Yerba Mate tea has been used for centuries as a health tonic and stimulant beverage by the South American native people and is still used as such today. Yerba mate contains healthy antioxidants and has been a folklore favorite in South America used to reduce inflammation in arthritis and gout. Containing 196 active compounds, nutrients, and amino acids, Yerba mate is rich in phenolics and saponins with potential lipid-lowering properties and has shown favorable results in a studies showing drinking green and roasted yerba mate over time has cholesterol-lowering potential.
Yerba Mate contains an alkaloid called mateine, which acts much like smooth caffeine. Additionally, it is believed to act to assist dieters in reducing food cravings and by helping you feel fuller, longer. Drinking yerba mate herbal teas as part of a diet for weight loss is one of the best ways to reduce calorie intake while consuming a healthy beverage. Unlike diet soda, herbal diet tea contains no chemicals and artificial sweeteners.
Yerba Mate – The Details
The drink itself dates back to the pre-Columbian era, when the local Guaraní people in Paraguay discovered and started to aggressively cultivate the Ilex paraguariensis plant (a member of the holly family), dry the leaves and twigs, and drink them in hot water — mainly as a wellness beverage. Once the Spanish colonized Paraguay in the seventeenth century, they too began drinking it, and it became the country’s chief export. Other South American countries like Brazil, Argentina, and Chile grew the crop as well, and even after the arrival of coffee and other kinds of tea in South America, Yerba Mate remained one of the most popular drinks in the area.
Strong, bitter, and vegetal, Yerba Mate has a very distinctive taste that, like coffee, can require adjusting to. It’s very expressive, like a euphoric experience, depending on how much you consume,
There’s even a time-honored ritual around the consumption of Yerba Mate that celebrates this sensation — usually in a park, or some kind of outside gathering spot. That ritual is described in the name, Yerba Mate, which translates to “gourd herb,” referring to the standard way of drinking the beverage. The practice requires a mate (or dried gourd), a bombilla, (a special straw for drinking that filters out the tea leaves), and a thermos, for transporting the hot water.
During the drinking process, individuals will sit in a circle, and one person (called the cebador) will fill the mate about two-thirds the way full with the leaves, add a little bit of warm water to release the flavors, put the bombilla into the mate at an angle (to ensure the straw doesn’t get plugged up), and finally top it off with hot water (never boiling, as that will burn the leaves). The gourd gets passed around, and everyone takes a sip through the bombilla. (A tip: never use the bombilla to stir, this is considered very impolite!). There are tons of different types of both mates and bombillas, and in South America, each person will usually have his or her own unique one. While mates are, most traditionally, made of actual gourds, they can also be made with ceramic and wood, and painted decoratively. Bombillas, too, can be made with various materials, including silver, stainless steel, and bamboo.
As the gourd gets passed around, it will keep getting refilled with hot water, with each subsequent pour intensifying the taste of the leaves. If bitter isn’t your thing, you can always add sugar or milk to your Yerba Mate — though if you want to drink as the locals do, you’ll take it without any add-ons. As far as food pairings, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to Yerba Mate, but it’s not uncommon to see pastries or crackers served alongside the drink.
Of course, this elaborate process isn’t the only way people drink Yerba Mate. Just as we drink our morning coffee, many South Americans will prepare a thermos of Yerba Mate, drinking it throughout the day for a burst of energy.
Still, the act of passing around the mate in South America is widely considered to be an art and a conversational piece, It’s this communal beverage, and the entire ritual of drinking it is meant to be connective and celebratory.
Yerba Mate, of course, eventually migrated over to the U.S., and over the last couple of years it has become a popular ingredient in everything from health elixirs to energy drinks — hailed not only as an energy booster, but also as a means for weight loss, concentration, and better digestion. You can also buy the loose leaves at most specialty grocery stores to make the drink at home. And if you want to get the full Yerba Mate experience, you can even order a mate and a bombilla online, gather some friends, and enjoy the beauty of the South American ritual for yourself.
Yerba Mate Tea Benefits
Boosts energy and focus – Sure, yerba mate tea may not be officially categorized as a nootropic, but it has a similar ability to boost focus, decrease mental fog, and increase energy, thanks to the caffeine content. While an eight ounce serving has less caffeine than a cup of coffee, it has more caffeine than a cup of black tea.
Helps with constipation – Caffeine has been shown to help you go by making the colon—the last stop before the rectum— more active than if you were to drink just water or decaf coffee. But if you really have to go, a cup of coffee may be a more effective option, because it has more caffeine.
Protects again free radicals – The yerba mate tea base is rich in antioxidants, including xanthines, caffeoyl derivatives, saponins, and polyphenols. This can help protect us from free radical damage, which can contribute to cancer, heart disease, premature aging, and more. (If you’ve heard that green tea is rich in antioxidants, consider the fact that yerba mate tea has more antioxidants than the classic morning beverage).
Lowers bad cholesterol – One study found that drinking about four cups of yerba mate each day for 40 days helped people to significantly lower their levels of LDL cholesterol (that’s the bad kind, FYI), which the researchers conclude may also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Assists in healthy weight loss – While weight loss isn’t and shouldn’t be everyone’s goal, a few small studies suggest that yerba mate tea may have that effect. One small study in overweight people who took three grams of an yerba mate supplement a day showed an average loss of a pound-and-a-half over 12 weeks—without making any other lifestyle changes.
Lowers blood sugar – Research has shown that yerba mate tea may be able to lower blood sugar in individuals with diabetes. One 60-person study suggests that drinking yerba mate tea three times a day for two months might help lower blood sugar if you have diabetes. But because caffeine may make it harder for individual with diabetes to balance their blood sugar, the limited data shouldn’t be taken as fact.
Strengthens immune system – Considering the fact that yerba mate tea is rich in antioxidants, it shouldn’t be too surprising that the immune system loves it. While research has not yet explored the direct effects of consuming the tea on your immune system, the tea contains saponins which have been previously shown to boost your immune system.