Friday, November 14, 2008
Use Only As Directed, preferably with meals
This are flowers of stevia rebaudiana past their prime and going to seed. Stevia is also known as sweetleaf, and is used as a sweetener both in its natural form and in a processed extract of the sweet glycosides steviodside and rebaudioside. The fresh leaves are slightly fuzzy, and taste exceptionally sweet when chewed, with an undertone of something green or slightly bitter. Some people describe this aftertaste as licorice. I notice the larger leaves are sweeter tasting than the smallest. Stevia is a pleasantly unassuming perennial with smallish white flowers and an upright habit. Who knew that controversy and conspiracy theories swirled around it.
The 1.3 ounce jar of stevia extract powder I own has lasted us a long time. It comes with a tiny spoon not quite as large as your pinky fingernail. Even one spoonful makes my tea too sweet, and being mainly a coffee-no sugar drinker you can see why we use so little of the stuff. We tried it because we were intrigued by a natural sweetening product with no calories, no carbs and no effect on blood sugar. I kept wondering why stevia hasn't taken the sweetener world by storm. This article gives an overview of the 1991 FDA ban on sales of stevia as a food. So that's why my jar of stevia is labeled as a dietary supplement, and gives the direction: "As a dietary supplement, take 1 to 3 servings daily, preferably with meals." Reading further, I discover Big Food companies Coca Cola, Pepsico and Cargill are now rolling out stevia products which aren't even pure stevia and skip some of stevia's benefits. Could the 1991 FDA ban have been the result of a few well-placed phone calls or contributions in favor of marginalizing a potentially devastating competitor to sugar and fake sugar laden sodas until the Big Boys were ready to reap the stevia harvest? Kind of like all those 30+ mpg cars we had in the 70s just went away.
Anyhoot, you'll find stevia plants in the herb section (I got this one at (ahem) Roger's Gardens) in small inexpensive pots. It seems to like regular water; mine grows in a pot in mostly shade and seems happy enough, having reached 24" tall in a few months. Probably would grow larger in full sun.