A healthy dose of sweetness

Sweet, perennial herb Stevia is a healthy alternative sweetener to sugar and used in tonics for diabetic patients. Sarvesh Barve has initiated the cultivation of Stevia at his ancestral farm near Valpoi, Goa to meet this growing need

Bharati Pawaskar / The Goan | FEBRUARY 09, 2013, 07:56 AM IST

Ice-creams, candies, chocolates, cookies, brownies, cakes,biscuits, juices and desserts… all have it in them – the sweetness of sugar.But some can’t enjoy these sweet delicacies even if they have a sweet tooth,especially, if they are diabetic or suffer from high cholesterol. Nature hasprovided mankind with so many wonderful plants, spices and herbs that havemedicinal qualities and can be used either to prevent illnesses or to curethem.

 The Stevia plant isone such sweet gift of Mother Nature. These leaves have anti-bacteria, anti-virus,anti-oxidant, anti-aging, anti-dandruff properties and are non-fermentable.They can be used in making low calorie food and beverages. Diabetic people cansafely consume the powder of the dried leaves of Stevia, as they work as anatural sweetener.

“For diabetic people, sugar obtained from Stevia isconsidered to be the best natural alternate source. But since Stevia sugar isnot easily available in India, the dry and green Stevia leaves can be powderedand used as a natural substitute to sugar. It is 25 times sweeter than canesugar and can safely replace artificial sweeteners,” says Sarvesh Barve,proprietor of Shree Pharming Corporation, Ponda, who cultivates Stevia at hisancestral farm near Valpoi since 2007 and supplies packets of dry green Stevialeaves to pharmacies and super stores.

“In Goa Rupa Prabhugaonkar was one of the farmers who hadcultivated Stevia at her farm in Canacona,” says Barve who had motivated andguided her. Since Stevia leaves have a growing demand in the local market Barvewishes to motivate other Goan farmers to cultivate Stevia commercially andcater to this demand. 

Barve along with the farmer priest Fr Inacio Almeida hadmade efforts to cultivate Jatropa plants for the production of bio-diesel in2004-05 and their efforts were lauded by the then President of India A P JAbdul Kalam. Fr Almeida visits different churches in Goa every Sunday topropagate agriculture and farming. There he also makes medicinal plants as wellas Stevia leaves available to people. 

Locally, the demand for Stevia has increased 30-40 per centduring the last 10 years. Barve has been dealing with Stevia for the past 10years and procuring the dry green leaves from Maharashtra and Karnataka. Hebegan cultivating five years ago, but due to lack of labour has restricted thecrop. “Stevia cultivation is an expensive activity and not within the reach ofnormal farmers. The crop has to be monitored. One can plant 40,000 plants in anacre of land. Since Goa has ample amount of sunlight and a humid climate alongwith the soil suitability collective farming of Stevia could be taken up bylocal farmers,” he feels. 

The leaves of Stevia contain sweetening compounds namelyStevioside, Rebaudiside-A, Rebaudiside-C, dulcoside and six other compounds,which have the insulin balancing properties. They activate the beta cells inpancreas of diabetic patients to secrete insulin naturally. The leaves arecool, refreshing and soft to taste. Pharmaceutical tests have proved thatStevia sugar has no toxicity, no carcinogens and no side-effects.

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