I have cut out the majority of this article. Too long otherwise. I had not heard of Stevia until I joined this board. The sweet stevia herb has had a long, safe history of use as a food and medicine in South America and Asia, but in many Western countries it is illegal as a food or food additive but legal as a dietary supplement. It's easy to grow, wonderful as a sweetener, contains medicinal properties, is non-caloric, safe to cook with, and has great potential in agriculture. It's widely used in South America and Asia. So why isn't stevia a household name in the rest of the world? Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni is a herb native to Paraguay. It is also known as "honey yerba" and "honeyleaf" and by other variations of these names. The mature plant stands from around 65 centimetres (26 inches) to as tall as 180 cm (72 in) when cultivated or growing naturally in fertile soil. Historical records show that the leaves have been used for hundreds of years by the Guarani Indians, who named the plant caá-êhê. The main use was as a sweetener, particularly in their green tea, known as maté. It was also used in medicine or as a snack. Stevia's leaf is estimated to be 150 to 300 times sweeter than refined sugar. M. S. Bertoni, in the late 1800s, was the first European to document stevia. In 1931, French chemists extracted stevioside from the herb in the form of an intensely sweet, white crystalline compound. The herb was then considered for use as a sweetener during the food shortages experienced by Britain during World War II. However, interest waned when sugar again became available. Since this time, stevia has been used extensively in many Asian and South American countries, but the USA, Canada, Australia and Europe have not embraced the herb as a sweetener, opting either for sugar from readily available sugar cane or sugar beet, or for aspartame-based and other artificial sweeteners as a sugar substitute. A Success Record in Asia Stevia is widely used throughout the Asian region. It has been considered safe for use in food for many years. In fact, the situation is quite the reverse of that in the USA, Canada, Europe and Australia. Many artificial sweeteners such as aspartame are illegal in Asian countries because of safety concerns. Companies using substances like aspartame in the USA, etc., are using stevia in Asia. In Japan, companies like Sunkist and Nestlé use stevia as a sweetener. Coca-Cola uses stevia in Japan for its Diet Coke, as the herb is non-caloric. A combined Australian university/government report states that "Japan is by far the most advanced country in the use and understanding of Stevia in its application in the food and pharmaceutical industries". At present, the stevia industry in Japan is endeavouring to obtain Codex Alimentarius approval of steviosides. Interestingly, there have been no unfavourable health reports regarding stevia in Japan in the past 30 years. China has been using stevia since 1985. Shanghai City's Director of the Health Supervisory Institute was quoted in the Shanghai Star as saying, "over the past 17 years there hasn't been any documented case of the sweetener causing ill effects". Stevia's Positive Health Effects Studies have found some positive effects and possible medical uses of stevia. A University of Illinois, College of Dentistry paper, published in 1992, found that stevioside, though an intense natural sweetener, is not cariogenic, according to their data. A Japanese study from Nihon University, published in late 2002, revealed that the use of stevioside on skin tumours in mice inhibited the promoting effect of chemically induced inflammation. Taiwanese studies showed the possibility of stevia's use for blood pressure regulation. A study undertaken on rats at Taipei Medical University, and published in 2002, showed that stevioside lowered blood pressure. The other study, published in 2000, was undertaken on humans by Taipei Medical College and concluded that "oral stevioside is a well-tolerated and effective modality that may be considered as an alternative or supplementary therapy for patients with hypertension". Natural therapists have been using stevia for many years to regulate blood sugar levels. The herb can be taken in droplet form with meals, bringing blood glucose levels to "near normal". Users of stevia have also reported lower incidence of colds and flu. The herb can aid in weight loss by reducing appetite and can be used to suppress tobacco and alcohol cravings. Stevia leaf also contains various vitamins and minerals including vitamins A and C, zinc, rutin, magnesium and iron. Stevia has been used in South America for years as a treatment for diabetes. It has also been suggested that it can aid people to get off insulin. It has been used topically on skin cancers and to treat candidiasis. It can be applied to enhance the skin's appearance or to heal acne and other blemishes and skin disorders including dermatitis, eczema and seborrhoea. Stevia can be used to heal cuts and scratches quickly and without scarring. Brian Morley is a natural therapist with a biochemistry background, working in Brisbane, Australia. Morley uses stevia on patients as he says it "assists the liver in controlling blood sugar levels in the body". He says that refined sugar has a negative effect on the liver and can cause chronic fatigue and immune deficiency syndrome. Combined with bilberry, stevia can also aid sugar cravings. Morley uses stevia in a "nectar form" that has been vacuum distilled, nitrogen dried and crystallised so as not to destroy any goodness. Stevia's Uses in Food Preparation Stevioside is suitable for cooking purposes as it is heat stable, unlike artificial sweeteners such as aspartame. However, it is unsuitable for certain confectionary such as fudge or icing as it lacks bulk. Stevioside is not legal in Canada, and the only legal way of obtaining stevia is by purchasing it as a herb. In Australia and New Zealand, the situation according to Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is that stevia leaf may be sold as a food. However, extractable components of the plant, such as stevioside, are not legal. The Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) was set up by the Australian government "to work closely with Australian rural industries on the organisation and funding of their R&D needs". Professor David Midmore and Andrew Rank put together a report for RIRDC in 2002 on the possibility of "A new rural industry--Stevia--to replace imported chemical sweeteners". The study was jointly funded by RIRDC and Central Queensland University. The report refers to Canadian researchers' findings that 50 hectares of stevia could produce sweetener equivalent to one million dollars' worth of sugar. This "in Australia would require 240 hectares of cane to grow, i.e., productivity in terms of sweetness equivalent per hectare is high". It notes it will be necessary to "develop production and processing practices that result in acceptable financial returns to growers" yet a competitively priced end-product. Environmental considerations are also positive in regard to stevia as an industry in a dry continent like Australia. Primary producers could benefit because the crop would offer "greater diversification opportunity and returns per megalitre of irrigation water". Insects do not appear to be of concern to stevia. There are some possible diseases "which do not appear to be a major problem", according to the report, and "spraying for control is sometimes undertaken". David Midmore says that Australia is ready for stevia. "The time is right for large-scale production, provided we can ensure that production practices are suitable (e.g., mechanical harvesting) and that it will be grown in the correct locations (weather-wise)." According to the report, it is expected that "consumer demand for natural sweeteners will escalate" as Australians become more health conscious and as "the incidence of diabetes in Australia and abroad" grows. It is also suggested that stevia could be marketed "in conjunction with sugar" to produce low-calorie products. A Sweet Future for Stevia Stevia has had a long history of use as a natural sweetener and a medicinal aid. It is heat stable, non-caloric and can be used by diabetics. However, the US FDA has had a questionable relationship with the herb, and issues have been raised over the safety of the stevioside extract. Yet, no adverse health effects have ever been reported or documented, including in Asia where the herb is used extensively as a sweetener. Stevia shows great potential for the future, in agriculture and as a food.