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Stevia rebaudiana is an herbaceous perennial shrub in the family Asteraceae (the composite, or daisy, family) that is native to northeastern Paraguay and adjacent Brazil and Argentina--although it is now grown far more widely as a source of the extremely sweet glycoside compounds derived from its leaves as an alternative low-calorie sweetener that is several hundred times sweeter than sucrose. A range of claims have been made for health benefits from ingestion of stevia extracts, which also reportedly have antibacterial and anti-fungal activity.
The main producers of stevia are Japan, China, Taiwan, Thailand, Korea, Brazil, Malaysia, and Paraguay. Currently, stevia is consumed in Japan, Brazil, Korea, Israel, the United States, Argentina, China, Canada, Paraguay, and Indonesia. In its native state, Stevia rebaudiana grows on the edges of marshes or in grassland communities on soils with a shallow water table. The sweetening power of its leaves (and supposed medicinal properties) have long been known to the local Guaraní Indians and others (Lewis 1992). It is indigenous to the Rio Monday Valley of the Amambay moutain region at altitudes between 200 and 500 m. The climate in this area is semi-humid subtropical, with temperatures ranging from -6 to 43 C, with an average of 23 C, and annual rainfall ranging from 1500 to 1800 mm. In 1943, the first seeds were exported to the United Kingdom, but the plants were not successfully brought into cultivation. In 1968, Stevia rebaudiana was exported to Japan and from there awareness of and cultivation of the plant spread throughout the world. It has now been introduced to many countries, including Brazil, Korea, Mexico, the United States of America, Indonesia, Tanzania, Canada, and India. Individuals of this species are self-incompatible and probably insect-pollinated. This is a short-day plant that flowers from January to March in the southern hemisphere and from September to December in the northern hemisphere.
(Yadav et al. 2011 and references therein; Lemus-Mondaca et al. 2012 and references therein)