Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

stevia refers to a large genus of American plants. The name honors Petrus Jacobus Stevus (in Spanish, Pedro Jaime Esteve), a sixteenth-century professor of anatomy and medical botany at the University of Valencia. The word “stevia” was introduced in 1797 by Antonio José Cavanilles, a taxonomic botanist from Valencia who was one of the first Spanish scientists to use the Linnaean classification system.

Stevia rebaudiana is a species native to Paraguay, where it is known locally as ka’a he’hê and used for sweetening and medicinal purposes. Moisés Santiago Bertoni, a Swiss botanist of Italian descent who worked in Paraguay, learned about this plant from a local guide in 1887. He obtained leaves in 1899, and an actual plant soon thereafter, and named it in honor of Ovidio Rebaudi, a Paraguayan chemist who published the first analysis of its sweet constituent. Paraguayan farmers began growing Stevia rebaudiana around 1902. Cultivation later moved to the Far East, with China becoming the largest producer.