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Growing Stevia--a natural sweetener

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This is Stevia or "stevia rebaudiana" or maybe you've heard of it as "sweetleaf," or "sugarleaf."  Take a bit of a leaf from the plant and taste it.  Your mouth will be filled with an intense sweetness but without the aftertaste of other types of artificial sweeteners.  And it is much safer than the processed artificial chemical sweeteners.  
Stevia is an herb that is native to South America and can grow in any subtropical and tropical region from western North American as well as South America.  

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You can grow it in a pot (as seen above -- and look at how tall the plant gets) or you can also plant it in your vegetable garden.  Stevia plants prefer, since they are subtropical, full sun and heat.  This is why in Nebraska, they do so well during the summer months but must be taken indoors during the winter.  By fall, it is good to harvest the leaves and dry them on a screen in full sun for about an hour.  Then you can place the dried leaves in a coffee grinder or food processor to be used throughout the year as a sweetener.  You can also eat the leaves fresh if you so wish--placing them in drinks or in yogurt or salads.  Just remember that a small amount is all you need.  These leaves have about 40 times the sweetness of processed sugar.  Just take a taste of a leaf, and you'll see!  

Stevia is a perfect natural low-sugar food alternative.  It has no effect on blood glucose levels and therefore is an excellent food for those with Diabetes or anyone who is counting their carbohydrate intake.  

You can also purchase already processed stevia liquid or powder at your local co-op/health food store.  

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The "SweetLeaf" company has created a number of stevia products with natural flavoring.  Above is the Vanilla Creme.  I personally like the cinnamon.  

But how much more fun to grow your own organic stevia during the summer months and have it for the rest of the year!  I encourage you to grow your own stevia and have fun doing it!  In the picture below I'm holding the Stevia and below the plant you can see what looks like daisies but they are not daisies--they are echinacea -- another excellent herb to use for tea and, like stevia, it is also a healing herb.  

Some history:  The Guarani tribe of Paraguay included Stevia in their diet.  They called it ka'a he'e ("sweet herb").  They used stevia in their "yerba mate" and other medicinal teas.  Of late, stevia is being recommended to individuals with hypertension as well as diabetes.  

One of my chapters in my book, _The Diabetes Chronicles_ is devoted to organic farming (urban farming!), focusing on foods to grow that are excellent nutrition for individuals with diabetes.  

The act of growing your own herbs (medicinal, etc.) is so enjoyable, healing, and good for the earth. I wish you much enjoyment with your time in the garden and in your kitchen creating new and exciting, health-filled dishes!  Wising you good health and much cooking pleasure!

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