Also known as sweetleaf or sugarleaf, this plant is native to Central and South America and now cultivated in other parts of the world as a natural sweetener. The extract from stevia has up to 400 times the sweetness of sugar (depending on the quality of the plant) and contains no calories. Proponents feel it's ideal for people suffering from hypoglycemia and diabetes. Inhabitants of Central and South America have used it for centuries, and Japan has used it commercially as a sweetener for almost 30 years without issue. Nevertheless, it's banned as a food additive in a number of countries, including the United States, because of safety concerns. It can, however, be purchased at health food stores as a supplement and is available in liquid extract and powdered form and as fresh or dried leaves.
From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.