The healthy results of the Stevia herb have long been recognized by the people of South and Central America. Due to the sucrose content of its leaves, stevia has been used for centuries as a natural sweeter. It is also touted in modern times as a natural alternative to artificial sweeteners.
Oftentimes referred to as “sweet herb”, stevia is a genus of various species of herbs belonging to the Asteraceae family that is native to tropical areas of Central and South America. Stevia species are mostly found in the wild in locales that range from grassland to mountain terrain.
Also known by its scientific name of stevia rebaudiana, the leaves of the stevia plant are often crushed and made into stevia tea, which is then used as a natural sweetener to various beverages and dishes. Stevia leaves are said to be from 30 to 300 times sweeter than sugar though the level of sweetness varies from leaf to leaf and plant to plant.
Among the active constituents of stevia are the following: diterpene glycosides, steviol, dulcoside, stevioside and flavonoid glycosides. Stevia leaves also contain considerable amounts of iron, calcium, potassium, zinc, and magnesium. It is also a source of Vitamins A and C, as well as proteins and carbohydrates.
Stevia has been in the center of controversy for decades owing to bans imposed by various countries on its use on food. The European Union, Singapore and Hong Kong have banned its use owing to unresolved concerns of it being a mutagenic. The United States currently allows stevia to be used as a dietary supplement though not as food additive. Nevertheless, many more countries are using stevia as an alternative sweetener and no adverse effects have so far been reported.
Stevia may be taken in a variety of ways. Many people chew on the raw stevia leaves to enjoy its sweet taste. Stevia can also be taken as tea or as extract. To make stevia tea, place 1 teaspoon of stevia leaf herbs in 1 cup of boiled water and cover tightly. Allow the mixture to steep for 15 to 20 minutes. Strain the leaves and then drink the tea.
The health benefits that many attribute to stevia tea are below:
- Claimed be helpful in the treatment of high blood pressure.
- Could be helpful in the treatment of heartburn.
- Said to help in treatment of obesity.
- May help to improve digestion.
- When used as mouthwash may help retard plaque and thus help in overall oral care.
- May have positive effects in the treatment of osteoporosis.