White sugar is a nightmare for diabetic patients and those who follow certain diets for weight loss. But a natural alternative to regular sugar has been gaining popularity. Derived from a plant called stevia rebaudiana, also known as candy leaf or sweet leaf, it is ideal for those who are concerned about the adverse effects of white sugar.
Due to the leaf’s resemblance to tulsi, it is also called meethi tulsi. Meethi patti and madhu patrika.
The natural sweetener is stronger in taste than normal sugar, about 100 to 300 times sweeter, with a hint of bitterness. It is free of carbohydrates and calories which makes it a favourite of diabetic patients. Intake of stevia helps in cutting down calories without compromising the taste of food and beverages.
Even though stevia is popular all over the world, it has been just two decades since it was grown in India. Today, it is widely grown in Punjab, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Andhra Pradesh.
India accounts for an annual production of 600 tonnes of stevia (as of 2020) due to favourable weather conditions. Additionally, the item is grown in small patches in households too. The leaves are dried well and powdered to be used in food items as well as beverages.
Supreet Raichurkar, a resident of Solapur in Maharashtra, has been using stevia leaves instead of sugar in his daily tea for the past year. “Stevia can be grown quite easily. You can plant it from seeds or cuttings and it does not take much time to grow. Plant it in a pot and place it in your terrace or home garden,” he says.
Here are some tips from the gardener to grow the leaves:
- Collect stevia seeds from any e-commerce platform or nearby nursery.
- Take a tray or a pot to sow the seeds and prepare the seedlings.
- To prepare the potting mix, take garden soil, and mix it with an equal proportion of dried cow dung or earthworm soil and sand.
- Place it in a tray, sow the seeds and sprinkle water.
- Do not keep the pot/ tray under direct sunlight.
- Once the seedlings are grown within 10 to 15 days, convert them to a bigger pot.
- Now it requires good sunlight and regular watering.
- Add organic liquid manure once in two weeks and in case of pest attack, spray neem oil.
- The plant will be ready within six to seven months. Go ahead to dry them and powder and make stevia.
Health benefits of stevia:
- The presence of zero calories and sugar helps in weight management.
- Unlike regular cane sugar, stevia doesn’t contribute to tooth decay.
- Intake of stevia controls blood sugar levels considerably.
- It reduces the chance of cardiac problems and decreases hypertension.
Benefits of Consuming Stevia Over Table Sugar, published by News18 on 15 May 2022.
How to Grow Stevia; Get Full Information of Stevia Cultivation in India, published by Krishijagran on 27 May 2020.
Read this story in Hindi here.
Edited by Yoshita Rao