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Stevia    

(Named for P.J. Esteve M.D. (d 1566), Professor of Botany at Valencia, Spain.) Compositae. Around 150 species of annual to perennial herbs and shrubs. Leaves usually opposite at least below, entire, toothed or sometimes tripartite. Capitula small, discoid, in panicle or corymbs; involucre cylindric; receptacle flat, naked; disc florets few, tubular, hermaphrodite. Fruit a linear, ribbed, cypsela; pappus of chaffy scales or bristles. Tropical and warm America. Z9.

Cultivation   

Stevia is uncommon in cultivation, although sometimes included in collections of native plants. Stevia eupatoria make a moderatley attractive, velvety perennial for the herbaceous border, flowering over a long period in late summer; with other species, given good drainage and protection at the crown, it may overwinter in situ in mild winters, hardiness is not established. Grow in sun in light sandy soils. Propagate by seed, cuttings or division.

Stevia rebaudiana   

Annual herb to 50cm, puberulous. Leaves opposite, oblanceolate, dentate to crenulate. Capitula very small, in corymbs; florets white. Paraguay.

This most unusual relative of the daisy family produces a stevioside, a type of glycoside in its leaves, which is so sweet it can be used as a replacement for sugar. For example; one fresh leaf is considered to be sufficient for a cup of tea or coffee. However, when the leaves are dried and ground the quantity of the resultant powder required to sweeten a drink is very small. As little as a quarter of a teaspoon (or even less) is quite sufficient for a large tea or coffee. Some powdered extracts of Stevia leaves have been reported as being over 250 times more sweet than the same quantity of sugar. These powdered extracts also have the rather attractive feature of allegedly having no calories at all. They can also be used as the sweet component of sauces for barbecues. As with all herbal substances any usage of Stevia leaves must come with the caveat that some people may react badly to them. In such cases it is recommended that you should consult your doctor and perhaps face the fact that you must return to using sugar; or maybe give up sweet things altogether. Oh well, such is life.

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