Stevia is a plant that is becoming increasingly popular, mainly because of its sweetness. This plant also offers several health benefits and it can be easily cultivated at home.
What is stevia?
Stevia rebaudiana is a perennial plant native to Paraguay. It is also called sweetleaf or sugarleaf, which is only logical since this plant’s extract is 300 times sweeter than sugar. Stevia is recommended for many health problems, including high blood pressure and obesity.
Stevia is a flowering shrub with small oblong leaves, similar in shape and size to mint. Although it originated from Paraguay, it can be found in other countries of South and Central America, as well as in Texas, Arizona and New Mexico.
Health benefits and uses of stevia
Stevia rebaudiana is the sweetest species of stevia plant and it is used as an alternative to sugar. It is rich in phytochemicals called glycosides, it contains eight of them and the most important is stevioside, which is 200 times sweeter than sucrose. Unlike plain edible sugar, stevia does not raise the glucose levels in blood, which is why it is suitable for diabetics and for people who need to control their blood sugar levels. It also reduces the dental plaque.
Stevia can be used instead of sugar in beverages, desserts and dishes that require sugar. Only six chopped stevia leaves can be used instead of half a cup of sugar in baking and cooking recipes.
This natural supplement can be used fresh, and its leaves are delicious when chewed. It can be used to prepare herbal tea while dried and powdered leaves can be added to just about any dish or beverage. Stevia extract is made from one cup of fresh stevia leaves, covered with one cup of vodka, and placed in a jar that needs to be shaken every day for two weeks. After two weeks the leaves are strained and the extract is ready to use.
Growing stevia at home
People who live in warm, humid areas can grow stevia plant at home. The best way to do so is to use an existing plant, because the seeds are hard to germinate. Stevia prefers pH neutral or slightly acidic sandy soil and lots of moisture, sunshine in the morning and shade in the afternoon. It can also be successfully grown indoors, using fluorescent light for 16 hours a day, as long as it gets enough warmth and humidity. Stevia is ideally harvested in the autumn or whenever its flowers start to show. `