Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) is a herb in the Chrysanthemum family that grows wild as a small shrub in parts of South America, chiefly Paraquay and Brazil. It is calorie-free and has been used as a sweetener and flavour enhancer for centuries. Stevia (Cahehe) has been used to sweeten a native stimulant beverage called ‘mate’ since Pre-Columbian times.
It is the glycosides in stevia’s leaves, including up to 10 percent stevioside, that gives it its sweetness, and makes it unique among the nearly 300 stevia species. The powdered concentrate is 300 times sweeter than sugar and is used throughout the world. In Japan it is the second most popular sweetener after sugar, claiming 41 percent of the sweetener market. It was used as a sweetener in Japanese Diet Coke until the company replaced it with aspartame to ‘standardise’ worldwide.
Homepathically, stevia has been reported to be effective in the treatment of many diseases such as diabetes, skin diseases, hypertension, weight loss and infections.
Despite stevia’s wide usage and numerous studies that show it is a safe sugar alternative in small quantities, the FDA in US considers that stevia’s safety testing is inadequate and therefore does not approve its use for anything other than a dietary supplement. A good site to get essential stevia information in www.stevia.net. Recent research findings from animal studies indicate there are grounds for caution. These studies have used larger doses and have found that stevioside seems to affect the male reproductive system, can be converted into a mutagenic compound which may promote cancer, and that very large amounts of stevioside can interfere with teh absorption of carbohydrates.