Stevia, which is also called sweet leaf or sugarleaf, has become quite famous in recent years. As an alternative to sugar, it is now used in many households. Stevia is not only used in the kitchen, but also as a medicinal herb.
Profile of Stevia:
Scientific name: Stevia rebaudiana
Plant family: composite, asters
Other names: sweet herb, candyleaf, sweetleaf, sweet leaf, sugarleaf.
Sowing time / Planting time: February – April
Flowering period: June – September
Harvest time: May – September
Soil quality: slightly loamy and well drained soil
Use as a medicinal herb: high blood pressure, heartburn, various gum disease
Use as spice herb: for sweetening food
Plant characteristics and classification of Stevia
Origin and distribution of Stevia
Stevia has its origins in South America, where it was well known to the indigenous people of Paraguay. As a side note, the plant is there called “caa-hee” (honey leaf). In the course of the Spanish conquest, the herb was discovered and finally brought to Europe.
Today Stevia is successfully cultivated on many continents. Due to increasing demand, typical growing areas are found in many countries in South America, Africa (including Ethiopia) and Asia (eg India, China, Korea).
Plant order of Stevia
Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) belongs to the asters family and thus a representative of a very herb rich family. To these belong among others the dandelion, the chamomile or the olive herb. The plant belongs in the closer assignment to the genus of stevia, which are native between southern North America via Central America to South America. With more than 250 species, this genus is very species-rich.
Look and characteristics of Stevia
Stevia is a perennial and frost-avoiding plant in its area of origin. The herb reaches stature heights between 60 and 100 cm (24 and 40 in), whereby it usually gets smaller in temperate zone. It has shallow, barely branched roots with a sparse fine root system. The herb is a typical shallow-rooted plant.
The plant bears long, jagged, light to dark green and quite large leaves (up to 5 cm (2 in) in diameter), which are opposite to each other. The leaves contain numerous glands, which contain the desired sweetener and release it with time to the outside. The stem of the plant is usually slightly woody.
The flowers of the plant are creamy white and unimpressive. The inflorescences are terminal, that is the flowers are at the top of the shoot axis. The plant is a wind pollinator. Each flower basket can contain up to 150 single flowers.
After the flowering period, which is usually to be expected between June and September, typical achenes develop from the flowers, which contain the dark brown to almost black seeds.
Stevia – cultivation and care
Although Stevia has long been known to many experts in Europe, it has only recently gained fame. Due to its special properties, it becomes increasingly grown in gardens. The cultivation, however, is usually somewhat more difficult than other herbs, as the plant is quite demanding and requires some care.
Stevia loves sunny and warm locations. Optimal are also permeable, medium soils (a bit loamy and not too sandy) with normal nutrient ratios. Waterlogging is basically to be avoided, as otherwise the sensitive root system will be damaged. Also, avoid nutrient-rich soils. Overfertilized soils and commercially available potting soil put a higher risk of disease to the plant. Too nutrient-rich or dense soils should therefore be mixed with quartz sand or lava sand.
The plant can be pulled from seed, but it should be noted that a germination temperature of at least 21 – 22 ° C (70-72 °F) is needed. For preculture the herb should best be put in a seed tray with potting compost, whereby the soil should be rather nutrient-poor. Well suited are mineral growing substrates. Since Stevia is a light germ, the seeds should not be covered and only slightly pressed and then moistened well. The seed tray should then be kept in a warm place and covered with foil or glass. The seedlings appear in good conditions after about 8 to 12 days. Keep in mind that it is normal that only about 15 to 25 percent of the seeds even grow.
Since the sweet herb is sensitive to frost, the plants can not be overwintered outdoors. Stevia plants should be kept in a bright place, e.g. be housed on the windowsill.
If the herbs are planted on the balcony, a southern direction should be paid regard to. Too little light lets the plant die pretty fast. Also value should be placed on planters, which give the sweet herb space for expansion. Since the plant can grow up to a meter (40 in) and form strong shallow roots, large pots should be chosen that have at least a circumference of around 20 cm (8 in).
Fertilizers should be used rather sparingly. In the growth phase, it is usually sufficient to supply some compost or little NPC fertilizer.
The harvest of stevia leaves can take place between May and September. However, the leaves have the highest sweetness at the beginning of flowering.
Stevia and its use
The stevioside contained in stevia is responsible for the sweetish taste. In addition to numerous applications in the kitchen, it is also used in folk medicine as a medicinal herb.
Stevia as a kitchen and condiment
Stevia tastes very sweet. The sweetening power compared to commercial sugar for the same amount is about 30 times. Consequently, it should not be overdosed, otherwise it develops a rather sweet-bitter taste. Compared to sugar, the consumption of stevia is almost low in calories, which is why it is also found on many diet plans.
The herb is mostly used for sweets of all kinds and for sweetening drinks. Traditionally, it is used for sweetening maté tea. Since the sweetener is heat stable, it can also be used for baking and cooking. Preferably the leaves should be crushed with a mortar or a herb chopper to make them better portionable.
Particularly valuable is Stevia, for people who have difficulty using real sugar (for example, diabetics). There are now a number of different replacement products that are sweetened with stevia alone.
The most common question when using stevia is what amount is needed when sweetening food or drink. Here is a little rule of thumb to estimate the amount. About 100 grams (3.5 oz) of dried leaves or powder can sweeten about 180 liters (47.5 gal) of tea. By the way, commercially available stevia powder is usually much sweeter than its dried herbs.
Stevia as a medicinal herb
Stevia has long been known to the indigenous people of South America as a medicinal herb. There it was used in various conditions such as hypertension, heartburn or overweight. There are several scientific studies dealing with these complaints.
Stevia has many medically useful properties. In scientific or clinical studies, the herb was examined for its medical suitability and evaluated.
- cancer retardant
- lowers blood pressure
The medicinal plant often used in folk medicine in South America and partly in Asia is said to be particularly useful in the treatment of chronic diseases. Stevia has a special focus on chronic inflammatory bowel disease and chronic kidney disease. However, further medical studies are needed to understand the exact metabolic processes of the numerous ingredients.
Stevia can be used for many ailments and diseases. These include
- gum bleeding
- heart failure
- high blood pressure
- sugar substitute
It is also used as a medicinal herb for dental purposes. The herb shall help for complaints such as gum bleeding, gingivitis or caries. It should also help get rid of annoying plaque. Responsible here is the substance stevioside, which also has a large share of sweetness. Some manufacturers are already offering toothpastes and other Stevia-based dental care products.
There have been concerns in the past that stevia has genetically harmful, mutagenic and sometimes cancer-stimulating properties. There are, however, several studies that could disprove this.
Ask your doctor or pharmacist. Visiting this page can not replace the visit to the doctor. For serious or unclear complaints, consult your doctor.
Buy Stevia – What is there to pay attention to?
Stevia has long been banned as food. The EU e.g. has regulated the daily dose of stevia to 4 mg (0,00014) per kg (2.2 lbs) of body weight, meaning a 60 kg (130 lbs) person should not consume more than 24 grams (0.8 oz) of stevia glycoside daily. However, in view of the sweetening power, the consumption of such an amount is unlikely.
When buying stevia plants, it should receive attention that the leaves have a rich green and sturdy stems. Unstable stems and leaves with faint greens indicate of an overdose of fertilizers. Also, look for light or white spots on the undersides of the leaves that may indicate common stevia conditions such as mildew or white rust.
If you want to buy dried stevia herb, you should make sure that the herbs are packed in aroma-friendly packaging. Depending on the cultivation methods, the quality of the products may fluctuate slightly.
The sweet-tasting herb is also available in the form of stevia powder. When buying powder take a profound look at the ingredients, as some manufacturers in addition to stevia still add sugar and sell it as low-calorie sugar. Inasmuch as stevia is to be used as a medicinal herb, dried or fresh leaves are always preferable instead of powder. The powder is just an extract, which causes some of the valuable ingredients to be lost.