What Is Yerba Mate Tea?

mate-brew-web

Want a nice evening herbal tea that helps you sleep? Yerba mate is not it!

Yes, it is an herbal, being the dried leaves and twigs from a variety of holly that grows in South American rainforests. And yes, legend says it is a gift from the gods.

But, it promises to keep you alert to any rainforest predators with its three naturally occurring stimulants—the same as found in tea, coffee, and chocolate!

Mate: Its Brew

A cup of mate contains caffeine, theophylline and theobromine—all of which readily cross our body’s blood-brain barrier, giving us that energy boost.

mate-leaves-webHowever, it’s complicated. Scientists try to tease out what causes what, but each of these elements work differently. And sometimes they work together.

For example, caffeine keeps us awake and theobromine seems to help us sleep. But together, they may work as a stimulant! Go figure!

There are other pluses to this brew. Mate is rich in antioxidants and polyphenols. Because it is low in tannins, a strong brew will not be bitter—which means you can let the leaves remain in the liquid.

But then, how do you drink it with all those bits of leaves floating around?

Mate: Its Gear

Well, if you want to be really traditional about mate, you need a chia and bombilla. That is, a hollow gourd to hold the mate, and a strainer straw to filter out the bits of leaf.

straw-gourd-montage_no-border-web

gourds-web

Mate: Its Heritage

gaucho_no-border-webPeople have taken advantage of mate’s effects for centuries, although there was a blip in 1616 when a disgusted governor of the Spanish province in Argentina attempted to stem its growing popularity by banning it.

Economics often win out, however, and the Jesuits were soon cultivating—and profiting from—the plant (touting the fact that it wasn’t alcoholic, whatever else its perceived vices).

By the mid-1700s, the larger-than-life gauchos came onto the scene, becoming folk heroes in Argentina and Uruguay lore.

Prizing their independence as they roamed the South American pampas, gauchos subsisted on game and wild cattle.

Unparalleled horsemen, they traveled lightly—with bola and knife as weapon and tool, and woolen poncho as coat, blanket, and protection.

And they drank yerba mate.

Mate: Its Own Day

On Argentina’s calendar, November 30 is National Yerba Mate Day!

But why wait until then to see what South Americans have been enjoying for centuries?

Brew it in any cup for 5–10 minutes, strain out the leaves, and decide for yourself if it is indeed a gift from the gods.


Sources:
–”Health benefits of methylxanthines in cacao and chocolate,” by R. Franco et al., Nutrients 5(10):4159–4173. October 2013.
–Garsd, J. “Tea Tuesdays: Gift of the moon, bane of the Spanish—The story of yerba mate,” NPR, The Salt, March 17, 2015.
–Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Gaucho South American History,” Encyclopædia Britannica, n.d.
Note: Gourds, metal straws, and mate available at TeaHaus.com.

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