Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden
The herb known as stevia, Stevia rebaudiana (syn. Eupatorium rebaudianum), is actually only one species in the genus Stevia, many of which also have similar sweetening capabilities. However, S. rebaudiana is the plant commonly referred to as stevia, and the one that I’m covering in this post. Other names by which it is known include candy leaf, sweetleaf, sweet leaf and sugarleaf.
Stevia is a native of Brazil and Paraguay, and is cultivated elsewhere. It is a half hardy annual (cannot survive temperatures below 20ºF, -7ºC) which reaches a height of around 50cm (20″). It is best sown under cover in temperate areas, pricking out, potting on, hardening off and transplanting like any other half hardy annual. Extra protection from fleece or cloches may be helpful at the beginning of the season if the weather is poor. Stevia is not fussy as to pH and tolerates poor soil well, but prefers light to medium soil. It must be kept moist and will not grow in shade. Leaves should be harvested when the plants come into flower and dried for future use.
Once dried, the leaves can be ground and used as a sweetener. Be cautious with it until you are used to it, as it is around 15-30 times as sweet as sugar. This must be a lot easier to deal with than commercial powdered stevia, though, which is based on a refined product 300 times as sweet as sugar! In my view the commercial product is not suitable for use in a weight loss diet because it is often blended with maltodextrin (mostly made by processing GMO corn) which is high in fructose, itself strongly associated with obesity.
Stevia has been used in its native habitat for hundreds of years both medicinally and as a sweetener, and for the past 30 years in Japan where it is used in place of aspartame, which is banned in Japan and in my view [aspartame] should be banned everywhere. Studies have shown that stevia has no damaging effects in the body.
The part used in medicine is the leaves, which are usually dried and can be used to sweeten beverages or food. Research has shown that it is useful for regulating blood sugar levels, lowering blood pressure, improving digestion, fighting tooth decay and gum disease, and as a craving suppressant. It is particularly useful for anyone suffering from obesity as it provides sweetness without calories, and for diabetics because it does not raise blood sugar levels, possibly improves glucose tolerance and acts as a pancreatic tonic.
Stevia is not used in aromatherapy.
As with all herbs grown for medicinal use, organic growing methods are preferred to avoid corrupting the essential components which provide the healing with foreign, and potentially toxic chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.