Learn about its origin, benefits and how it is produced.
Yerba mate is a herbal infusion made from the leaves of the Ilex Paraguariensis, a tree that only grows in three countries of South America: Argentina (the world’s main producer), Brazil and Paraguay. In the wild it reaches a height of between 12 and 16 meters, although in order to harvest, the plants are pruned to a height of 3 meters. The harvest is done manually, starting in April/May, running through September. After harvesting, the tree regenerates and produces more leaves.
The drink itself is prepared in an extraordinary way. The most common, traditional way of drinking yerba mate is with a special cup designed for its purpose (the “mate”). The mate cup comes in several shapes and materials such as calabaza, wood or glass, among others. Ground yerba mate leaves are brewed with hot water in the mate cup and then drunk through a special straw (the “bombilla”). Read here about different ways on how to drink yerba mate.
Yerba mate has a herbal and slightly bitter taste. Some people prefer to add sugar or honey. You can drink it hot in the winter or cold in the summer; and you can even choose a flavoured yerba mate according to your taste.
Origin of yerba mate
The origins of yerba mate can be traced back to the Guarani natives, who used their leaves as a drink, an object of worship and a currency to trade with. The word “mate” comes from the Guarani term “Caa-mate”: “Caa” means plant or herb, and “mate” refers to the gourd they used to drink it. For the Guaraní, the yerba mate tree is the tree par excellence, a gift from the Gods.
When the Spanish colonized South America, they learned from the Guarani the use and virtues of yerba mate, and spread its consumption over the whole colony. Later, the Jesuit missionaries introduced the crop in their small villages. They are the ones mainly responsible for cultivating and spreading the consumption of yerba mate. The habit of drinking mate has remained unchanged since ancient times.
Why should you drink yerba mate?
- It is a powerful antioxidant because it contains a high concentration of polyphenols, which can protect your body from cell damage and help improve the body’s defences and immune system.
- Great source of vitamins, especially those of group B. Our body needs approximately 13 vitamins for proper functioning, of which 8 of them are part of group B. These vitamins are ideal for improving bodily functions, such as improving the production of red blood cells and increasing energy.
- Due to its content of mateine, a substance similar to caffeine, it promotes the stimulation of mental activity, concentration and energy levels.
- It also has fiber, sodium, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin B6, vitamin C, thiamine, niacin, caffeine, proteins and carbohydrates.
- Yerba mate helps cardiovascular health, because it has a large amount of antioxidants can prevent heart disease. It also regulates cholesterol and prevents fat from accumulating in the arteries.
- Yerba mate helps slow the aging process, as its antioxidants prevent the wear and oxidation of cells.
How is it produced?
Germination & cultivation: Seedlings with mature seeds develop and are kept up to 7 cm. The seedlings remain in nurseries between 9 and 12 months and are then transferred to the field.
Harvest: After four years, the plants are ready to be harvested. This is usually done by hand and takes place from April to September.
Drying process: Traditionally, the green leaves are subjected to direct fire and heat to eliminate the fermentation and oxidation process, by reducing the humidity to a minimum. To produce 1 kg yerba mate, 3 kg of green leaves are needed.
Coarse grinding (Canchado): They then undergo a coarse grinding, which leaves the product ready to be bagged and taken to the ageing warehouses.
Storage (Ageing/Seasoning): The ground yerba is seasoned naturally in specially prepared warehouses with light, oxygenation, temperature and airing control. The seasoning time varies depending on the end product to be obtained.
Grinding: The granulometry and convenient mixtures that define the flavour, aroma and colour of each brand are achieved.
Packaging and stamping: The yerba is packed in packages that keep the quality of the product intact.
Yerba mate is culture
In addition to its energizing effect and its health benefits, drinking yerba mate is a social custom and part of the lifestyle in the producing countries. In Argentina, drinking yerba mate is a daily ritual for its citizens (yerba mate is present in 90% of Argentine homes). People there generally drink yerba mate in groups, sharing the same mate regardless of the number of drinkers, with one person in charge of pouring water and passing the cup to each of the others.
In Uruguay, yerba mate is also considered the national drink. Uruguayans drink hot, bitter yerba mate tea at any time and in any place, and mostly individually with every person having their own yerba mate kit. The mate cups in Uruguay are the biggest and yerba without stems is preferred.
In Paraguay, the yerba mate is yellow and the mate infusion is mainly prepared as tereré, a drink made with yerba mate, cold water and other refreshing herbs.
Brazillians have their own type of yerba mate (greener and always bitter) and call it chimarrão. Drinking yerba mate there is also considered a form of social interaction as in Argentina, although many also drink it individually throughout the day.