On the Yerba Maté trail in South America
Ritual and social value of a South American plant. Let's find out more about properties, benefits and uses of Ilex paraguariensis, the ingredient of the increasingly famous Maté.
What is mate?
Next time you want to impress your friends, try calling the Maté by its real name: Ilex paraguariensis. It is an evergreen plant native to South America, 8 to 15m tall that blooms in spring and whose fruits are bright red berries. The term maté technically refers to the container used to consume the famous drink, made out of an emptied and dried fruit of Lagenaria vulgaris, a cucurbit shaped like a small pumpkin.
Where does mate come from?
The dried and ground leaves of Ilex paraguariensis are used to prepare a tea-like drink. A custom that originates from the Guaranì population and is still widely adopted today in various areas of South America, where over time it has assumed a social and almost ritual role. Mate is a source of caffeine that is taken alongside or in place of tea and coffee, but also as a tonic for its pharmacological properties, which have been the subject of numerous studies. This drink is known, depending on the country, as yerba or hierba mate, maté, Paraguayan tea, kàhà, chimarrão or tereré. It was the Jesuit colonizers who decided to promote the cultivation of the plant at an industrial level, consequently the maté began to be consumed also by European settlers.
What is mate used for?
With some exceptions, scientific studies on the biomedical properties of this plant are quite recent and therefore not as numerous as those relating to tea and coffee. However, in the last 20 years the scientific literature has given ample space to the study of the properties of Ilex paraguariensis, confirming its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and lipid-lowering abilities. In fact, it has been established that maté lowers cholesterol levels and has a positive effect in weight loss, as well as having an anti-inflammatory effect in particular on the respiratory system.
The aforementioned properties come from the components of Ilex paraguariensis: alkaloids, flavonoids, tannins and vitamins A, B, C and E. The plant’s polyphenol levels are higher than those of green tea and closer to those of red wine. In addition to the benefits of these compounds, the tannins give the drink a bitter taste and a feeling of astringency when consumed.
As far as the presence of caffeine is concerned, a cup of Mate contains about half that of a cup of coffee. But be careful: where this drink is traditional, up to 20 cups are consumed per day per person!
How is mate prepared?
The best way to find out? Our advice is to get on a plane and leave for South America, in order to fully experience the culture of mate. If not possible, the next best thing is to hear it from us! Depending on the area, the “cup” used (called mate and origin of the name of the drink) can have different sizes. Another essential element, which is the same everywhere, is the bombilla, the metal “straw” used to consume the drink, characterized by a small filter to avoid ingesting the chopped leaves found in the cup. The infusion is continuous: the water is poured on the same leaves over and over again without changing them..
Beyond traditional consumption, in the last 15 years the Ilex paraguariensis has made its way into the hearts of Europeans and Americans who have dared to use its leaves to flavor sweets, beers, candies and more. Mate has even made it to supermarket shelves where it is sold as an energy drink or added to tea and herbal tea preparations. We at Wilden.herbals have selected the leaves of this portentous plant to give finished shape Remedium n.5 – Focus, the infusion made for thinking, reworking and deepening with clarity during breaks from study or work. The right dose of caffeine and pleasant astringency are the gifts that Ilex paraguariensis gives to the drink.
Yerba mate: curiosity
- In Paraguay you can try the tereré, a drink prepared with a cold rather than hot infusion of the leaves of Ilex paraguariensis, while in some areas of Brazil the leaves of the plant are roasted in a process similar to the one for the tea leaves: the result of this preparation is the cha matte which is brewed like a tea or, when sweetened, used as a sugary drink.
- Mate has a very important social value and the act of offering it and sharing it can be compared to the tea ceremony in Asian cultures.
- Argentina is the leading exporter of mate, while Uruguay wins the record for per capita consumption: 6-8 kg per person every year.
- The bombilla should not be used to mix the infusion, but only to drink it. According to tradition, the matè must be consumed all at once, and the emptied cup should then be passed to a friend to be refilled with hot water (repeatedly up to 10-20 times)!
N. Bracesco, A.G. Sanchez, V. Contreras, T. Menini, A. Gugliucci, Recent advances on Ilex paraguariensis research: Minireview, Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Volume 136, Issue 3, 2011, Pages 378-384, ISSN 0378-8741, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2010.06.032