Yerba Mate: The Extraordinary South American Rejuvanator

Introduced to modern South America by the Guarani Indians, Yerba Mate has been used for thousands of years as a cultural, medicinal, herbal drink for its healthy and energizing ingredients. Mate is the base for many household and common medicines, as well as a cultural phenomenon in South America.

“It is difficult to find a plant in any area of the world equal to Mate in nutritional value. It contains practically all the vitamins necessary to sustain life.” – Findings on Yerba Mate, from the Pasteur Institute, Paris, 1964.”

Legend has it that Pa’I Shume, a God who descended from the sky, showed the indigenous South American Guarani people how to find and use a sacred plant for health and medicine, saying “in this new beverage you will find healthy company even in the sad hours of the cruelest solitude.” The plant is known as Yerba Mate (say yerba mahtay), also called chimarrao, caa-mini, or caa-y, and is the national beverage of Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina. Mate drinking reaches coffee-like proportions and status in those countries, with nearly everyone enjoying the benefits, without the adverse effects and addictive qualities of modern day coffee. According to the book “Herbal Tonic Therapies,” author Daniel Mowrey, Ph.D., comments that Yerba Mate is as “whole body tonic that can promote balance in many body systems, even in large amounts, without over stimulating any organ or system.”

Introduced to modern South America by the Guarani Indians, Yerba Mate has been used for thousands of years as a cultural, medicinal, herbal drink for its healthy and energizing ingredients. Mate is the base for many household and common medicines, as well as a cultural phenomenon in South America. Often mate is sipped all day long from a gourd container with a special straw called a bombilla, which filters out the leafy material. Containing vitamins A, C, E, B1, B2, Niacin (B3), B5, fatty acids, chlorophyll, flavenols, polyphenols, trace minerals, amino acids, calcium, magnesium, iron, selenium, potassium, manganese, silicon and phosphorous, Yerba Mate is a natural source of nutrition par excellence, which boosts immunity, cleanses and detoxifies blood, tones nervous system, combats fatigue, stimulates the mind, controls the appetite, reduces stress, eliminates insomnia, balances blood sugar, fights allergies, and lowers cholesterol. Mate has many beneficial xanthines, or special chemical compounds, the best being mateine, which greatly encourages muscle relaxation. A cousin of caffeine, mateine does not cause the over-reactions of the body or induce insomnia; in fact, mateine does the opposite without any known side effects. In Western medicine, Yerba Mate is classified as an aromatic, stimulant, bitter, aperient (laxative), purgative, astringent, diuretic, sudorific (sweat inducing), and febrifuge (fever reducing).

Yerba Mate (Ilex paraguariensis) is an evergreen member of the holly family, which grows wild in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, and Brazil, but is most abundantly cultivated in Paraguay. The tasty brew is a natural stimulant devoid of toxic effects, and does not stress the adrenals in the way coffee does. Containing a nutritious array of 24 vitamins and minerals, as well as 15 amino acids, Yerba Mate is considered a “liquid vegetable” for the Gauchos, or Argentine cowboys. The Guarani and Guayaki people steep mate with other rainforest plants (stevia, maca, suma, p’au d’arco) to prepare herbal tonic mixtures. Yuyeras, or herbalists, sell yuyos (herbs) to make the remedies (remedies). Mate actually acts as a catalyst, enhancing the active ingredients in other herbs, while also helping the body to assimilate the beneficial constituents. Known as a potent dilator of the bronchials, mate works well for asthma. Che Guevara’s favorite drink was Yerba Mate as it eased the restrictive pains of his bad asthma condition.

Yerba Mate grows best in the shady, subtropical rainforest environment, so its cultivation can often encourage people to preserve the rainforest canopy, thus preserving lands for animals, birds, insects and other plants. Tender leaves and stems are picked for the mate tea, and generally naturally smoke-dried, then aged in cedar wood chambers for six months.

A symbol of hospitality, Yerba Mate is traditionally shared from a gourd to invite community. The host pours the hot water over the leaves and serves the cup, which goes around in a circle. A sign of intimate friendship and total acceptance, the age-old tradition is to share the same bombilla, or straw, as well as gourd of mate. Often served straight, mate can be sweetened with stevia for a fantastic, smoky taste. Mate can be bought in tea bags, or in loose-leaf form. There are many ways to prepare mate, including steeping the bag or loose leaf in hot water, steeping the mate in the sun, or just steeping in cold water. Mate is incredible with added lemon, or mint, and can make an excellent chai with soymilk, cardamom, clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg. One of my personal favorites is to blend mango puree, ice and mate together for an exceptional fruit smoothie that keeps me energized for hours. As it is said in Spanish, “Te levanta el espiritu,” or “It lifts the Spirit.”

“It is difficult to find a plant in any area of the world equal to Mate in nutritional value. It contains practically all the vitamins necessary to sustain life.” – Findings on Yerba Mate, from the Pasteur Institute, Paris, 1964.”

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