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Stevia’s Vast History

It is merely unfathomable to imagine that the earliest known stevia plants were  so valuable to South American Indians that they had them heavily guarded to protect them. Unfathomable- that is, until you know the whole story. 

Stevia has a very interesting history.  This story began in the mid 17th century in the hearth of South America – an era when the Guarani natives  referred to the green Stevia plant as “kaa-he-he”.  Then they used it for medicinal purposes, and brewed as a tea called bitter mate. Also, the Indians like to chew the dried leaves so they could enjoy the refreshing taste.

As native use became  traditional, it  was not  long  before other geographical areas to catch-on. In fact- Paraguay took immediate  liking to kaa-he-he.  They even documented this by stating  how the Guarani were using it including in concoctions, foods, and in teas.  Over 2 centuries years later, these ancient documentations are still being preserved in Asuncion, Paraguay in the Paraguayan National Archives. 

However, both of these unique culture would not gain credit for Stevia’s introduction to society, instead, in 1905 the credit went to Moises Santiago Bertoni an Italian botanis. Bertoni conducted an exhaustive conquest to acquire the plant, and alas he was sent one by a San Pedro priest.  Within a single year’s time, Bertoni had completed his research on the plant and  gave it the name (Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni), and had rapidly published his findings.       

Word of this little plant spread like a wildfire.  Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni  transpired from  a menial “little known plant” to a tremendous sensation rapidly.  Would-be growers also determined that the could easily cultivate Stevia  as long as they could mimicked the sweltering moist climate required to grow it.

Nearly 1 ton of dried stevia was harvested in 1909. This provided the economic nudge needed to jumpstart the stevia “industry”.  In 1921, George Brady from the American trade Commission attempted to present Stevia to the USDA, however his referral of it as a “new plant with great possibilities” was ignored and placed the research of it  as a low priority. 

 However,  the French were the opposite of America. Two chemists in 1931, successfully extracted the white, crystalline compounds that make the plant stevia so valuable. These compounds were named steviosides. However, while the conclusion of  the research were of significant scientific and economic importance,  the role of steviosides was still left uncertain to  how it could benefit or affect the lives of everyday individuals.

Despite its unquestionable safety and moderate US success, stevia was banned by the FDA in 1991.  Just three years later, this ban was lifted when congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DHSEA).  This made it possible to import Stevia as a dietary supplement.  Interestingly, the study used to originally support the temporary ban was later found to be severely flawed. 

Any way you look at it, Stevia is nothing short of a botanical phenomenon.  Its use dates back hundreds of years without any documented adverse reactions.  Decades of extensive research have proven that it’s absolutely safe and free of dangerous chemicals.  In fact, raw Stevia, in its natural state, contains over 100 phytonutrients.      

Aside from being one of the safest natural compounds on the planet, Stevia just makes healthy sense.  Even in massive amounts, it remains non-toxic, has next to no calories and doesn’t promote tooth decay.  With its non-bitter aftertaste, people from every corner of the globe are beginning to discover what a wonderful supplement Stevia can truly be.
 
And unlike many of the earliest users, you won’t have to scour the sweltering jungles of South America to find it.  NOW- Stevia and Steviva is available online, in grocery stores, and in natural health food stores everywhere.

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