Grow Stevia - The Natural Zero Calorie Sweetener

(photo from Civil Eats)

In 2008  the Food and Drug Administration declared a natural zero-calorie sweetener derived from the herb Stevia safe for use in foods and beverages. A long time favorite of natural foodies, Stevia, or sweetleaf, is a tender herb native to South America (zones 10, 11 ). Its extract is widely sold here as the tabletop sweetener, Truvia.

There is a good reason why stevia is called sweetleaf. Its dried leaves are 15 times sweeter than ordinary table sugar and a glycoside that can be extracted from Stevia leaves is 300 times sweeter than sucrose!

In Japan stevia has been sold as a sweetener for over 30 years and they use it in their version of Coke. It  is also available  in Brazil and China. Stevia is banned for use in food in the European Union.
The story of stevia is quite interesting. It shows how a natural product can be banned by the government, only to be adopted by the largest multi-national beverage manufacturers in the world (Pepsi, Coca Cola) and then ushered in by the FDA.

Stevia’s “natural” label will indeed make it the holy grail of sweeteners.

So how did we go from sugar and honey to Stevia?

And why if Stevia is safe, as some other countries have deemed it to be, did the FDA ban it and then restrict  it for years, only to legalize it and allow the biggest names in soft drinks to use it? And is this little leaf from Paraguay why George Bush bought 100,000 acres in northern Paraguay?
The verdict is still out on Stevia's safety - a report prepared for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CPSI) by UCLA toxicologists found that several laboratory tests have shown stevia to cause DNA mutations in lab animals.

CPSI Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson denounced FDA’s decision, saying, “It is far too soon to allow this substance in the diet sodas and juice drinks consumed by millions of people. It looks like this is President Bush’s parting gift to the soda industry.”   You can read more on this in Jenny Hawke’s “The Bittersweet Story of Stevia.”


But on a small scale why not try growing Stevia?

(from the blog Zanthan Gardens)


This annual is a fragrant, bright green herb that grows 12  inches high in well drained soil and full sun. It sports small white flowers in summer. It will look wonderful in a mixed flower herb garden of Basil, Catnip, Golden Sage, Lavender, and annual flowers.


(this is from Tanglewood Gardens - great site)

Plant Stevia as an annual in late spring or early summer when all danger of frost has passed. The roots are shallow so water lightly and frequently, allowing the soil to dry between waterings. Do not Overwater! Yocan grow it in a pot using a light weight potting soil.

Ifyou grow your own stevia, dry and crush the leaves before using as a sweetener. Grind the dried leaves and sprinkle them into cereals and other cold dishes as you would sugar. Or use it like a bay leaf to sweeten meat and vegetables dishes while they cook.

One other great note - it is aphid resistant.

Buy seeds or better yet, buy small plants of this easy-to-grow miracle plant....join the revolution!

Heres a great article on growing stevia in my part of the world - Westfair on line

Comments

  1. Jan, what a great idea. I like the part of Stevia being a great aphid deterrent. I've been growing milkweed in my garden for 4 years hoping to attract Monarch Butterflies (no luck though!) but, the milkweed is usually covered by aphids. I'm going to get some Stevia and see if this will rid my milkweed of this pest. Maybe I'll actually get some Monarch eggs on my plant, which is what I've been hoping for.

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  2. Hi, Jan. This is an awesome post about stevia! Informational...I'd love to grow some and use it.

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  3. I like to use SweetLeaf stevia, which contains no calories, carbs, chemicals, and a 0 glycemic index! Actually, stevia have already been used by hundreds of millions of people, both adults and children over a very long period of time without any evidence of adverse effects. Although, most so-called stevia products contain additives that may cause adverse reactions in some people, so I understand why you, or anyone, would want to grow it!

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  4. Thanks! You can grow Stevia anywhere as long as there is sun... city dwellers can grow it on a sunny windowsill.

    Maybe grow spearmint and stevia in a pot together as an Ice Tea planter....what a great gift.

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  5. Just a few days ago I posted on my blog about Stevia (and Quinoa.) Thanks for the information on Stevia, I grow it, love it, and 'suse it! (I am also diabetic and it is supposed to be "blood sugar friendly")
    It is really fun to watch visitors take a leaf, and taste its sweetness, then hold on to it to add to a glass of iced tea. Fun! Great article.
    Maybe one day you will visit me! We should link back! Enjoyed the post!

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  6. Okay, that it use it, not suse it! LOL

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  7. Great article, еxactlу whаt I was looking for.
    My blog post ; A3 Paper

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  8. "And why if Stevia is safe, as some other countries have deemed it to be, did the FDA ban it and then restrict it for years ..."

    In my experience w/ FDA processes and testing, it's their standard way of doing business, in foods, pharma and additives. If another country is allowing something that the FDA isn't already allowing, then they put a block in place and either start testing or watch the testing efforts in other locales. They may, as data become clear, allow restricted use.

    Pressure from the administration, and particularly from any one individual, is usually resisted quite well.

    However, like any other regulatory group, they make mistakes, they may eventually bow to pressure, and they miss on both sides (allowing some bad actors, restricting good ones).

    As for stevia, sure, the jury's still out. However, it appears safe so far; more safe than many diet drugs and such that were allowed (under pressure) and then had to be removed after fairly dire consequences.

    I'm experimenting w/ stevia in pepper jellies, to keep sugar content lowered. So far, so good!

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