by Daphne Lambert
Whilst there are over 200 species of stevia, Stevia rebaudiana is the most important variety, it is a herbal plant that belongs to the Asteraceae family. The Guarani Indians of Paraguay have used stevia for centuries for both its sweet taste and medicinal properties. By the 1800’s stevia was used throughout South America and by the 1900’s as European interest grew stevia plantations appeared.
In 1931, two chemists in France, isolated the two glycosides that make stevia leaves sweet: stevioside and rebaudioside. Stevioside is sweet but also has a bitter aftertaste while rebaudioside is sweet and less bitter. Today stevia is grown in many countries, China is the worlds largest exporter of stevia products.
There are three main categories of stevia that you can buy; green leaf stevia, stevia extracts and processed stevia
Green leaf stevia is the type of stevia that’s traditionally used in South America and contains both stevioside and rebaudioside
Some stevia extracts only extract the sweeter and less bitter part of the stevia leaf (rebaudioside), which doesn’t have the health benefits found in stevioside. Whole leaf stevia has many health benefits including anti-cancer abilities 1, being of benefit for diabetics and helpful for people needing to lose weight 2
Processed forms of stevia are made from a super refined extract processed using a variety of chemicals. The worlds largest producers of stevia, industry giants like Coca Cola & Cargill, hold patents for their extraction methods, the products they produce have non of the beneficial herbal medicine properties.
Stevia plants grow well in a pot in the garden or on your kitchen windowsill, it is a perennial plant that flourishes best with lots of sunshine, warm temperatures and plenty of rain. I have had a very lush plant in a pot for a few years now it lives outside in the summer but I bring it in during the winter months.
If I want to sweeten a drink I just pull off a leaf - hot lemon and stevia leaf is really good!
I harvest the leaves late summer and dry them. You can then make a powder from the leaves to use in biscuits. I also make a liquid stevia with water and stevia powder as well as a fresh leaf vodka extraction.
Fresh leaf vodka extraction
Harvest 2 long stems of stevia, pull off the leaves and roughly chop
Put the chopped leaves in a glass jar and pour over enough vodka to cover
Fix a lid on the jar and shake well.
Leave to sit for three days, shaking it from time to time.
Strain out the leaves
You can store as is in a cool dark place or you can remove the alcohol.
Do this by heating over a very low heat DO NOT BOIL for around 20 minutes. The longer you heat it the thicker it becomes. Store in a glass bottle in the fridge. Use in your favourite puddings!
1 Nutr Cancer. 2012
Stevioside induced ROS-mediated apoptosis through mitochondrial pathway in human breast cancer cell line MCF-7.
Paul S1, Sengupta S, Bandyopadhyay TK, Bhattacharyya A.
2 Appetite. 2010
Effects of stevia, aspartame, and sucrose on food intake, satiety, and postprandial glucose and insulin levels
Stephen D. Anton, Ph.D., Corby K. Martin, Ph.D., Hongmei Han, M.S., Sandra Coulon, B.A., William T. Cefalu, M.D., Paula Geiselman, Ph.D., and Donald A. Williamson, Ph.D.