The Permacultivator - Journal of Cool Climate Permaculture
What Is Stevia?
Stevia is one of the most health restoring plants on the Earth. What whole leaf Stevia does both inside the body and on the skin is incredible. Native to Paraguay, it is a small green plant bearing leaves which have a delicious and refreshing taste that can be 30 times sweeter than sugar. Besides the intensely sweet glycosides (Steviosides, Rebaudiosides and a Dulcoside), various studies have found the leaf to contain proteins, fibers, carbohydrates, iron, phosphorus, calcium, potassium, sodium, magnesium, zinc, rutin (a flavionoid), true vitamin A, Vitamin C and an oil which contains 53 other constituents. Quality Stevia leaves and whole leaf concentrate are nutritious, natural dietary supplements offering numerous health benefits.
Stevia as a Dietary Supplement
The majority of reported health benefits, both from research laboratory and consumer experience, comes from the daily use of a water based whole leaf Stevia concentrate. Scientific research has indicated that Stevia effectively regulates blood sugar and brings it towards a normal balance. It is sold in some South American countries as an aid to people with diabetes and hypoglycemia. Since its introduction into the US, numerous people have reported that taking 20-30 drops with each meal brought their blood glucose levels down to normal within a short time period. Obviously each individuals condition is different and such experimentation should be done under the supervision of a qualified physician. An important benefit for hypoglycemics is Stevias tonic action which enhances increased energy levels and mental activity.
Studies have also indicated that Stevia tends to lower elevated blood pressure but does not seem to affect normal blood pressure. It also inhibits the growth and reproduction of some bacteria and other infectious organisms, including the bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease. This may help explain why users of Stevia enhanced products report a lower incidence of colds and flu and why it has such exceptional qualities when used as a mouthwash or added to toothpaste. Many people report significant improvement in oral health after adding Stevia concentrate to their toothpaste and using it, diluted in water, as a daily mouthwash.
Stevia is an exceptional aid in weight loss and weight management because it contains no calories and reduces ones cravings for sweets and fatty foods. Hunger sensations are lessened when 10 or 15 drops are taken 20 minutes before meals. Preliminary research data indicates Stevia may actually reset the hunger mechanisms in people where the pathway between the hypothalamus and the stomach has become obstructed. If so, Stevia would help people to feel satiated sooner, helping them eat less.
Other benefits of adding Stevia to the daily diet include improved digestion and gastrointestinal function, soothed upset stomachs and quicker recovery from minor illness. Users have also reported that drinking Stevia tea or Stevia enhanced teas helped to reduce their desire for tobacco and alcoholic beverages.
Stevia concentrate tablets are available for those who want the medicinal benefits of Stevia conentrate in an easy to swallow form.
The Stevia Leaf
Stevia leaves vary widely in quality due to many environmental factors including soil, irrigation methods, sunlight, air purity, cleanliness, farming practices, processing and storage. There are also numerous species of Stevia with differing Stevioside/Rebaudidoside content. Bacterial and fungal contamination is a serious problem and one must be careful about the original source of Stevia. Chinese Stevia leaves are a poor quality, containing only 5-6% of the sweet Stevioside/Rebaudidosides, while Paraguayan leaves contain 9-13%. Stevia should be compared according to aroma, taste, appearance and sweetness.
Leaves are available in tea bags and make a delicious tea. Tea bags may be placed in any beverage desired and make a delightful lemonade. The sweet glycosides are released more rapidly in hot liquid than in cool liquid. You may want to place a tea bag in a small amount of hot water for a few minutes and then add the sweetened water to the beverage. A mild Stevia tea offers excellent relief for an upset stomach. After use, a Stevia tea bag placed over the eyes (similar to using a cucumber) for a few minutes effectively tightens the skin and smooths out wrinkles.
Ground Stevia is excellent when sprinkled lightly over cooking vegetables and meats, cereals and salads. Besides adding its own sweet taste it significantly enhances the flavor and nutritional value of the food. Ground Stevia can be used in many cooking and baking applications.
Refined Steviosides and Rebaudiosides are the sweetest form of Stevia and may be purchased in a semi white powder form (usually referred to as an extract) or in a clear liquid made by adding the powder to water and a preservative. The powder may be added directly to food and beverage but in very tiny amounts. The liquid is used drop by drop.
Stevioside has over 50% of over the commercial sweetening market in Japan, which consumes 90% of the worlds supply of Stevia leaves. The refined Chinese Stevioside product is only 80-91% pure and some samples have been found to be high in pathogens.
Although Stevioside is a desirable sweetener it does not have the extraordinary health benefits of the Stevia leaf or products made from whole leaf Stevia concentrate.
Stevia for Exceptional Skin Care
Water based whole leaf Stevia concentrate offers several exceptional benefits when used regularly in skin care. When applied as a facial mask effectively softens and tightens the skin, smoothes out wrinkles and helps to heal various skin blemishes including acne. One simply smoothes the dark liquid over the entire face, allowing it to dry for at least 30-60 minutes. As it dries you will feel the skin tightening. A drop of the concentrate may be applied directly on any blemish, acne outbreak, lip or mouth sore. People report success from applying Stevia to a variety of problem skin conditions. Stevia concentrate is also effective when used on seborrhea, dermatitis and eczema. Reports indicate that when a few drops of the concentrate are placed in cuts and scratches there is a more rapid healing of the wound without scarring. This will sting for 30-40 seconds followed by a significant lowering of pain. The concentrate is easily washed away with soap and warm water.
Safety of Stevia
There has never been a complaint that Stevia, in any of its consumable forms, has caused any harmful side effects in the 1,500 years of use in Paraguay and about 20 years in Japan. Scientists who have studied Stevia state that it is safe for human consumption.
Following extensive research, Dr. Daniel Mowrey reported: "More elaborate safety tests were performed by the Japanese during their evaluation of Stevia as a possible sweetening agent. Few substances have ever yielded such consistently negative results in toxicity trials as have Stevia. Almost every toxicity test imaginable has been performed on Stevia extract (concentrate) or stevioside at one time or another. The results are always negative. No abnormalities in weight change, food intake, cell or membrane characteristics, enzyme and substrate utilization, or chromosome characteristics. No cancer, birth defects, no acute and no chronic untoward effects. Nothing."
In all of its current forms Stevia has a taste unique to itself. Along with its sweetness there is also a bitter taste when the pure whole leaf extract or the white Stevioside powder is placed in the mouth. However, this bitter flavor disappears as does the slight licorice taste when the product is appropriately diluted in water or other liquid prior to use. Consumers looking solely for a sweetener which has no calories and which does not alter blood sugar levels will probably prefer the white Stevioside powder or consumer products made from Stevioside. However, consumers who also want health restoring benefits will want premium quality stevia leaves, ground or whole and/or water-based stevia extract (concentrate).
The dietary information references whole leaf or ground stevia leaves and water based stevia extract for internal use and water-based stevia extract or stevia based products for skin and hair. In order to obtain these extraordinary benefits, use a water-based extract made from premium quality stevia leaves. Do not use an alcohol-based extract. Also, do not use Stevioside or a clear liquid made from Stevioside.
You also may find premium quality pulverized stevia leaves in tea bags. Use them to prepare stevia tea. Enjoy it by itself or as a sweet liquid for cooking and baking. The tea bags may also be torn open and the contents sprinkled lightly over cereals, salads or cooking vegetables, enhancing their natural flavor and increasing the nutritional benefit.
Stevia as Sweetener
Where else on earth is there a plant like Stevia? The leaves are a delicious and nutritious food, a fantastic no calorie sweetener, an incredible external and internal medicine, and when gently extracted into a water-based concentrate, is wonderful for smoothing wrinkles, softening and beautifying the skin and healing blemishes and sores.
This brief review of the Stevia plant and its world-wide uses in no way constitutes an endorsement of such uses. At this time the USA permits Stevia to be imported and labeled only for its approved use as a dietary supplement and in skin care.
J20 Summer 97-8