The genus Stevia consists of 240 species of plants native to South America, Central America, and Mexico, with several species found as far north as Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.Human use of the sweet species S. rebaudiana originated in South America. The leaves of the stevia plant have 30–45 times the sweetness of sucrose (ordinary table sugar). The leaves can be eaten fresh, or put in teas and foods.
For centuries botanists were unable to reproduce and ship the plant, which is native to the Pacific Islands. But a team of researchers led by Diane Ragone of the Breadfruit Institute at the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Kauai, Hawaii, has discovered how to propagate it en masse to ship to regions in Central America and Africa where it would grow best (and where hunger rates are highest). Now Ragone has 40 requests from governments, NGOs, nonprofits, and farmers across the globe to integrate the fruit.