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Stevia rebaudiana - the sugar substitute
If you are looking for alternative sweeteners to conventional industrial sugar, you have certainly already had one Stevia heard. Behind it is a genus of plants whose representatives are known for their particularly sweet taste. In particular, the honey herb (Stevia rebaudiana) is often used as a natural sweetener. However, the plant can do more than just sweeten food and drinks. Especially when it comes to heart and vascular health, stevia has amazing talents.
Caution, confusion: Honey herb is not just sweet herb. Although Stevia rebaudiana is often referred to colloquially as sweet herb or sweet leaf due to its very sweet taste, it is a completely different plant, namely Aztec sweet herb (Lippia dulcis). This is also characterized by an aromatic sweetness, but belongs to a completely different family of plants and also differs from the Stevien in its healing properties.
Wanted poster for honey herb
- Scientific name: Stevia rebaudiana
- Plant genus: Stevien (Melaleuca)
- Plant family: Daisy family (Asteraceae)
- Popular names: Sweet herb, sweet leaf, Ka’a He’ẽ
- Occurrence: South America, Paraguay, Brazil
- Parts of plants used: Leaves
- application areas:
- Weight problems
- Heart disease and vascular disease
- Infectious diseases
- Metabolic disorders
- Digestive problems
- Dental diseases
A daisy family like the stevia has in common that they usually form very ornamental wheel or ray flowers that remind the viewer of the stars or the sun. Due to their decorative value, Asteraceae are quite often used as a decorative element in the garden. With honey herb, on the other hand, the interest is less on the flowers of the plant. Although the dainty, white flower umbels of the Stevie, which are up to one meter high, also look very nice in the native green, due to their subtropical origin, they are not particularly hardy with us and therefore, if at all, only as an annual outdoor plant or as a houseplant in cultivation .
In addition, the Stevien are much more important because of their leaves, because they contain the sweet ingredients of the plant, which make them a hot-selling sugar substitute in the kitchen. In its pure form, the leaves of the honey herb are about 30 times sweeter than conventional beet sugar. If you extract the ingredient responsible for plant sweetness, stevioside, it even has a 150 to 300 times stronger sweetening power.
useful information: With just 100 grams of stevia leaves, a full 180 liters of tea can be sweetened. The sweet ingredients of the leaves, unlike table sugar, are not caries-causing and even suitable for diabetes.
Stevia rebaudiana is originally located in the South American border area between Paraguay and Brazil. The natural sweetener has been used there for centuries. The indigenous peoples of both countries, for example, use it to sweeten their mate tea. But the sweetening effect is not the only peculiarity that the indigenous people of Paraguay and Brazil noticed on the leaves of the stevia. The Guaraní people, in particular, who gave the health berry Guarana its name, also appreciated the medicinal properties of the honey herb. They also owe the nickname of the plant "sweet herb", which is derived from the popular plant name Ka’a He’ẽ.
As part of their folk medicine, the Guaraní Stevia knew in particular to treat and prevent heart and vascular diseases such as high blood pressure or heart failure. Overweight and indigestion such as heartburn were also treated with stevia. In addition, the honey herb is said to have a fertility-increasing effect, although there are no reliable studies to confirm this. On the other hand, most other healing effects that are said to have stevia are relatively well documented, which is why it is used today in addition to its function as a natural sweetener for the following health complaints:
- Chronic diseases of the digestive organs (e.g. chronic intestinal inflammation, liver or kidney diseases)
- Heart and vascular diseases (e.g. high blood pressure, vasoconstriction, heart failure, edema or venous disorders),
- Infectious diseases (e.g. bacterial or fungal infections),
- systemic diseases (e.g. diabetes, gout or overweight),
- Dental diseases - also preventive (e.g. caries, bleeding gums or inflammation of the gums).
Ingredients and effects
The sweet taste, like the healing properties of stevia, is based on a special mixture of ingredients in the plant, which is composed of more than 100 different active ingredients. In this regard, three groups of active ingredients should be emphasized:
In addition, stevia also contains a number of valuable nutrients, which support the healing effect of the honey herb in particular.
Flavonoids (from Latin flavus for "yellow") are actually plant dyes and thus responsible for the coloring of plant flowers, leaves and secretions. However, many flavonoids also have medically relevant properties. especially the
- anti allergic,
- Cardiovascular strengthening
- and immune boosting
The effects of many flavonoids have long been known to medicine. In this regard, seven different flavonoid compounds have sometimes been detected in stevia. One of them is Rutin. Especially the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties are very intense in this flavonoid. In addition, Rutin owns
- and vasodilating
Properties that make the plant substance an important active pharmaceutical ingredient against cardiovascular diseases and vascular bleeding.
Rutin, like flavonoids in general, are glycosides. These are chemical compounds that result from a combination of one alcohol and one sugar molecule. In addition to flavonoids, medically relevant glycoside groups here include cardiac glycosides and phenol glycosides such as anthocyanins or salicin. Like rutin, both of the glycoside groups mentioned are distinguished by their extraordinarily good curative effects in cardiac and vascular diseases. The same applies to the so-called steviol glycosides - albeit in a slightly modified form.
Stevioglycosides are a group of glycosides that have so far only been discovered in stevia. They form the mixture of substances, also known as stevia, which is commercially available as an alternative sweetener. In particular
- and stevioside
are the main components. Both glycosides are characterized by the fact that their sweetening effect exceeds that of conventional sugar by 300 to 450 times. Furthermore, stevioglycosides have a reputation for relieving the metabolism and the vessels in a special way and even being healthy for the teeth. For example, the glycosides work
- caries and plaque inhibiting.
They are also very low in calories and therefore ideal for people who do not want to do without a sweet taste in desserts and sweets when losing weight. Apart from that, even patients with diabetes can use the sweetness of stevia because the glycosides it contains do not raise the blood sugar level, but on the contrary, actually lower it.
By the way: Rebaudioside, like the species additive of the herb "rebaudiana", was named after its discoverer and first descriptor Ovidio Rebaudi. The Paraguayan chemist, writer and occultist was the first to devote himself to medical studies on stevia around 1900.
The minerals in stevia also benefit the cardiovascular function. They also strengthen the immune system and support bone building and blood formation. In this context, the minerals contained in the honey herb are some of the most important for maintaining the body functions mentioned, namely:
- and phosphorus.
In addition, plant-specific trace elements such as
- and silicon
the digestive processes in the body, which contributes to the trouble-free organ function of the stomach, intestines, liver and kidneys. When it comes to the immune system, not only minerals and the antimicrobial and antiviral properties of stevia play a role. Because the plant's own vitamin C is also a guarantee for a functioning immune defense. In addition, there are significant amounts of vitamin B, which supports the visual and nervous function.
Stevia efficacy studies
Numerous scientific studies have shown that stevia indeed fulfills many aspects of the healing effects shown. For example, a study conducted in South Africa in 2006 confirmed the effectiveness of rutin against leg and pregnancy edema. Successful treatment of purpura by the flavonoid has also been proven by scientific studies. The disease is based on chronic, capillary hemorrhage, which leads to red spots on the skin. According to studies, even patients with intestinal vein inflammation react positively to the administration of rutin.
Speaking of the intestine: The positive influence of stevia on the functionality and health of digestive organs has been scientifically proven by other examples. In Mexico, researchers in this connection were able to confirm that stevia has a preventive effect against acute and chronic liver diseases and also reduces oxidative stress and the risk of necrotic processes and biliary congestion.
Stevia is also good for the kidney. According to study results from India, the plant not only demonstrates an anti-diabetic effect, which ensures that diabetes patients excrete less sugar in the urine. Likewise, taking stevia leaves generally reduces the risk of kidney damage. Overall, a protective effect of honey herb against chronic liver and kidney diseases can be recorded. An Indian research team came to a similar conclusion, investigating the therapeutic benefits of stevia in chronic organ diseases.
Application and dosage
Stevia is available from us both as seeds and in the form of pre-grown plants. In addition, the range of stevia preparations is very wide. There are numerous variants from stevia powder and granules to stevia tablets and capsules to liquid extracts of stevia. In addition, honey herb is now used in the food industry as a direct additive for food and is labeled here as so-called E-substance E 960.
The very extensive use of stevia today is thanks to an EU regulation from 2011, which allows honey herb as a food additive. Previously, a UN expert panel certified the plant to be harmless to health in June 2008, which significantly facilitated the trade and cultivation of stevia as a useful plant. However, there are some guidelines for dosage. In this regard, the WHO initially set a maximum daily dose of 2 mg stevia per kg body weight in 2004. In the meantime, the permitted daily ration has been revised upwards to 4 mg per kg body weight.
Tips for buying honey herb
If you want to bring your own stevia plant home, you should definitely pay attention to the integrity of the leaves. A fungal or bacterial disease of the crop could quickly turn into a health problem if the harvested leaves are consumed if handled improperly. In general, the plants should not have any light to whitish spots on the underside of the leaf, as this could indicate plant diseases such as mildew or leaf rust.
A matt green color of the entire plant should also make buyers aware. Here the honey herb was possibly over-fertilized or even treated with the wrong fertilizer. In this context, it should also be pointed out that only Stevien culture can be used with organic fertilizers (e.g. nettle stock, horn shavings or special fertilizers for useful and herbal plants). Chemical preparations make the plant unfit for human consumption and, in the worst case, lead to poisoning.
Another criterion arises from the price-performance ratio when buying dried stevia leaves. Because the quality, i.e. the active ingredient content of the plant, can vary depending on the cultivation and location conditions. As a guideline: 1000 grams of dried leaves should normally not cost more than 35 euros. In addition, attention must be paid to manufacturer certificates and organic cultivation conditions.
tip: Although the range of powders and tabs made from stevia is very large, it is advisable to use fresh or dried leaves directly. Because in the production of powders and granules, the majority of the active ingredients are usually lost, which is particularly disadvantageous if you want to use honey herb for medicinal or at least health-promoting purposes.
Honey herb as a sugar substitute
There are hardly any limits to your imagination when cooking with stevia. The specified daily dose is rarely achieved anyway, because the leaves of the honey herb are so sweet that small amounts are usually sufficient for use in the kitchen.
The most traditional way of using stevia in the kitchen is certainly the sweetening of mate or tea in general. In addition, there are numerous other recipe ideas for
- Pastries (e.g. cookies or cakes),
- Desserts (e.g. fruit yoghurts),
- Fruit juices,
- and cocktails
What tastes good is allowed. Since honey herb is also very heat-resistant, even baked goods such as cakes and cookies can be sweetened with the plant. It is best to chop the leaves finely for use as a kitchen ingredient. A mortar is recommended for making stevia paste.
Medicinal use of stevia
Stevia tea is still the best option for internal use. For external use, for example to treat bleeding gums or inflammation of the gums, you can simply let the tea cool and then use it as a mouthwash. In the meantime there is even toothpaste with honey herb, which again proves that the medicinal properties of the plant are definitely there.
Natural cosmetics from stevia
This aspect of use is particularly interesting for women. Because there are now countless beauty and cosmetic recipes that rely on the power of stevia. For example, you can use the liquid extract from Stevia in
- Face masks,
- Facial toner,
- Skin creams
- and even incorporate shampoos.
To produce the liquid extract you only need:
- 25 g stevia leaves (dried, ground),
- 2 cups of water,
- 1 saucepan,
- 1 tea strainer (optionally a clean linen cloth),
- 1 bottle (dark, airtight sealable).
Put the water in a saucepan and bring it to a boil. Next, add the ground stevia herbs and let the whole thing simmer for about three minutes with the lid closed. Then take the pot off the stove and let the brew cool down briefly. Finally, the liquid extract is filtered through a sieve or cloth, placed in a bottle and kept airtight in the refrigerator.
In the past there have been repeated discussions about the possible carcinogenic and genotoxic effects of stevia. However, these assumptions have been confirmed in various studies. In addition, there is as yet no known information about any side effects for honey herb. (ma)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Miriam Adam, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch
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