Yerba Mate

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A medicinal herbal drink rich in Antioxidants, Yerba Mate (pronounced "yerba mahtay") was introduced to the world by the Indian tribes of South America. A caffeinated drink, Yerba Mate derives its name from a Spanish word for herb and the Quechua for cup. Drinkers report numerous health benefits of this drink, and it has been popular in South America since ancient times. Spanish colonists adopted it, and Charles Darwin mentioned it in his book, The Voyage of the Beagle. Jesuits cultivated it extensively in Paraguay, which led to it being called "Jesuits' tea" and "Paraguay tea," among other things.

Yerba Mate comes from a native South American tree, Ilex Paraguariensis. This evergreen grows up to 20 meters high in the wild, but when cultivated is usually between 4-8 meters.

The Yerba is the leaves; dried and crushed to make a tea-like herb. The Uruguayan FDA designates and enforces labeling standards for Yerba Mate. A premium quality Yerba is one that has only leaves and no leaf stems.


[edit] Cultural and Historical Background

The Yerba Mate tradition originated with the Guarani Indians in remote parts of South America long before they were colonized by Spanish settlers. The natives would hand-carve gourds from the Lagenaria vulgaris trees and make an infusion of the crushed leaves with boiling water.

Yerba Mate has evolved into an actual art expressed in the extreme diversity in types of Mates and Bombillas. These range in style and price from hand carved, leather covered, as well as silver and gold plated mates. Many people express themselves with customized Mate gourds engraved with inscriptions, along with bombillas with their own initials.

Drinking Yerba Mate had grown to be a popular social habit to be shared with friends and family in South American countries. The Matero (Mate-maker) prepares and tastes the Mate. The Mate is then passed around foor for the entire group to share and enjoy. Some people prefer to prepare and drink from their own Mate, especially if they add other medicinal herbs to their infusion.

Part of the new, more informal way of life in Uruguay includes having people drinking Mate while on work or during play.

Mate drinking is now being introduced to North America and the rest of the modern world.

[edit] Did You Know?

  • In Buenos Aires, where people carry their Mate with them throughout the day, the site of an obese person is rare.
  • n Argentina and Brazil, fellow gouchos or farmers, knit together by the work of taming a wild land, will share a Mate around the camp fire to enhance their bonds of companionship.
  • In Buenos Aires it's common to find a close-knit family or two lovers, or two or three best friends sharing a Mate on an outing to a local park or beach.

[edit] How to Drink it

In general, Yerba Mate is enjoyed in the morning or in the afternoon between meals. The Matero carries his gourd (Mate) containing the Yerba and the Bombilla in one hand, with a thermos of lukewarm water under his arm.

To drink Mate the traditional way, a Mate Gourd and a Bombilla filter straw (which filters leaves out of the Mate drink) is needed. The method of preparation is as follows –

Fill the mate gourd to two-thirds full with Yerba Mate.

Push the Yerba Mate to one side of the gourd, leaving empty space on the other side.

Add a little cold water into the hollow area created, so little that the top of the Yerba Mate pile should not look moist.

Leave the mate gourd tilted for a few minutes until the Yerba Mate has absorbed the water.

Cover the mouth of the Bombilla, insert the filtered end to the bottom of the Mate gourd in the hollow area. Add hot (150 degrees F) water to the hollow area until it reaches just below the top of the Yerba Mate.

The mate is ready to drink. Repeated infusions will yield weaker decoctions. One may add sugar or honey to sweeten the Yerba as the Argentineans do, or drink it pure as is the custom in Uruguay.

Mate may also be prepared in a regular coffee maker -- simply place two ounces of dry Yerba Mate in a coffee filter and brew like coffee. Do not overfill, as the Yerba Mate expands rapidly and the filter will overflow.

To read about the experience of a first time Mate drinker, read What Yerba Mate Tastes like

[edit] Health Benefits

Image:Yerba mate graph.jpg

Mate drinkers report feelings of well being, sustained energy, appetite control, mental clarity, and allergy and asthma relief. Yerba Mate contains the following compounds –

  • Caffeine, a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant, having the effect of warding off drowsiness and restoring alertness.
  • Theophylline, a compound often used to treat respiratory diseases. It relaxes bronchial smooth muscle, and can increase blood pressure and renal blood flow.
  • Theobromine, the primary alkaloid found in cocoa and Chocolate. It is a mood-elevator, diuretic, vasodilator, and myocardial stimulant.

To see how Yerba Mate compares with other super foods in Antioxidant activity and caffeine content, go to Yerba Mate Health To learn more about its bio-chemical components, go to Composition of Mate

[edit] Possible ill-effects of Yerba Mate

There is considerable doubt over the effects of long term usage of yerba Mate. It contains 4-16% tannins, possibly carcinogenic and toxic for the liver.

Some research shows that Yerba Mate is addictive. Regular users of Mate may get irritable, anxious, dizzy or exhibit other signs of withdrawal when they stop taking Mate.

Since Mate contains a considerable amount of caffeine, it also has all its possible ill-effects like insomnia, nervousness, restlessness, stomach upset, nausea and vomiting, irregular heartbeat, and increased blood pressure.

Yerba Mate can increase the side effects of many medications and supplements including asthma medications, caffeine compounds, certain antibiotics (Cipro, Levaquin, and others), ephedrine and/or cold medications containing decongestants, estrogen, insulin and oral hypoglycemics (glipizide, metformin, and others), lithium, migraine medicines containing ergotamines, oral contraceptives and many other drugs.

Yerba Mate decreases the side effects of sleep or anxiety medications (Valium, Ativan, Klonipin, Restoril, Serax and others). (For more details, visit Yerba Mate Factsheet)

[edit] The Bottomline of Yerba Mate

Children and pregnant or breastfeeding women should not use Yerba Mate. Neither should people with depression/anxiety disorders, heart conditions, hypertension, kidney disease, and ulcers.

Before consuming Yerba Mate with any over-the-counter medication, herb/supplement, or prescription medication, talk with your healthcare provider, a registered dietitian or a chemist.

[edit] References

  • Yerba Mate
  • Yerba Mate's Health Benefits
  • The Mate Culture

Photographs reproduced with permission from Nativa Yerba Mate

--Geetanjalikrishna 03:48, 21 August 2007 (EDT)