Natural, Healthy and Sweet: The Benefits of Stevia
Stevia is a South American shrub whose leaves have been used for centuries by native peoples in Paraguay and Brazil to sweeten their yerba mate and other stimulant beverages. The stevia plant belongs to the Compositae (sunflower family of plants). Centuries ago, natives of Paraguay used the leaves of this small, herbaceous, semi-bushy, perennial shrub to sweeten their bitter drinks. Originating in the South American wild, it could be found growing in semi-arid habitat ranging from grassland to scrub forest to mountain terrain. The plant made its way to Pacific Rim countries where in recent decades it became cultivated domestically, used in its raw leaf form and now is commercially processed into sweetener.
Stevia is an outstanding, sweet-tasting herb that has remarkable health-promoting qualities. The sweetness of stevia is largely due to its complex stevioside molecule that is composed of glucose, sophorose and steviol. A second compound called rebaudioside, which is present in stevia, also contributes to Stevia's sweetness. Stevia has a taste that is unique and has been described as very sweet with a slight licorice, almost bitter aftertaste. Generally, high-quality stevia contains very little of this bitterness. The sweetness of stevia is much different than the sweetness of other natural sweeteners, sugar, or artificial sweeteners, but it is delicious. For some people the taste may require some "getting used to," but most people quickly develop a taste for it.
Stevia has excellent healing capabilities. If placed on a cut or scrape, it stings initially, followed by a significant reduction in pain and accelerated healing with no scarring. Whole-leaf stevia extract can be used as a facial mask by smoothing the dark liquid over the entire face, allowing it to dry for 30-60 minutes, then rinsing. This will help tighten the skin, smooth out wrinkles and heal skin blemishes and acne. This has been reported to be effective when used on seborrhea, dermatitis and eczema, as well. Stevia is also beneficial for the hair and scalp; good results have been obtained by adding stevia concentrate to shampoo, and also applying concentrate to the hair after shampooing, allowing it to remain on the hair for a few minutes, then rinsing.