Stevia is also referred to as sweetleaf and sugarleaf. Besides the phytonutrients that come naturally from any food taken from a plant, the stevia leaves offers the sweet goodness we desire without none of the health risks.
There are over 200 species of the stevia plant. The leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana is the most commonly used specie utilized as a sweetener. The indigenous peoples of South America have been using the stevia leaves both as a food and medicine for more than a thousand years.
The dangers of having too much table sugar is not applicable to stevia. The whole leaves of the stevia plant as well as the herbal powdered stevia are 10 to 15 times sweeter than table sugar, and the refined and concentrated extracts can be up to 300 times sweeter. The great news is that stevia has little effect on blood glucose levels which is a benefit for diabetics or people on low-carb diets.
The compounds found in the stevia leaves are called steviol glycosides. Studies reveal that the rebaudioside type has been shown to be sweeter and have a less bitter aftertaste that the stevioside type.
Stevia has zero calories, doesn’t cause digestive problems. The byproduct steviol passes through undigested without leaving any residues in the kidneys or liver.
If you have a green thumb, you can buy stevia seeds and grow them in your garden. Cut and use the leaves as needed, for use in teas and other beverages for flavoring.
A thriving stevia shrub can be harvested to make a supply of stevia herbal powder. Cut the stevia leaves and sun-dry for about 12 hours or use a home dehydrator. The dried leaves can be ground with a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder.
To make liquid stevia extract, soak a proportion of fresh crushed leaves in water or in pure USP grain alcohol for 24 hours. Filter the leaves out of the liquid and use the resulting liquid as a sweetener. Using the alcohol method, extracts more of the glycosides but to remove the taste of the alcohol, the liquid extract has to be heated slowly, not boiled, until the alcohol evaporates.
Use stevia as a substitute for most recipes that use table sugar. A tablespoon of stevia is more or less equivalent to a cup of table sugar. Also be aware that stevia does not caramelize so you cannot use it for any recipe that calls for a caramelized preparation.
If you want more health and wellness information, the How to be Schoolgirl Skinny: Eat Your Cake and Have Your Figure Too!, is a great resource on how to use stevia in your diet (page 80), and to help you manage health conditions and lose weight.