Stevia is a perennial shrub of the Aster family that is native to the mountainous border region between Paraguay and Brazil. Guarani Indians have used this herb for thousands of years before European colonists 'discovered' it and caused a stir with it in Europe. At first it was thought to be a rare herb, but this was due to the fact that the botanist who first described it did not know its natural habitat and was looking for it in the wrong places. Eventually it was discovered growing close to another Paraguayan favourite - Mate, which is often sweetened with Stevia. On closer examination Stevia has been found to be one of the sweetest naturally occurring substances with the unique property of having a caloric value of zero and, unlike artificial sweeteners, being extremely safe to use,. These properties have caused a rush on Stevia from food manufacturers in Japan as early as the 1970. Japan is probably still the most prolific market for foods that are sweetened with Stevia, such as numerous soft drinks and soy sauce among others. The West, with its powerful sugar and artificial sweetener lobbies, has been more reluctant to take advantage of the wholesome properties of this sweet and harmless herb'.
Stevia is mostly used as a sweetening agent. It is 200-300 times sweeter than sugar, yet causes none of its negative effects - it does not cause a weight increase since it contains practically no calories and nor does it cause caries. On the contrary, Stevia is beneficial for diabetics and even reduces blood pressure. It has also been found to be cardiotonic and hypoglycaemic. It is also well tolerated by people suffering from candida. In Paraguay a preparation involving all aerial parts has be used as a contraceptive. Stevia is extremely safe and may make a great alternative to other sweeteners, especially for those who cannot tolerate conventional sugar or honey due to diabetes or candida. However, it should be noted that the herb has a bit of a funny after taste.