Stevia Rebaudiana is a small shrub native to portions of Northeastern Paraguay and adjacent sections of Brazil. It flourishes in the sandy soil of this elevated terrain and may grow to a height of 80 cm when it is fully mature. While native Indians of the Guarani Tribe appear to have used the leaves of this herb as a sweetener since pre-Columbian times, it was not until 1887 when a South American natural scientist named Antonio Bertoni first "discovered" it.
Bertoni originally designated this plant as Eupatorium Rebaudianum Bertoni (related to boneset), but later reassigned it to the genus Stevia, (1905). It is estimated that there are over 80 species of Stevia known to grow wild in North America and perhaps as many as two hundred additional species native to South America. Of these, only Stevia Rebaudiana and another now-extinct species appear to posses the natural sweetness which are their distinguishing characteristics.
The sweet secret of Stevia lies in a complex molecule called Stevioside which is a glycoside composed of glucose, sophorose and steviol. It is this complex molecule and a number of other related compounds that account for Stevia Reubaudiana's extraordinary sweetness. The Stevia herb in its natural form is approximately 10 to 15 times sweeter than common table sugar. Extracts of Stevia in the form of Steviosides can range anywhere from 100 to 300 times sweeter than table sugar. And best of all, Stevia does not affect blood sugar metabolism according to most experts. Some studies even report that Stevia reduces plasma glucose levels in normal adults.
Why has Stevia been kept such a secret? How was it used historically? How is it grown? What are its pharmacological and nutritive benefits? How is it used around the world today? Why was it kept off the market for so many years? Are steviosides safe? And finally, how can we use Stevia in cooking and preparing our foods each day? These are the questions that this book will try to answer. Hopefully it will give you some insight into this wonderfully sweet herb and allow you to make the decision of how and why to include it in your daily diet.