Jim May, The Stevia Story
James A. May is the founder, President and CEO of Wisdom Natural Brand, producer of SweetLeaf brand products and Wisdom of the Ancients herbal teas. Originally learning from the natives of Paraguay, he is now a recognized authority on several South American herbs. Jim introduced stevia, Yerba Maté and other health-conscious herbal products to the U.S. in 1982 and is considered one of the world’s foremost authorities on these herbs. SweetLeaf brand stevia products are the clear category leader in the U.S. Jim previously held positions as Vice President of United Healthcare Association (UHA), Inc. and President of the United Dialysis Services (UDS), Inc. Jim has participated in numerous professional organizations and activities, including Director of the Artificial Organs and Transplant program at Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix, Executive Director and member of the Board of Directors of the Arizona Kidney Foundation and consultant to the Chief of the government’s End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) program in Washington, D.C.
Since 2009, It’s All About Food, has been bringing you the best in up-to-date news regarding food and our food system. Hosted by Caryn Hartglass, a vegan since 1988, the program includes in-depth interviews with medical doctors; nutritionists; dieticians; cook book authors; athletes; environmental, animals and health activists; farmers; food manufacturers; lawyers; food scientists and more. Learn about how we can solve many of the world’s problems today and do it deliciously, here on It’s All About Food.
Today I’m really looking forward to talking with our guest, Jim May—he’s the founder and president of SweetLeaf stevia sweetener, and originally learning from the natives of Paraguay, he is now a recognized authority on several South American herbs. He introduced stevia, yerba maté, and other health-conscious herbal products to the US in 1982 and is considered one of the world’s foremost authorities on these herbs. SweetLeaf brand stevia products are the clear category leader in the US, and he has previously held positions as vice president of United Healthcare Association and president of the United Dialysis Services. Jim has participated in numerous professional organizations and activities, including Director of the Artificial Organs and Transplant Program at Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix, Executive Director and Member of the Board of Directors of the Arizona Kidney Foundation, and consultant to the chief of the government’s End-Stage Renal Disease Program in Washington, D.C. Jim, welcome.
Jim May: Well, thank you. I’m delighted to be on your program. I’m not sure where you got all that information—it’s all correct, but I don’t know where you got it all! [Laughter]
Caryn Hartglass: I got it from the SweetLeaf stevia website.
Jim May: Oh, really? I better go look and see what they’re saying about me.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, sure. They’ve got a great page on you, and I recommend people going to www.sweetleaf.com. Lots of great information there, especially information on Jim or James A. May. Okay, so I have a feeling you have a lot of wonderful stories involved because—to tell us today. Stevia has had an interesting history here in the United States—almost like a conspiracy problem in the beginning trying to get it approved in this country.
Jim May: Well, you’re absolutely correct. It is much like a conspiracy story.
Caryn Hartglass: Tell us how you discovered stevia.
Jim May: Well, I was first introduced to stevia—and I will always be saying stevia; that’s really the correct pronunciation. It was named after Peter James Esteve, who was a Spanish botanist who died in 1566, who was highly respected by the man in Paraguay who really started promoting stevia back in 1899. And we can come back to that, but I was introduced to it through a Peace Corps worker who had returned from Paraguay to the United States, and a mutual friend introduced us. Originally, he was making what I thought were absolutely absurd claims about a group of three rainforest herbs that the Guarani people would blend together and make a tea, which he claimed would cure—quote-unquote—colds and flu in one day, and you know, that just sounded absurd after 15 years in the medical industry. I said, “No, no—that’s not possible.” Turns out he’s right—it does work. It’s something I’ve used for 28 years. We do market it under the brand name Symfre. But interestingly, one of the herbs was stevia, which I didn’t know for quite some time. But anyway, I wouldn’t listen to him on this cold and flu cure, so finally he opened his briefcase and pulled out some little green leaves, and he and our mutual friend put them in their mouths and offered me one, and I said, “No, no, no, I’m not putting leaves from Paraguay in my mouth—I don’t know what those are!” Anyway, they coaxed and coaxed and finally got me to just put one to my lip, and it was sweet and delicious, and so I finally put it in my mouth. The longer I held it in my mouth, the sweeter it became. It was just wonderful and freshens the breath. So I got interested in it. Once he had me I guess hooked, he pulls some science out of his briefcase—he had gathered data from Japan—and interestingly, by 1982, Japan—the Ministry of Health had already approved it as a sweetener in the mid-70s. It was in 40%—or let me rephrase that—it enjoyed a 40% share of the sweetener market in the commercial industry in Japan. It was in everything.
Caryn Hartglass: In the 1970s?
Jim May: Yes, and this is of course ’82 when I read the data, I thought, goodness, this is incredible! That night, I gave him a check for our life savings to go back to Paraguay and send me stevia leaves. I was so naïve—I thought, surely I can find some wealthy individual or a company that can see the vision of what this has potentially. But I was 15 years too soon. My wife was not thrilled when I told her she couldn’t write any checks, as we had no money left. But anyway, that was the beginning of my love affair with stevia, and stevia is just wonderful.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I’m glad you told me how to pronounce it, and I will never say stevia again.
Jim May: Many people do, you know—it’s like to-may-to, to-mah-to, po-tay-to, po-tah-to. We all know what we’re talking about.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. Okay, so here’s, so first, people understand that this is a product that’s a natural sweetener—it has no calories?
Jim May: That’s correct. Stevia has no calories. Glycemic index is zero. No carbs, but the leaves themselves contain a hundred nutrients. They’re extraordinarily beneficial to the human body.
Caryn Hartglass: So it’s sounds like this ideal crazy wonderful product, and yet—so let’s get to the next part of the story. You tried to introduce it in the United States, and what happened?
Jim May: The first thing I did was I went to the regional office of the FDA and told them that I wanted to bring stevia to the United States—this is after I’d been to Paraguay, and I did learn more about it. And anyway, they said, “Well, Mr. May. We know all about stevia. It’s perfectly safe. You have no problems. Go ahead.” And so I began bringing it in, in its leaf form and made products that were just pure stevia leaf and tea bags that I blended into with the yerba maté that I also introduced to America in 1982 and some other healing tea products under our Wisdom of the Ancients brand name and began marketing them. And I also was marketing a stevia extract, which is made simply by cooking stevia leaves in water, and so you get all the nutrients—the water is a little thick, has a licorice sweet taste to it. Anyway, the FDA felt that was just fine. Then a little later, Vegetarian Times, a magazine, wrote a little article about me—two paragraphs—in bringing stevia to the United States and the success I was having. Well, by that time, Donald Rumsfeld, who had expected to be Reagan’s choice for vice president of the United States but had been denied that position, had been appointed president of G.D. Searle Company, a drug company that had invented aspartame in 1965.
Caryn Hartglass: Boo!
Jim May: Oh, yes, yes—had been trying to get it approved as a sweetener from ’65 to about 1980, had failed. The then-commissioner of the FDA would not allow it. The Senate was actually holding hearings on the harm of it and how it caused brain tumors and all kinds of things. Rumsfeld was given the assignment to use his political influence and get it approved. Well, he had just done that, and here I come with stevia. Now Rumsfeld knew what stevia was doing in Japan, so he sent his entire staff of lawyers to the FDA demanding that James May be stopped from bringing stevia into America and that stevia be banned, and so that’s what happened.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s fascinating.
Jim May: It is a fascinating story. It was a trying time, I’ll tell you, but I did figure out ways that I could legally continue to market stevia as an ingredient in my various herbal teas, and I discovered that the FDA didn’t care if stevia was used for skin care, so I changed the label on this concentrate. And by the way, stevia is wonderful for skin care. I’d learned about that from the Guarani Indian people and had had some experience with it and simply sold it for skin-care properties, and somewhere along the line, if I’d give lectures and so forth, somebody would say, well, can it be taken internally? And I’d say no, not if you live in the United States. However, if you lived in Japan, or if you lived in Paraguay or Brazil or Argentina, or you know—named the countries where is was fine—then you could take it internally, but in the United States, the FDA doesn’t allow it.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s really interesting to hear about how Donald Rumsfeld has done one more evil thing to all of us.
Jim May: Yes, that’s right.
Caryn Hartglass: He certainly has a lot of power and changed our lives for the worse in so many ways when he was involved in the Bush administration.
Jim May: Yeah, that’s true.
Caryn Hartglass: But I don’t think many people know that he was involved in this, and who knows what else he was involved with. It’s kind of scary.
Jim May: I guess that’s the truth. Anyway, what I did then was continue to sell the concentrate for skin care and the leaves and so forth, which nobody really cared about. Then of course in ’91, the FDA gave a total ban on stevia. See, it simply didn’t do anything about these—
Caryn Hartglass: Based on what?
Jim May: Rumsfeld not wanting it in the United States.
Caryn Hartglass: But what did they say, what did they use as a reason?
Jim May: Just that there was not enough science to determine that it was safe, and the reality is that there were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of documents. In fact, by 2000, the year 2000, there were more than a thousand published studies on the safety of stevia. Anyway, what I did in 1993, I went back to Washington. I’d just gotten fed up with it. I met with several congressmen, and I convinced them that this was not a safety issue; it was a restraint of trade. And these congressmen agreed with me. And they wrote letters to the FDA about it and got nasty letters back. And anyway, the next year, 1994, is when Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, which then allowed stevia to be sold as a dietary supplement. So we continued to sell stevia then as a dietary supplement, but of course the FDA forbade us to inform the consumer that it tasted sweet or that it would improve the flavor of other foods and beverages. Are you there?
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, sorry.
Jim May: Oh, okay.
Caryn Hartglass: You know, it happens sometimes, you hit the phone the wrong way, and everything is crazy, but I’m here.
Jim May: Oh, I heard a click and thought, well, maybe I got cut off. Anyway, we continued to market it as a dietary supplement and other companies then began to market stevia products as dietary supplements. Then the next thing I did was in 2007, the FDA had changed their regulations, and they were so swamped with what’s called GRAS approvals, which is generally recognized as safe, that they made a new regulation that a large company could have their own staff of scientists do the research and submit data to the FDA declaring a product to be safe. Or a small company like myself could hire outside scientists to do all the research, and then if they determined the product was safe according to strict scientific rules and research, then you could have what’s called a self-affirmed GRAS statement. So I hired two separate groups of scientists who—what they did is determine GRAS status for the FDA, and they both did the research. It took a year for both of them to complete their research and how we by then were making our stevia extract with using nothing but purified water—no chemicals, no alcohols, no methanol, no ethanol, which everyone else uses. So when they saw all this data, on March 5, 2008, I received the documents that SweetLeaf stevia was GRAS. And so we could change all of our boxes and so forth, and we entered the market then in June as the first legal stevia sweetener to be marketed in the United States.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow.
Jim May: So since then, of course, it’s just been a battle because as you know Cargill has come out to compete with us with their Truvia product and Merisant with their PureVia product. What’s fascinating is their products only have less than 1% of stevia in them; the rest is other sweeteners.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. Oh, gosh.
Jim May: But they have more money…
Caryn Hartglass: Of course, of course. It’s interesting. I remember reading about 80 pages of testimony for the aspartame approval, and I don’t think many people read this stuff. My sister is a lawyer, and she got a hold of them for me, and I was just amazed reading it about all the arguments against approving it, about all the health issues, especially with the dosage and with respect to children, which hadn’t been tested, and of course children today drink lots of diet soda and get much higher quantities than were talked about for adults.
Jim May: That’s correct.
Caryn Hartglass: And the smaller doses did not show very positive results, and so I was—one of these things where I’m pulling my hair out while I’m reading this because I had already known, this was years later that the product had been approved and was in everything. So we talk about that here and hopefully those people that want to know the truth and get educated will be listening and do the best for themselves and for their families.
Jim May: And they can find a lot of information on aspartame and its harmful effects. Of interest, just very, very quickly, aspartame was developed in 1965 by the G.D. Searle drug company to be a prescription-only drug. Then when the researcher happened to accidentally taste it, and it was sweet, that’s when they started trying to get it approved as a sweetener, so here you have a prescription-only drug that’s now in everything. It’s dangerous.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, and it is in everything. Yeah. Well, you know I often tell people that are using aspartame or other artificial sweeteners in their coffee or their tea, I always say use the sugar instead. Sugar is nowhere near as bad as aspartame. And of course they should also check out stevia, and I encourage people to do that. Okay, so now, let’s just talk for a moment, there has been some press that there are some dangers to stevia.
Jim May: Well, that’s only because the people who write the articles don’t bother to actually read the studies.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I’m familiar with that.
Jim May: They just quote each other. Virtually—there were some negative studies released in the early days back in the 60s and the 70s. They’ve all been refuted by independent scientific laboratories who say they cannot get the same results—negative results—when they duplicate the so-called study. It just doesn’t exist, but all these old things get quoted because the opponents to stevia want that information out. For instance, people are always saying, “Well, it’s a natural contraceptive.” Well, if this were a contraceptive, it would be filled by every drug company in the world. It just is not. What these two so-called scientists did—they had heard that there was a tribe of Indians in Paraguay called the Mato Grasso and that when the women would make a concoction with stevia leaves and drink it, that they would not be able to conceive for two months.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay…that sounds good to me. [Laughter]
Jim May: The whole thing is a myth. But anyway, one of these scientists then went to Paraguay and began searching for the Mato Grasso. Well, they couldn’t find them, and that’s because they never existed. It’s a myth. So anyway, because they couldn’t find them, the found that there was still a remote tribe of natives living in the rainforest in Argentina. They found this tribe did have a totally different plant that they made a liquid concoction from and drank it, but it was for a totally different purpose. So they decided to use their formulation. Well, they made it, and they fed it to the female rats for a period of six weeks. Then they allowed the male rats to come in with them. Only 25% of the female rats conceived, so they decide, oh, it’s a natural contraceptive. Well, in 2002 and 2003, I was writing a book on stevia, and I was studying all the negative research, and I read that, and I thought, that just doesn’t make sense. I’ve got to find out what it is because I had had several women work for me by then using stevia, and they all got pregnant from their husbands. Japan is not without population, where they’ve been using it for 40 years. So anyway, I followed their formulation to equal the amount of stevia they fed these rats; I had to use 15 tea bags. Now one tea bag will sweeten anywhere from two to six cups of liquid, depending on what it is. I’m sorry—I had to use 12 tea bags in one and one-fourth cup of water boiled for—so I had to boil these 15, 12 tea bags in one and a fourth cup of water for 15 minutes to get the concoction that they developed. Well, I did that, and I took a taste of it, and oh, it was awful! Awful!
Caryn Hartglass: Of course! [Laughter]
Jim May: And you know, just too strong, so I thought, I can’t drink this. Well, I went back and started, continued writing my back, and thought, no, I have to know. So I went in and drank it. And this was—to my body weight, compared with the body weight of rats. Oh Caryn, I was so sick. I mean, nauseous, pounding headache; I hurt everywhere—my eyes hurt, my throat hurt, my ears hurt. I know why those female rats didn’t conceive.
Caryn Hartglass: They didn’t feel good.
Jim May: Oh, no—it wasn’t just, “No thanks, headache.” They were sick. Well, they were fed this stuff as their only liquid for six weeks. I mean, those—I feel sorry for those poor rats.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.
Jim May: This thing had nothing to do with real science. And if you were a sixth-grade science teacher, and you had students turn in this, you’d flunk them because it’s not scientific.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, of course, even still, I’m always very wary of the results on animals compared to the results on humans because they don’t always correlate.
Jim May: No, they don’t, but also people don’t realize that scientists also are out there to be paid by whoever has employed them, and they make sure, often they make sure to come up with the results that the payer wants them to come up with. And you can always manipulate—
Caryn Hartglass: Which is a very, very sad statement—that’s a very sad statement, but it’s true.
Jim May: It is sad, but it’s true. So—
Caryn Hartglass: You want to believe that science equates to truth, but unfortunately, most experiments can be skewed.
Jim May: They really can be. Well, just look at the tobacco scientists who for years said about tobacco, “fine, it’s not harmful, it’s good for you, smoke!” And of course they knew—
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, doctors used to say that, too.
Jim May: Yep, that’s exactly right, so you don’t believe something simply because one study is published and makes a claim. It needs to be duplicated. Science means that you can follow the same procedure and get the same results every time. And that’s the scientific method. So, anyway, next question.
Caryn Hartglass: Next question. Stevia comes in liquid, and it comes as what forms; how can you use it?
Jim May: Well, in numerous forms. Of course, we’ve mentioned the leaves, and of course we have stevia tea, which is ground leaves in tea bags, which are wonderful. In fact, if a person has an upset stomach, you take one tea bag and eight or ten ounces of hot water and let it steep for a while and drink it, it really soothes the stomach. It’s wonderful. And that’s because stevia in all of its forms, the harmful bacteria love it because it’s so sweet, especially oral bacteria, the kind that causes upset stomachs when you eat bad food. They eat it, but they can’t digest it, and so they starve to death. It’s the wrong chain for their systems to be able to digest. But good bacteria can digest it just fine. So it’s an amazing leaf. Anyway so there’s that, there’s this concentrate I’ve talked about, which is wonderful both internally and topically on the skin. It’s wonderfully healing. Then what we have done, I had some scientists come to me in 2007 from South America who were experts in water extraction. Now up to this time, and with every other company, they do their extraction of the glycosides, which are these sweet components in the leaves, with various chemicals and methanol and ethanol. These gentlemen said we believe we can develop a process that uses nothing but purified water, will you work with us. So I—we have been working together now for three years, but by ’08, we knew we had the process, and that’s when I started really getting this approval as a sweetener. Anyway, we do our total extraction of these glycosides out of the leaf with nothing but purified water, and we end up with a sweetener that’s 300 times sweeter than sugar. It’s just a blend of several of these sweet glycosides, and it’s delicious. Too sweet for human consumption direct, and so what we’ve started doing, we of course blend that with inulin—and inulin is a natural, soluble fiber that is also a prebiotic, so inulin is the primary food supply of the good intestinal bacteria, which then nourish them. It improves your health and well-being. So we blend our stevia extract with inulin, and that’s what we sell in our little packets and also in little jars so people can just sprinkle it over their foods like they would sugar or anything else. And each of our little packets replaces two teaspoons of sugar, so in those forms, it’s easily available, delicious, and really good for you. And we also developed the liquid forms. With that, we simply took our extract, and we blend it in water, purified water, and it gives you a very delicious sweetener that you can use just drop by drop. Then we thought, what would that be like now if we added natural flavors? We tried vanilla and root beer and orange and grape and English toffee, and we now have 13 flavors that are just incredibly delicious. And young people absolutely love them, and the wonderful thing about this—everybody knows that soda pop is harmful, no matter what the manufacturers tell you, it’s harmful. We’ve had health-food stores do blind taste tests where they’ve taken our root-beer-flavored stevia and put it in seltzer water, blindfolding every customer that comes in, have them taste that and have them taste a real root beer, and they said that 100% of their customers select SweetLeaf stevia sweetener as the best-tasting root beer.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, that sounds like a great commercial.
Jim May: Well, it really is—the kids love it. They just can’t believe how good it tastes.
Caryn Hartglass: I want to talk about a lot more things, so stay with us, we’re going to take a quick break, and we’ll be right back. Thank you.
Jim May: Very good. You bet.
Hi I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. We’re here with Jim May who’s the founder of Sweetleaf Stevia. Jim?
Jim May: Yes, I’m here.
Caryn Hartglass: I’ve really been fascinated with the last half hour. I know that you’ve got a lot more interesting things to tell us. One of the things is this Stevia leaf came from the rain forest?
Jim: Let me go back to hundred of years. It was originally found on the edges of the rain forest in Paraguay by the Guarani Indians who were the original inhabitants of Paraguay. They began to use it to sweeten their yerba maté. Yerba maté is extraordinarily nutritious and good for the body but it’s bitter. But when you put stevia leaves in it, it just tastes wonderful. They have used that for centuries and also discovered that when they make this liquid concentrate just by cooking the leaves, it’s extraordinarily healing to the human body, internally and on the skin.
Caryn: What I want to say about discovering things around the rain forest is that there are probably hundreds of thousands more products that are in the rain forest that can be beneficial to us and yet day by day we’re plowing all of those magical, wonderful plant species away for very unfortunate reasons.
Jim: That’s exactly right. The rain forest is filled with healing plants.
Caryn: It’s like a magical Garden of Eden and all the sweetest trees of life are hidden there and are there for us to discover and we destroy them for so many unfortunate reasons to grow soybeans, to feed cattle, to feed people which is very damaging on the planet for so many reasons. Where is stevia… do you get it now from outside the United States? Is it ever grown in the United States?
Jim: There are experiments…people trying to grow it here. However our agriculture techniques are too expensive. It just costs too much here. Let me go back a little bit. Stevia, of course, was found in Paraguay. It became more and more popular among the people over the centuries and by the 1500’s and the 1600’s it had been taken into Brazil and Argentina and other countries where all of the natives began to use it. During World War II, you’re not old enough to remember, but I was alive and I remember, you couldn’t get sugar, you just couldn’t get it. So our government and the government in Great Britain were experimenting with Stevia as a sugar substitute…back in the 40’s. Of course the war ended so our two governments went back to subsidizing sugar cane and sugar beets. Japan was a 100% importer of sugar. They saw Stevia as an entirely new industry for them. They sent scientists and farmers to Paraguay to learn about Stevia, to learn how to grow it. Then they began bringing it to Japan and growing it in greenhouses. They immediately started working with it and they did their own research. The Japanese Ministry of Health approved it as a sweetener. By the 70’s, it’s approved in Japan and they’re using it. It became so popular as a commercial sweetener that they couldn’t grow it fast enough. They didn’t have enough land area. So they took it to China. The Chinese began growing stevia. The Chinese government also saw it as a new industry, a way to make money. This was when the Communist Chinese government began to toy with capitalism. The communist government subsidized the farmers and helped them to grow stevia, subsidized industrialists develop extraction factories in China. Right now 80% of the world’s stevia comes from China. The problem, the government there did though only allow a family to grow 1/15th of a hectare. That’s a tiny amount. For instance the company that produces the stevia that is currently being marketed as Pure Via has to deal with 100,000 farming families to pick the leaves. Now can you imagine the problems in ensuring quality? But China produces it. Of course they subsidize many industrialists. So most of the stevia today comes from China. However they use the old technology of various solvents, chemicals, alcohols, methanol and ethynol in doing the extraction techniques. We’re the only company today that has this revolutionary new technique of using nothing but purified water and filtration. These scientists came to me and presented to me in 2007 and we’ve developed. That is the future of stevia. I think in time all manufacturers will go to it because the quality is so much better and it’s so much more pure and tastes better. We get our stevia from farmers in South America and numerous small farmers are beginning to grow stevia. We’ve worked with farmers in Colombia who previously grew drug-producing plants. They’ve switched to stevia and they can make more money with stevia because, for instance, in Colombia they can get 6 or 7 harvests a year because of the climate, the temperature. They’re making more money and they say their families are now safe. They don’t have to fear the drug cartels.
Caryn: Now that’s a very, very sweet story, Jim.
Jim: Yes it is. I’ve believed since 1982 that stevia is the answer to helping to reduce the drug problem by giving these poor farmers a safe crop to grow that is in demand. I fought the FDA for years. They were not allowing stevia in the United States that would have helped reduce the drug problem.
Caryn: You know I always liked the concept of stevia. I never really pursued it that much but I am turning over a new leaf. I’m really going to push stevia on my circle.
Jim: Please do. Stevia can change the world. It can make life better for everybody from the farmer to the consumer. Imagine now stevia is the one sweetener that can and should be used by all diabetics. It will not harmfully affect them in any way.
Caryn: Do you think it can grow in Afghanistan?
Jim: I don’t know why it could not. It would have to have water, sprinkling or drip irrigation. I think our government should go in, pay the farmers for all of their poppies, burn the fields and then teach them how to grow stevia.
Caryn: Grow stevia.
Jim: Absolutely. The world is turning to stevia. It is the future sweetener.
Caryn: Boy that’s beautiful. I’m all worked up now.
Jim: Let’s hope your listeners get worked up. They’ll buy stevi. The store hopefully will be my Sweetleaf brand so that we can continue to work with the farmers and help them to grow stevia.
Caryn: Speaking of the listeners, if anyone has a question you can send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can pretty much do anything with Sweetleaf. I know people bake with it. This is a great thing especially for diabetics.
Jim: Absolutely. Even in its table-top sweetener form which we have in our packets and so forth, it will not in any way adversely affect diabetics. It just won’t affect them, their blood sugar or blood pressure. In its raw leaf forms and in its concentrate it really helps correct pancreatic problems. Stevia leaves contain most of the nutrients that have now been proven scientifically to be required by the pancreas for correct pancreatic function. So stevia is something that people just ought to add to their diet. You can take the leaves and crumble them or even our tea bags which are very finely crushed. I take them and open them up and sprinkle them over salads, or in soups or in anything you can think of. It’s just good for you. It gives them a wonderful flavor.
Caryn: It says in your bio you are responsible for bringing yerba maté to the United States.
Jim: Yes, that’s correct.
Caryn: Are you involved at all in selling yerba maté tea? Of yes, we sell yerba maté tea. A product we call Yerba Maté Royal which means it has stevia leaves in it. I’ve been selling that since 1982 in our brand Wisdom of the Ancients. We don’t sell it in a liquid form because I really think people need the herbs themselves. The leaves are the way you need to use it. Of course they’re dried and they’re crumbled and so forth and prepared so people can either use it in a tea bag form or in the loose form as I learned from the Guarani people. We also have it in an instant form where we’ve already made the tea and spray dried it so it dissolves instantly in hot water. In fact that’s what I’m drinking right now is the instant form.
Caryn: I love maté. I’ve had it awhile. I was introduced to it at some hotel up in Vermont who served it and I would get it with soy milk. I really enjoyed it. Then I started to see it more in the supermarkets. I was recently in Buenos Aires and very excited to see how it was served in the gourds and brought a few of those home to drink my maté in.
Jim: Did you bring a bombilla to sip it through, the gourd with the straw?
Caryn: Yes, I did. And it’s lovely to make it almost like a ceremony. I believe everything we eat should be done with kind of an artistic beautiful flare. So I love the idea that this particular tea should be served in these particular containers or cups or gourds. I got a couple that were carved out of wood and then a couple in the gourds with those—what do you call them?—the straws.
Jim: It’s called a bombilla. That’s the way I’ve started my day, every day, for the last 28 years, sipping yerba maté tea with stevia in it, Maté Royale, through a bombilla. I did it originally, when I first was introduced to it, 1982 in Paraguay it’s because it absolutely cleared up the horrible allergy that I had suffered with for 35 years before that. I was on every medicine known to science until that day and I’ve not required any now for 28 years. I just drink the yerba maté through the bombilla, nearly in the morning and it absolutely reverses the effects of the allergies. Gives you mental alertness, physical energy. There’ve been studies that it improves muscle strength, it improves endurance. Maté’s just really good for the human body.
Caryn: I understand that yerba maté is somewhat of a stimulant and some of that comes from caffeine and some of it comes from maybe some other components?
Jim: Most are from other components. Yerba maté leaves have 250 different nutrients in the leaves, 196 have been identified, we know what they are. There are still others we really don’t know what they are yet. There is a compound in yerba maté, there is some disagreement as to whether or not it’s actually caffeine. I don’t use caffeine. When I first started studying yerba maté I read some article that said it was high in caffeine, some that said it was low in caffeine, some that had zero caffeine. So I went to the director of the National Institute of Technology in Paraguay, comparable to our FDA, and asked him is there caffeine in yerba maté and he said no. He said we used to think that it is but we now know it’s slightly different so we’ve called it mateine. He said mateine has a chemical constituency very, very similar to caffeine except the molecular binding is different. So you don’t have the adverse effects of caffeine. You do get some stimulation, some energy and so forth but there’s no harmful effects. I used to promote that and advertise it but when maté became popular all my competitors want to talk about caffeine then it was too confusing. I just said ok, I just took that off. One of the things, and I’ve had numerous MDs call me and say thank you, now there’s something my caffeine sensitive patients can use with no harmful effects. There’s just no caffeine syndrome to using it.
Caryn: I’ve heard of caffeine, I’ve heard of theine, and now you’re telling me about mateine. It’s good to hear that it’s …
Jim: An interesting thing about yerba maté is it also contains caffeic acid. Caffeic acid is what is used to de-caffeinate coffee. So it may be that the herb itself reverses the effects of this chemical that is similar to caffeine.
Caryn: Well you know there’s lots of mixed information on coffee. People talk mostly about caffeine but what they don’t realize is there are so many other organic chemicals in coffee some of them already known carcinogens. It’s really a problematic beverage. The teas have been given a more positive turn on it because there’s so many anti-oxidants and positive things in tea but people keep being concerned about the caffeine, the caffeine, the caffeine but I still continue to enjoy tea and yerba maté and I’m glad to hear that there isn’t caffeine in it.
Jim: I’m convinced that it is not. I’ve just had too much experience in the last twenty years. I’m not a chemist, so I’m not doing those things…
Caryn: I am.
Jim: Oh, are you? OK.
Caryn: Yes, I am.
Jim: I’ve had so many MDs say, “thank you my patients can drink this and they do.” I’ve had people stand at trade shows and drink our Yerba Maté Royale. I had one guy drink six cups and then he asked me the caffeine question. I said, “Why do you ask?” He said, “I’m intensely allergic to it. I can’t let caffeine touch my lips.” I said, “Well you’ve been drinking maté and it doesn’t have caffeine.” I told him the story. Anyway, people don’t need to worry about it. One interesting thing about maté though—people who are addicted to coffee can switch to yerba maté tea and they will have no withdrawal symptoms from the coffee. After they get all the coffee stuff out of their system they don’t become addicted to yerba maté so they don’t have those problems.
Caryn: Ok, Jim this is like to good to be true kind of program.
Jim: Well, yerba maté and stevia are too good to be true but they really are true. They are just incredible.
Caryn: I don’t think I’ve had yerba maté with stevia. I usually use a little agave but I’m going to switch as of today. One of my favorite drinks is maté chocolatte where I add a little chocolate powder and some soy milk and I imagine with the stevia it’s a really yummy drink.
Jim: It would be. In fact, I’ll be happy to send you some Yerba Maté Royale so you can sip it through your bombilla. Maybe after you go off you can give me your address.
Caryn: I’ll do that. Thank you very much. Yerba maté I really love it. OK we just have a few more minutes left and you’re really a very special individual.
Jim: Well, thank you.
Caryn: You’ve introduced a number of wonderful products into the country but you’ve also done some other great work for the good of mankind. Where does all this inspiration come from, what motivates you?
Jim: I guess just helping people. In 1966 some MD friends came to me. They wanted me to get involved with them and help them introduce the dialysis and kidney transplant program–transplantation came later. I was one of the founders of the dialysis program in Arizona and got involved with that and helped develop that. Not the medical procedure but the ability of the doctors to be able to take care of the patients and to develop dialysis centers and so forth. So I did that for 15 years. In those days dialysis was just so hard on the patients and nobody got better. You just watch it and weep really. Then I was introduced to these herbs and I saw them healing people. We haven’t gotten into the conditions that yerba maté and stevia will actually heal in human beings but I saw it. I had doctors call me and sa, “What are these herbs you gave my patients. I’ve been trying to cure them for years and in 30 days on these herbs, they’re well.” It just became so exciting to really be doing something that benefitted people, made them healthier and happier, gave them energy, vitality. So that’s what motivated me.
Caryn: That’s pretty good. You’ve also been involved in organ transplants?
Jim: Yes because I was involved in the artificial organs program in Arizona, Good Samaritan Hospital in the years in the Kidney Foundation, I was involved in helping develop that transplant program, administratively. I was involved in that from the very beginning for kidney transplants.
Caryn: So right now are you mostly working with the stevia and yerba maté products? Do you have any other secret magic potions that you’re going to bring to us?
Jim: We have several products, yes. We have SymFree, symptom free, which is so good for colds and flu. Of course we’re not allowed to tell people that but the FDA is not allowing anyone who sells food or herbs or beverages to inform the consuming public as to their health benefits.
Jim: So I can’t do that. We have numerous herbal products that we sell under the Wisdom of the Ancients brand name that are just good.
Caryn: So we could find them in any health store pretty much?
Jim: Mostly or they can go on our website and buy them. I have really been working with stevia for the last several years because I thought it was a product that needed to be in the United States and the world. So we have focused on that and really haven’t done a lot with the herbs. We do have them. We market them as whole herbs not making liquid drinks out of them. So people can do it themselves and get the really full benefits.
Caryn: Can you talk a little more about how it’s good for the skin because I really wasn’t familiar with that?
Jim: It’s the stevia concentrate that’s just where you cook the leaves. Women who know about it will use it as a facial mask. Just take this thick, dark liquid. You rub it over your face. Leave it on for 30 to 60 minutes then they will feel the skin tightening. The skin will just tighten. It will diminish wrinkles. It will soften the skin from the first use. Over time, repeated uses, it really heals facial blemishes and problems. Teenagers could dab their acne outbreaks with it. It will help dry them and heal them. People have lip sores. You can put the concentrate on the sore. Of course many of them are caused by a virus that gets into the lip. The lip will absorb the stevia concentrate, the dark liquid, and the virus will eat it and die. Stevia kills many viruses and harmful bacteria so it will heal much faster. The only thing I’ve used on any cut that I’ve had on my body for the last 28 years is this concentrate. Just put it in, it stings like iodine for about 45 seconds, then anesthetizes the wound. It seals it closed. It sterilizes it so the bacteria eats the glycosides [and die and it will heal from the inside up instead of outside down, in about a third of the time and there will never be a scar.
Caryn: Now what is this product called, it’s a dark liquid, what do you call it?
Jim: It’s stevia concentrate. Obviously I prefer our brand but there are others. Most people do their extraction with alcohol, that’s not…
Caryn: We don’t like that. What’s your brand called?
Jim: Wisdom of the Ancients
Caryn: You’ve mentioned that.
Jim: And Sweetleaf.
Caryn: I’m definitely going to run out and try that.
Jim: You’d be surprised. It’s just incredibly healing.
Caryn: Well I really believe that all the secrets for a long and happy, healthy life are out there in nature. Even though I have a background in chemical engineering I really believe it’s all been created and we don’t have to really synthesize anything.
Jim: I agree with you. I’ve come to firmly believe and understand that God created the cure for everything.
Caryn: Yeah, it’s all there.
Jim: We just need to have the good sense to learn how to use it.
Caryn: Find it and before we destroy it.
Caryn: Jim, it’s been really delightful talking today. I’ve learned so much. I’m very inspired. I’m going to run to the health food store in a little while. I’m going to now enjoy my yerba maté chocolatte with stevia.
Jim: Great! I’ve been delighted to be with you on your radio program. I’d like to do it again, any time that you would like.
Caryn: Yes, I would like to hear more stories. So please go to sweetleaf.com and learn more about Jim May’s wonderful products. Thanks for joining me. I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’ve been listening to It’s All About Food.
Transcribed by Kris McCoy 3/10/2016 and Suzanne Kelly 3/18/2016