Stevia is a perennial herb that can be used as an alternative to table sugar. Other names for stevia are sugar leaf, honey leaf, and sweet leaf. The leaves of the stevia plant are sweeter than sugar, and they are a zero-calorie sweetener source. It has miraculous benefits in the treatment of diseases like diabetes, blood pressure, weight control, etc. Stevia growing is rapidly increasing in India. “Meethi Patti” or “Meethi Tulsi” are other names for it in India. This is because of its uncanny resemblance to tulsi leaf shape, taste, and other physical qualities.
The origin of the stevia plant
The scientific name for the stevia plant is Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni. It’s an Asteraceae (aster) family perennial herb. It is known as the Paraguayan sweet herb and is native to South America. It has diterpene steviol glycosides (SGs), which are sweet in taste and low-calorie compounds.
High Yielding Improved Varieties of Stevia Plant in India
Stevia growing has several varieties, each with its own processing method and ingredients.
Stevia plants have 2 main varieties in India that are designed for low maintenance and high productivity. These varieties are best suited to Indian climatic conditions and soils. MDS-13 and MDS-14 are improved stevia varieties designed for high temperatures and dry season/low rainfall environments.
Sowing Season of Stevia
The Stevia growing season is from February to March each year.
The soil condition
Stevia grows best in direct sunlight. Stevia plants love to grow in full sun. It flourishes in semi-humid areas with acidic, well-drained soil as well as hot temperatures. It may be cultivated in a vast range of soil types, but it provides better results when planted in sandy to loamy soil with a well-draining system and a high organic content. Stevia does not grow well in salty soils since it is detrimental to its growth. A pH of 6.0 to 7.5 is ideal for the optimum development of the stevia plant.
Land Preparation for Plantation
The farmer should plow his area at least 2-3 times before planting stevia to bring the soil to a fine soil structure. He should combine Trichoderma with the soil during the first plowing and farmyard manure (FYM) with the soil during the last plowing.
Spacing in Plantations
Stevia is planted in raised beds. The height and width of raised beds should be 12 to 15 cm and 50 to 60 cm, respectively. Row spacing should be 40 to 45 cm, and plant spacing should be 30 cm. Stevia plant thickness is estimated to be 20,000 to 25,000 plants per acre of land based on this count.
Removing weeds by hand is the most popular method of weeding a field. Following one month of planting, weeding is performed, and subsequent weeding is performed at regular intervals.
Watering is the most important aspect of growing stevia ; water is applied to the plants by sprinklers or drip irrigation. Because the plant does not demand water in abundance, the light water system is provided at appropriate intervals. Water should be applied every 8 days throughout the summer. Overwatering the plants and allowing water to stagnate in the field will impair the crop.
Manures used in Stevia Farming
Nitrogen-free fertilizers and manures work well on the stevia crop. Because of the gradual release of nitrogen, organic manures are an excellent choice. Farmyard manure (FMY), vermicompost, and cow dung/urine will improve crop output.
Health benefits of Stevia
Stevia is well-known for its therapeutic qualities. Stevia leaf extracts have long been utilized as a medicinal plant in the traditional treatment of diabetes. When compared to sugar, using stevia before meals leads to much lower post-meal glucose and insulin levels. It is antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, antifungal, anti-diarrheal, immunomodulatory, antimicrobial, antihypertensive, and hypoglycemic.
Below are some of the great health benefits:
Stevia sweeteners are calorie-free and do not add any carbs. They also had no effect on blood glucose levels or insulin responsiveness. Thus, diabetics can eat a larger variety of foods without violating the diet instructions.
Overweight and obesity are caused by a variety of factors, including physical inactivity and an increase in the consumption of meals high in fat and added sugar.
Sugar consumption has been proven to provide an average of 16% of the total calories in the diet. This has been connected to weight gain and poor blood glucose management.
Stevia has no sugar and little, if any, calories. It can be included in a well-balanced diet to assist in lowering calorie consumption while maintaining flavor.
The compounds in stevia like kaempferol are shown to have effects on pancreatic cancer. Studies show that kaempferol reduces the risk of pancreatic cancer by 23%.
Some glycosides in stevia extract have the potential to dilate blood vessels. They may also cause an increase in salt excretion and urine production.
According to a 2003 study, Stevia may help decrease blood pressure. Thus, Stevia appears to have cardiotonic properties. Cardiotonic helps to maintain normal blood pressure and heart rate.
Stevia is a natural sweetener that has been linked to a variety of advantages, including decreased blood sugar levels. Stevia sweeteners include naturally occurring sweet components. Customers who like natural goods and beverages may profit even more from this.
Stevia has few harmful effects when used in moderation and can be an excellent alternative to processed sugar.