Yerba Mate is becoming one of the more popular teas in the US. The reasons for this are plain to see, with all the benefits of caffeine and almost none of the downsides or jitters, Yerba Mate is a drink that rocks all year long!
But, did you know Yerba Mate is more than your traditional migrated tea? This neat little plant can boost your immune system, give you extra energy, and lower your risk for infection.
If you’re interested in trying one of the worlds biggest teas, read on to learn the origins of this special plant and the immediate health benefits awaiting you.
What Is Yerba Mate?
The Yerba mate plant originated in South America. It starts as a small shrub then as it matures, bears harvestable leaves. These leaves, called “yerba,” form the basis for Yerba mate tea.
Let’s explore the humble beginnings of this plant and the culture formed around Yerba Mate tea.
Roots and Discovery
Guarani natives in South America began using yerba mate leaves for trading, currency, and tribal rituals. Once consumption began spreading throughout Paraguay, natives of Chile and Peru started using yerba as a central commodity.
The Jesuits domesticated the plant and formed a yerba industry. Once the Jesuits were expulsed from South America, Paraguay continued to grow the yerba mate economy.
After South America rejected the Jesuits, plantations were reclaimed by other countries and cultures. These populations began creating alternative uses for yerba mate.
The medicinal properties and relaxing effects of yerba created an ideal image for people wanting to market the tea. This foundation allowed for other countries to accept yerba, creating movement across world economies.
As industrialization set in, societies of South America took yerba mate benefits and advertised them as a health and food commodity on a massive scale. Over the years, yerba mate has moved from a medicinal tea to a food topic.
Yerba mate gained popularity among large regions in the Middle East. Arab immigrants spread stories and use of mate after visiting South America in the late 1800s.
Around the time South American economies started to decline, Arab immigrants returned to the Middle East with large amounts of yerba. This created a wide spread of yerba mate in the Eastern world and beyond.
Yerba plants come from the Holly family that contains over 400 species of flowering plants. These plants grow best in temperate and sub-tropical climates.
The plant blooms, producing small berries and pale green flowers. Cultivators pick the leaves and stems, drying them indoors. The plants are dried through a heating process or natural dehumidification.
In some cases, the leaves and stems are aged. Each of the processes above results in the final preparation stage of yerba mate.
Definitions and Culture
The main areas of cultivation lie in Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay. The plant itself refers to mate herb, which often means “container for a drink” or “herb infusion.”
When early natives used yerba mate, they saw the plant as a sign of royalty or honor and depended on it medicinally. The plant became synonymous with spices, tobacco, and other tradable resources, as well.
As society evolved, the yerba mate plant became a signal of South American culture. The English first rejected mate, unlike other commodities, while America’s and some Eastern European countries profited.
Each country uses mate differently. In Argentina, many use mate as a breakfast tea. Brazilians create a more relaxed version of yerba mate. Their version is easier to drink and shows up in regular dinners and family gatherings.
Both Argentina and Uruguay treat mate as a regular commodity. In their case, people drink mate as they walk through town, sometimes replacing water and other beverages for the tea mixture.
How to Make Yerba Mate
Several regions of the world cultivate yerba mate differently. The tea making process depends on culture and technology. For example, Argentinian yerba mate appears different than Chilean mate because of climate and industry.
Traditional yerba mate is drank in a gourd, which is another word for “mate.” Gourds come in different shapes and sizes, but most use calabash, ceramic and wood containers to make the mate.
One puts the yerba in a gourd, then crushes or grounds the leaves and stems. Modern distributors grind the leaves into a water-soluble powder. Fully dissolved yerba mate is considered less “traditional” then forms with leaves and stems included.
Then, one pours cold water into the gourd to begin the infusion process. Once this is completed, hot water is poured into the gourd until the herbs infuse into the water.
Industrialization led to mass cultivation of yerba. Through modern processes, people collect huge amounts of the yerba plant and filter it through industrial machines.
In these cases, most of the leaves and stems are completely removed. This allows for large manufacturers to package and ship leaves to mate creators.
Once in the hand of mate makers, they grind the leaves to powder. This powder underlies the main market for soft drinks and ice teas across the globe.
Drinkers use a sieve-like straw called a “bombilla” to taste the mate. This means pieces of the mate plant aren’t removed from the gourd. Rather, the sieve sucks the herb-infused water and leaves the plant remains behind. Bombillas like gourds come in different shapes and sizes and often hand crafted.
Traditionally, people share mate out of a single gourd. This represents the cultural exchange between drinkers. In some cases, people use mate during yerba mate ceremonies to exchange the tea.
In this case, a mate creator makes some yerba mate, then tests it before sharing with the rest of a group usually made up of family and friends.
Yerba Mate Health Benefits and Effects
Yerba mate is a nutritionally rich drink. It has many benefits ranging from neurological health to energy boosting. Let’s explore the health and benefits of yerba mate.
Yerba mate has three primary chemical compounds that influence the body.
Each of these compounds influences how the human body processes and stores nutrients.
Polyphenols occur in almost all plants. This compound forms the basis for most metabolic acids, immune-motivators, and plant enzymes.
These reoccurring traits are known as phytochemicals. In every nutrient-rich plant, are phytochemicals that provide antioxidants to the body.
Polyphenols regulate stomach bacteria and influence gene behavior. It’s possible that animals with higher access to polyphenols evolve faster due to this correlation.
In some cases, polyphenols may be able to boost insulin sensitivity. This would lower the risk of diabetes in most people.
This compound could also sponsor weight loss and increased enzyme production. Subtypes of polyphenols like flavonoids and kaempferol boost metabolism in humans. This interaction between chemicals could create rapid weight loss.
As an antioxidant, polyphenols might be able to prevent skin-aging, cancer, and heart disease.
These alkaloids have major impacts on the nervous system. This is why yerba mate lowers stress and increases alertness. Caffeine is one of the Xanthines found in yerba mate.
Xanthines have potential health benefits including:
- Lowered anxiety
- Increased libido
- Improved focus and productivity
- Raised intelligence
Xanthines can have the opposite effect on certain people. For example, if you have a sensitivity to caffeine mate might make the effects worse. Although, mate may calm you down easier if you have inverse effects.
In some cases, doctors use Xanthines found in yerba to cure constipation. Infants who aren’t able to ingest pills can drink yerba to remedy stomach aches and other indigestion problems.
Saponins are less researched than the other two main compounds in yerba mate. Here are the following health effects:
- Lowered cholesterol
- Sometimes acts as an antioxidant
- Saponins sometimes improve cognition and memory
In some cases, caffeine can have a relaxing effect on children with hyperactive personalities. You might be able to use yerba to calm anxious children down.
More people need to research Saponins before final remarks come out. Still, this compound lies in yerba mate, and can potentially improve several areas of your mind and body.
Ways to Use Yerba Mate
Yerba mate comes in many forms. Here are some of the best ways you can use mate in your daily life.
Tereré or chilled yerba mate is a modern twist on traditional serving methods. A common recipe involves brewing your own mate, storing it in the fridge overnight, then drinking it with honey in the morning.
It’s common to infuse mate with a few different types of fruit. Once you’ve brewed the mate and chilled it overnight, you can add fruits like pineapple, orange, or lemon.
It’s recommended that you infuse your mate with fruits the same way you would infuse your water with yerba leaves. That is, don’t grind your fruits to a fine powder, instead stick to adding whole or quartered pieces of fruit. Or you can always purchase flavored yerba mate online or at your local ethnic supermarket.
Once you’ve gone this route, make sure to strain the leaves, stems, and fruit at the same time. This will leave you with the infused mate and nothing else.
You can also make mate lattes. This rhyming drink involves mixing steamed milk and mate.
To do this, add your loose leave yerba leaves, some water, and milk. It’s also wise to add sweetener. If you add these ingredients make sure to add your sugars to your serving cup first.
Then, layer your mate mixture and finish off with a top layer of foamed milk.
Smoothies and Yogurt
If you want to make a mate smoothie, just add your tea to a smoothie mixture. In other words, keep a blender at hand and a bunch of fruits. Take your fruits and mate blend and add them to your blender.
The result is a full mate smoothie, without any of the leaves or stems, and only including the rich minerals and nutrients from the fruits and mate plant.
For yogurt, stick to whatever traditional yogurt recipe you trust most. You can look at yerba mate like any other ingredient, meaning you can add your mate to a yogurt blend without losing any of the structure of your meal.
As mentioned above, mate has many health benefits thanks to antioxidant properties.
You can serve your yerba mate as a hot tea to cure sore throats and headaches. If you prefer your mate cold, you can use it as a cognitive medicine. This would mean, you use yerba mate to clear your mind and ease your senses as a chilled beverage.
You can also use yerba mate as a relaxant. If you have nervous system issues, you can make any form of yerba mate to regulate your anxiety and flared nerves.
Caffeine, an ingredient found in yerba, also helps with indigestion and constipation. Simply drinking yerba mate can help you relieve both of these issues.
It’s also possible to use yerba as a lotion for inflammation. The properties in yerba mate allow you to cause bug bites to itch less, and bruises to be less painful.
Popular Yerba Mate Brands
Because of it’s incredible popularity, there are an endless amount of yerba mate manufacturers. It’s not unlike the beer market here in the U.S.A. You’ll have your major domestic brands and then you’ll have countless regional microbreweries. Here is a list of the larger manufacturers of yerba mate in South America;
- Las Marias
- Cruz de Malta
- Nobleza Gaucha
- La Selva
Where to Buy Yerba Mate?
Fortunately, you don’t have to fly to South America to enjoy yerba mate! It’s global demand has made it available all around the world. In the United States, you’ll find it not only in specialty stores but also in big box chain stores like Walmart and Vitamin Shoppe.
Become A Latin Taste Expert
Yerba mate is a treasure that you can use in your day to day life. If you’re a chef, a regular tea drinker, or a layman, it doesn’t matter! All that matters if your ability to try new things.
Try yerba mate on your quest for new tastes and textures. As you make your way around the globe, make your next stop in the Latin world. There are plenty of recipes from Argentina, Spain and many more waiting for you to try.
So, if you’re interested in discovering true Latin flavors, don’t stop at yerba mate. Dive into the perfect Latin food experience at Amigo Foods!
Our blog is all about sharing our love of Latin American foods & drinks. We will bring you articles and recipes of the very best Latin American & Spanish cuisine. Amigofoods was founded in 2003 and is the largest online grocery store offering a wide variety of hard to find freshly imported foods & drinks from all over Latin America and Spain.