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Articles-Stevia

Life With Stevia: How Sweet It Is!

Nutritional and Medicinal Uses

Daniel Mowrey, Ph.D.

"Life with Stevia: How Sweet It Is!" was reprinted without permission of the publisher.

Copyright 1992 by Daniel B. Mowry

Life with Stevia: How Sweet It Is! is not intended as medical advice. Its intention is solely educational. Please consult a medical or health professsional for medical advice.

When one first observes the plant, nothing particular about it summons the attention, but when even a small piece of the leaf is placed in the mouth, one is amazed by its sweetness. A mere fragment of leaf is enough to sweeten the mouth for an hour. 1 Those few simple words, issued in 1899, opened one of the more remarkable chapters in the history of botanical science, and introduced the world at large to a unique and potentially revolutionary plant from Paraguay known as stevia, or "honey leaf." In South America it is primarily known as yerba dulce, but among the Guarani Indians of Paraguay, who have used the plant for centuries, it has a variety of interesting names: Caa-ehe, Azuca-caa, Kaa-he-e and Ca-a-yupe; most of these names, in one way or another, draw attention to the sweet, nectar-like flavor of the leaf. Many Guarani medicinal and nutritional plactices incorporate stevia in one way or another. The remarkable Guarni possess one of the most advanced native cultures, in terms of philosophy, nutrition and medicine, of any similar group in the world. Yet their ways are still only vaguely understood by other people. A case in point is their use of stevia.

Despite centuries of use by the Indians, it wasn't until 1899 that the plant was discovered by "civilized" man. M.S. Bertoni (quoted above) observed that the natives used the plant to sweeten their bitter drinks. Eventually, Bertoni was to be credited with the discovery of a new species; in his honor, stevia is now known as Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni.2-3

It is amazing to contemplate that most of the important herbs and spices of the world have been known, described, catalogued and used by diverse populations for several centuries; yet here is one of the most wonderful plants of world that went undeteected until the turn of this century. Experts estimate that South America is the source of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of plants with properties as momentous as stevia that yet remain unused and unrecognized by anyone but the native populations. The Guarani are in possession of a good portion of these, some of which are becoming ever more important: yerba mate and lapacho. Others, like stevia, are less known.

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