I grew up in a household where mom baked every Monday, making cookies, cakes, squares, all sorts of sweet goodies! So deliciously sweet that mom had to put a limit of 2 cookies for she didn't want us to get a stomach ache from eating too much at one time (easy to do when they are so tasty!)
Us kids would bike down to the neighborhood store to buy our penny candies (pure sugar), looking for bottles on the way to turn in so we could get more of those sweet delights! On weekends we would get a special treat of a bottle of soda pop (that was back in the day of single serving glass bottles) and a treat at the cottage was a chocolate bar that we would pick up when we went for a walk to the closest town.
Of course Halloween, Christmas and Easter bought some extra goodies but we didn't have all the sugars in our foods like you find today.
The US Department of Agriculture says that Americans have been increasing their intake of sugar every year from 1970 to the year 2000. Obesity is rampant and diabetes is on the rise. Folks were becoming more concerned and started looking for alternatives to the no nutrient, high calories, sugar.
It was about this time that my husband found he was putting on a lot of weight as he had been working away from home and eating camp food.
It was time for a change!
We were going to clean up our diet taking out the white sugars, white flour basically all the more refined and processed foods. We wanted to only eat good high quality foods and because it was more expensive we wanted to prepare our bodies so we could be in better shape to take up the nutrients from these foods - in comes the candida cleanse, eliminating a lot of foods then gradually bringing back in the good healthy foods.
After this two month cleanse and with our new diet, we were feeling much better. My husband lost the extra weight he was carrying and I lost my cravings for sweets. I had a terrible sweet tooth and this seemed to have cured my sugar addiction!
We now used alternative sweeteners like honey (we had a local apiary that provided it), maple syrup, stevia plus some dried fruits like dates.
I got myself a stevia plant for it is fairly easy to grow and I like the idea of being able to produce my own sweetener and stevia seems to be an exceptional natural plant-based sugar substitute! I loved giving folks (especially kids) a leaf to chew on saying it is 30 times more sweeter than sugar! It is not know as "sweet leaf" for nothing!
Not only can I grow it at home but there were studies telling me it also had other health benefits like these I found at Nutrition and You
Health Benefits of Stevia
• Stevia herb parts are very low in calories. Parts by parts, its dry leaves possess roughly 40 times more sweetness than sugar. This sweetness quality in stevia is due to several glycoside compounds including stevioside, steviolbioside, rebaudiosides A-E, and dulcoside.
• Stevioside is a non-carbohydrate glycoside compound. Hence, it lacks the properties that sucrose and other carbohydrates possess. Stevia extracts, like rebaudioside-A, are found to be 300 times sweeter than sugar. Besides, being a near-zero calorie food ingredient, stevia extracts have several unique properties such as long shelf life, high-temperature tolerance, non-fermentative.
• Further, stevia plant has many sterols and antioxidant compounds like triterpenes, flavonoids, and tannins. Some of the flavonoid polyphenolic anti-oxidant phytochemicals present in stevia are kaempferol, quercetin, chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, isoquercitrin, iso-steviol, etc. Studies found that kaempferol can reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer by 23% (American Journal of Epidemiology) .
• Chlorgenic acid reduces the enzymatic conversion of glycogen to glucose in addition to decreasing absorption of glucose in the gut. Thus, it helps reduce blood sugar levels. Lab studies also confirm a reduction in blood glucose levels and an increase in the liver concentrations of glucose-6-phosphate, and of glycogen.
• Certain glycosides in stevia extract have been found to dilate blood vessels, increase sodium excretion, and urine output. In effect, stevia, at slightly higher doses than as sweetener, can help lower blood pressure.
• Being a non-carbohydrate sweetener, stevia would not favor the growth of Streptococcus mutans bacteria in the mouth which is attributed to be a causative agent of dental caries and tooth cavities. On the other hand, certain compounds in stevia rather found to inhibit caries-causing bacteria in the mouth.
• Further, being a herb, stevia contains many vitals minerals, vitamins that are selectively absent in the artificial sweeteners.
Also it had been used as a traditional medicine for centuries by the native Guarani people of Paraguay for colic, stomach problems, burns and sometimes it was used as a contraceptive - Warning - to those trying to conceive you may want to look into this further!
My favorite way of using the stevia leaf was to put a couple of leaves in my herbal teas to sweeten them and get some of the health benefits!
Leaves on Stevia Plant
I had also bought a big jar of powdered stevia leaf (be careful to read the ingredients when purchasing stevia for it is getting harder to find the pure stevia leaf with out anything added) and started researching using stevia as a replacement for sugar in baking.
I found that about 3-4 teaspoons of the dried crushed stevia leaf would equal about 1 cup of refined sugar but you need to be careful when baking using stevia instead of sugar for it doesn't have the same properties as sugar. You may want to gradually substitute stevia into your recipes starting with only 50% as stevia.
Here's some conversions for you:
1 cup sugar = 1 tsp stevia powder or 1 tsp stevia extract
1 tbsp sugar = ¼ tsp stevia powder or 6-9 drops stevia extract
1 tsp sugar = a pinch of stevia powder or 2-4 drops stevia extract
You can adjusts these to your tastes.
Here's a good recipe using stevia -
7 to 8 cups chopped apples
3 tablespoons lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons powdered stevia leaf or 1/2 teaspoon powdered or clear liquid stevia extract
2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons natural peanut butter (optional)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup apple juice or blend
1 cup rolled oats
2/3 cup chopped nuts and seeds
1/4 teaspoon powdered or clear liquid stevia extract
3/4 teaspoon stevia concentrate
2 tablespoons oil
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a large, 9 x 13-inch baking dish.
In a large mixing bowl place your chopped apples and stir in the lemon juice. Then mix in the vanilla, stevia leaf or stevia extract, flour, peanut butter, cinnamon, and salt.
Pour the fruit juice into the bottom of the dish. Spoon in the apple mixture.
Mix all the topping ingredients in a separate bowl stirring in the oil. Spread the topping evenly over the apples.
Bake for 50 minutes to l hour. If the topping is browning before the apples are cooked cover the pan with foil for the last 15 minutes or so of baking.
Since I was growing stevia at home I wanted to learn how to make my own extracts and tinctures (save myself some money) and I also found out that you can make a stevia leaf tea to pull out the sweet compounds.
The Stevia Tea is made by putting a tablespoon of dried, lightly crushed stevia leaves (place these in a tea ball for easy removal) into a pint canning jar and cover with almost-boiling water Note: Do not boil the water! Steep the tea for 10 minutes then remove the stevia. Put on the lid and store in the refrigerator. Stores for about a week in the fridge.
To make the stronger Stevia Extract Bring 1 cup water almost to a boil then add 1/2 cup lightly crushed stevia leaves. Remove from heat and cover. Let steep 40 minutes. Strain with a coffee filter and store in a dark-colored container in the refrigerator. It will keep for about 1 to 2 weeks.
For the Stevia Tincture which is even stronger yet, use 100-proof vodka or rum and place 1/2 cup dried, lightly crushed stevia leaves into 3/4 cup of the alcohol in a glass jar that you can screw a lid on. Shake it up good and place in a cool, dark place. Shake twice a day for a couple of days then strain through a cheesecloth or something similar. Put the liquid into a saucepan and heat on low until steam begins to rise. Keep at this temperature for 20 to 30 minutes remembering not to boil. Cool the tincture and pour into a dark-colored container. Store in the refrigerator. Will keep up to 3 months.
Later on when my husband was having problem with putting on fat around his chest and abdomen (often a sign for problems in the heart - fat around chest and liver - fat around abdomen) we cut out almost all the sugars in our diet, adopting a ketogenic type diet. This is where stevia became our main sweetener.
I loved my cacao nibs in my smoothies (see a recipe for a Blueberry Chocolate Mint Smoothie in an article I did on mint here) and in my hot chocolate. I use to sweeten my cacao nibs with honey but since that was out I tried grinding some powdered stevia into the cacao nibs with the coffee grinder and it works wonderfully! I am quite content with my stevia sweetened drinks and dishes.
Stevia Sweetened Hot Chocolate
Grind a handful of cacao nibs along with a good pinch of stevia powder in a coffee grinder until it becomes almost a paste.
Place into a big cup along with 1 teaspoon MCT oil and about a tablespoon of whole cream or whipping cream (use coconut cream if vegan). Stir, mixing together. Add some boiled water to fill. Place in a blender to mix and froth it up. Pour back into cup and sprinkle with cinnamon. Enjoy!
Another hardy perennial herb I grow in my garden that can be used as a sugar replacement is Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata).
It has a sweet anise-like flavor. It supplies me with my no-sugar licorice candy! I simply just pick the green seeds, pop them in my mouth and chew. M-m-m! Yummy goodness!
It is the seeds that has the strongest licorice taste and is used as a sweetener and to flavor desserts and baked items.
Traditionally it is mainly the root that is used to replace sugar when cooking.
The leaves, stems, flowers and roots of sweet cicely are edible.
The young leaves can be used raw in salads, they go good with rhubarb, gooseberries and other fruit dishes or they can be used in stir fry, steamed like spinach or added to soups. The root can be eaten raw (it will freshen your breath) or boiled. They can be roasted and added to soups and stews too.
Sweet cicely is easy to dry to use in the winter months and retains it flavors nicely.
Medicinally, sweet cicely tea has been used for asthma and other breathing problems, digestion problems, and urinary tract disorders. It is also used as a “blood purifier” - a good combo for this is with rhubarb which is also a "blood purifier". The tea should be used in moderation for it has mild laxative properties.
Interesting tidbit from Knoji -
Bees love nectar from the flowers of aromatic herbs and aside from lemon balm, beekeepers traditionally rubbed sweet cicely inside bee hives to attract new colonies.
Once again I would like to thank @riverflows for initiating the Herb Medicine Challenge on behalf of @NaturalMedicine! A challenge sponsored by @Curie with a chance to win 40 STEEM! Details here This is my entry to the challenge.
All pictures taken with my Cannon PowerShot A495 except the top image was from Pixabay.
Grateful for the curation and support of @tribesteemup