay and Brazil. In most areas in New Zealand the plant will die back in winter, but each spring it will shoot off again. In colder areas, plants will need shelter, or you may be best to grow them as annuals.

How to grow

  • Stevia is easy to start from seed. This plant likes it hot so seedlings won’t truly take off until around mid-summer.
  • Plant seeds in a rich, loamy, free-draining soil in sun.
  • Keep plants watered – not overly so, as the roots can be adversely affected, and not so little that plants droop.
  • A layer of compost or mulch around plants will keep the shallow feeder roots from drying out.
  • Stevia responds well to fertilisers that have more potassium and phosphorus than nitrogen – organic fertilisers are ideal, as they release nitrogen slowly.
  • Pinch off the growing tips as plants grow so they branch out. If you don’t, they will simply produce one stem that grows straight up.
  • For sweetness, harvesting is ideally done just before flowering in autumn as this is when the leaves are at their sweetest. While two or three harvests can be made throughout the year, I prefer to harvest all at once in autumn. Cuttings can also be taken for next year’s crop if required. For optimal growth and taste, plants should be replaced every three years.
  • The leaves can be dried and stored, or packaged and sold. Fresh leaves can be harvested throughout the season.

Health and medicinal benefits

A plant native to South America and Central America, stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) produces sweet leaves that have long been harvested to flavor foods and beverages. In recent years, a stevia extract—called rebaudioside A—has become increasingly popular as a natural sugar substitute.With zero calories, stevia extract looks like sugar but tastes even sweeter. Now found in foods like soft drinks, candy, and pre-packaged baked goods, stevia extract is also sold as a tabletop sweetener. Suggested uses include sweetening coffee and tea, as well as sprinkling onto cereal, oatmeal, fruit, and yogurt.

Nutrition Facts

There is about one gram of carbohydrate in a single packet of stevia. Since many users will use more than one packet, you may consume more than a gram of carbs in your coffee or beverage when you use this sweetener, but it will not contribute substantially to your carbohydrate intake.The estimated glycemic load of stevia is one.There is no fat in stevia.Stevia provides zero grams of protein.Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals (such as calcium and iron) that your body needs to stay healthy and function properly. Stevia provides no vitamins or minerals.

Stevia-extract-sweetened foods and beverages are most likely a healthier option than similar items made with artificial sweeteners such as aspartame. But for optimal health, it's best to cut back on processed foods and choose naturally sweet alternatives such as fruit in its fresh or dried form.

Since it contains no calories or carbohydrates and does not cause a spike in blood sugar levels, stevia is considered safe for people with diabetes.5But claims that all forms of stevia extract can actually boost health in diabetes patients may be unfounded.While tests on animals have determined that stevioside may help lower blood pressure and regulate blood sugar in people with diabetes, a 2005 study concluded that rebaudiosideA failed to provide similar benefits.If you're considering using stevia regularly for diabetes (or any health condition), make sure to consult your doctor first. Self-treating and avoiding or delaying standard care can have serious consequences.

If you are going to use Stevia to treat an existing health condition please consult with your healthcare provider first.