Ilex paraguariensis

Herbs gallery - Mate

Common names

  • Mate
  • Paraguay Tea
  • Yerba

When you talk about holly trees (evergreen bushes with red berries) either to a European or a North American, they will probably think of the Christmas tree with glossy leaves and beautiful red berries. But when you rake up the same issue with a South American, it will mean something very dissimilar - in manifestation as well as utility. To millions of South Africans a holly tree means the mate plant that grows and flourishes in the rocky and hilly terrains of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. The plant offers a popular beverage, much akin to tea, and is also known as mate.

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The mate is most extensively grown in Argentina and Paraguay in South America where the commercial cultivators place the harvested leaves on specially-constructed stands to dehydrate them over little log fires. It is important to dry the leaves straight away after harvesting or else they may rapidly undergo fermentation and change to black color. After heating the leaves for about 24 to 36 hours over the wood fires, their residues are crushed to form crude powder which is packed in bags and left for the aging process that may continue for a year or even longer. Once the aging process is over, the powdered leaves are shipped across South America. The powdered mate leaves are used to prepare a beverage to be drunk like tea.

The ancient inhabitants of South America valued the mate leaves highly and drank the beverage prepared from it to serve as an energizer as well as refreshment. Although ages have passed since then, the present day South Americans equally cherish the beverage. Besides being rich in caffeine content, the leaves of the mate trees enclose neochlorogenic and chlorogenic acids and theobromine catechols (transparent crystalline solids used to manufacture dyes and pharmaceuticals). The mate yerba derives its tonic aspect from the collective virtues of these substances. These substances impart the same refreshing and stimulant properties that are present in tea and coffee popularly drunk by people in Asia, Europe and North America.

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Parts used



Much like tea which is consumed all over Asia and Europe, mate is an invigorating beverage that can also be called the conventional South American tea. Consumption of mate enhances the physical as well as mental vigor level for a brief period. Hence, it is not surprising that mate possesses features that are quite similar to those of tea and coffee. Mate has several remedial benefits, including invigorating the nervous system. It also functions like a gentle analgesic or pain killer and has diuretic properties that help in increasing the urine outflow. Mate is an important therapeutic herb that is frequently used to cure headaches, neuralgic and rheumatic pains, migraine, fatigue and minor depression. In addition, mate has also been found to be useful in treating diabetes.

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Habitat and cultivation

Mate is indigenous to South America, particularly Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and southern parts of Brazil where it can be found plenty in the wild. The herb is also cultivated commercially in Argentina, Spain and Portugal. The leaves of the herb are collected when the mate berries are mature. Soon after harvesting, the leaves are heated over kindled logs, pulverized and then stored in bags for almost a year before selling it to prospective buyers.

Normally the mate plant is basically cultivated and treated in South America, especially in the northern regions of Argentina. According to records, the Guarani were supposed to be the first people to cultivate mate in South America, while the Jesuit missionaries were the first Europeans to grow the plant. These missionaries were the people who spread the practice of drinking as far and wide as Ecuador. Sometimes the branches of the mate plants are dried over wood fire during the harvesting of the yerba or the mate leaves. This process leaves behind a smoky essence in the beverage. Following this, the leaves as well as the shoots of the mate plant are occasionally broken up.

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Various variety and types of yerba are available with as well as without the branches. Mate is also available with little powder matter. Some variety of mate has a mild or suave flavor, while others are seasoned with mint, orange and even grapefruit peels! Depending on the gender of the plant, Ilex Paraguariensis, a variety of the mate plant, varies in the flavor potency, caffeine content and other nourishing substances. The female Ilex Paraguariensis plant possesses a suave essence and lesser caffeine content. Compared to the male plants, the female variety is also comparatively in short supply in places where the mate yerba is planted and cultivated. They are found in abundance in the wild.


People who have savored the mate brew as well as other more popular caffeinated beverages such as tea, coffee and guarana (a plant found in Brazil whose seeds are used to prepare a herbal preparation to alleviate exhaustion or tiredness) say that the physiological results of both are similar in many ways, but they are also distinctive from each other. People who have experienced mate are of the opinion that the condition of insomnia, concentration and attentiveness remind one of the most popular shot in the arm drinks. At the same time, they point towards the absence of any adverse side affects of the mate. Normally, such stimulant beverages like tea and coffee often lead to disorders line nervousness, diarrhea, edginess, anxiety, and heart tremors.

Several scientific researches have been conducted on mate and now the end results of its inimitable physiological (relating to any living thing functions) are coming to the fore. Though the studies on mate have been very restricted, they have revealed initial substantiation that the cocktail prepared from mate xanthine is unlike other flora that encloses caffeine. What is significant is that the consequences on the muscle tissue (a group of cells in an organ or organism) are not similar to that on the central nervous system - a feature common with other innate tonics. Incidentally, mate reportedly has a soothing result on the muscle tissues, while it invigorates the myocardial or heart tissues.

The harmful consequences of consuming mate are reported to be of lesser evil than those of coffee. However, barring its excuse of being a panacea, there is no plausible explanation has been offered for this, not even a hypothesis. While most of the common stimulating beverages like tea and coffee are reported to lead to some kind of insomnia, people drinking the mate have reported that they have never been prevented from falling asleep even after consuming the beverage. On the contrary, people who have experienced mate have asserted that consumption of the brew has enhanced their energy and, at the same time, helped them to remain wide awake on their self-control. All said and done, the total amount of caffeine content in a singular preparation of mate is reasonably high. And the recurring filling of the mate with hot water makes the caffeine content even higher as this result to the extraction of the highly-soluble xanthines tremendously effective. Hence, it is not surprising that one preparation of mate can be shared by quite a few persons and still generates the preferred stimulating effect in each one.

Vivo as well as vitro studies on mate have shown it to display noteworthy properties to combat cancer. According to the researchers at the University of Illinois, mate is rich in phenolic ingredients and has the capability to restrain oral cancer cell propagation. However, the study conducted by the researchers in 2005 observed that the mate helped the propagation of oral cancer cell lines at particular areas. In contrast, a study conducted by the scientists at the International Agency for Research on Cancer established that there was little association between oral cancer and the consumption of hot mate. Incidentally, no data was collected from the use of cold mate consumption in this connection. Considering the control of the warmth of the water in preparing the brew, absence of the total regulation for maturity on an individual, alcohol consumption as well as smoking, the study conducted by the researchers at the International Agency for Research on Cancer finished off saying that the mate is "not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans". Although the mate is said not to have any adverse side affects, there have been reports that consumption of the brew resulted to enhance incidence of bladder, esophageal, oral, squamous (covered with or resembling scales or thin plates of the type that make up the covering of fish, reptiles as well as some mammals) cell of the head and neck and also lung cancer.

Some studies have established that the pyrrolizidine alkaloids (a group of nitrogen-enclosing amalgams physiologically active as poisons or drugs) found in the mate brew create an unusual liver stipulation known as the 'veno-occlusive' disease that causes malfunctioning of the liver owing to gradually developing obstruction of the tiny vein outlets in the liver.

Moreover, the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine has found that the yerba mate can result to high blood pressure if it is used along with other MAO inhibitors (substances that retard a chemical reaction) like Nardil and Parnate.

New researches have established that preparations from the yerba mate may even change the absorption of the ecto-nucleoside triphosphate diphosphohydrolase (E-NTPDase) family members. This, in turn, may result to a high intensity of extra-cellular ATP (adenosine triphosphate), ADP (adenosine diphosphate) and AMP (adenosine monophosphate). A constant drinking of a liquid yerba extract in water for 15 days established this. The research further showed that this may result to a new method for exploitation of vascular (anything relating to fluid-carrying vessels in the body) repairing or replacing tissues in conditions like healing heart ailments.

It may be noted here that the mate plant encloses caffeine as well as theobromine (a substance that alienates adenosine receptors) and diminishes the production of adenosine in the blood. In addition, theobromine lengthens the half life of ATP, ADP and AMP in the body. It has been found that the dual procedures help in combining to produce greater results than in parts to offer a more hygienic stimulus compared to an ordinary dose of caffeine that only helps in jamming adenosine receptors.


Mate contains xanthine derivatives, including about 1.5% caffeine, about 0.2% theobromine, theophylline, and up to 16% tannins. The high tannin content means that mate should not be consumed with meals, since tannins impair the absorption of nutrients.


Mate is normally consumed as an infusion like tea is taken by Asians and Europeans. The infusion is prepared by soaking dry powdered leaves of the yerba mate, often along with shoots in hot water and not in boiling water in the case of black tea. Compared to coffee, mate infusion is less powerful as refreshment and hence more tender on the abdomen. In many parts of the world, including Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, southern Chile, eastern Bolivia, the southern region of Brazil in South America as well as in Syria and Lebanon in Asia, sipping the mate beverage along with associates from a common hollow gourd - also known as 'mate' in Spanish or 'cabaca' or 'cuia' in Portuguese - with a metallic straw called a 'bombilla' in Spanish or 'bomba' or 'canudo' in Portuguese is an very widespread societal do.

The brewed yerba mate has an essence that is robustly like vegetable, and verdant that reminds one of some of assortments of the green tea. While many people find the flavor of yerba mate to be pleasant, the brew normally tastes like an astringent if it is permeated in boiling water. Hence, the mate beverage is prepared by steeping the leaves in hot and not boiling water. While tea becomes bitter or acerbic when steeped for longer periods, the same mate leaves may be infused a number of times. In addition, unlike tea, mate yerba is available in various different flavors as it is blended with different substances.

If you are in Brazil, you will have the opportunity to savor a unique variety of the mate beverage. A well-liked variety of the mate called cha' mate or mate tea is available in teabag as also in loose form. This special version of mate is served sweetened in particular shops both hot and iced with essences of milk as well as fruit juices. This variety of sweetened mate brew is also sold as a non-effervescing soft drink with or without adding fruit juice essence to it. These toasted mates brew version tastes less bitter and with a zestier fragrance. Compared to the distant southern states when mate yerba is drunk in the more conventional manner - green and sipped with a silver straw from a common gourd, this exclusive variety of mate brew is more popular in the urban areas along the coastal areas of Brazil.

On the other hand, another exclusive variety of the mate yerba is sold in tea bags in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. This version of the mate is drunk like tea. In Spanish, this version of mate brew is called 'mate cocido' or simply 'cocido'. People in Argentina drink this mate brew with breakfast and also along with the somewhat afternoon tea called 'merienda'. Frequently, it is also drunk with an assortment of 'facturas' or sweet pastries. To prepare this version of mate yerba, first heat up the powdered herb leaves in water and filter it as the liquid cools down.

People in Paraguay drink yerba mate as a cold beverage and in the Guarani lingo it is known as 'tereré'. In the rural areas 'tereré' is normally drunk out of a cow's horn. It is either served cold or with ice cold water. 'Yuyos' or therapeutical herbs are blended in a vessel meant for crushing and pounding plants (mortar and pestle) and put in water for flavor or other remedial cause. In Argentina, 'tereré' is also prepared as an infusion of the yerba mate blended with grapefruit or lemon juice.


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