MundoAndino Home : Argentina Guide at MundoAndino

Yerba mate

Yerba mate or yerba-mate (Br.) , Ilex paraguariensis, is a species of holly (family Aquifoliaceae) native to subtropical South America in northeastern Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay and southern Brazil. It was first scientifically classified by Swiss botanist Moses Bertoni, who settled in Paraguay in 1895.

The yerba mate plant is a shrub or small tree growing up to 15 meters tall. The leaves are evergreen, 711 cm long and 35.5 cm wide, with a serrated margin. The flowers are small, greenish-white, with four petals. The fruit is a red drupe 46 mm in diameter.


The infusion called mate is prepared by steeping dry leaves (and twigs) of yerba mate in hot water, rather than in boiling water like black tea. Drinking mate with friends from a shared hollow gourd with a metal straw is a common social practice in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, eastern Bolivia and southern and western Brazil and has been cultivated in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

The flavor of brewed yerba mate is strongly , herbal, and grassy, reminiscent of some varieties of green tea. Some consider the flavor to be very agreeable, but it is generally bitter if steeped in boiling water. One can also purchase flavored mate, in which the yerba is blended with a herb (such as peppermint) or citrus rind.

In Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina, a toasted version of mate, known as mate cocido (Paraguay), cha mate (Brasil) or "mate tea", is sold in teabag and loose form, and served, sweetened, in specialized shops, either hot or iced with fruit juice or milk. An iced, sweetened version of toasted mate is sold as an uncarbonated soft drink, with or without fruit flavoring. The toasted variety of mate has less of a bitter flavor and more of a spicy fragrance. When shaken it becomes creamy (since the formed foam gets well mixed and lasts for some time), known as mate batido. It is more popular in the coastal cities of Brazil, as opposed to the far southern states where it is consumed in the traditional way , and called "chimarrao".

Similarly, a form of mate is sold in Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay in tea bags to be drunk in a similar way to tea. This is known in Spanish as mate cocido or cocido. In Argentina this is commonly drunk with breakfast or as part of merienda , often with a selection of facturas (sweet pastries). It is also made by heating yerba in water and straining it as it cools.

In Paraguay, western Brazil (Mato Grosso and west of Sao Paulo) and the Litoral Argentino, yerba mate infusion is also drunk as a cold or iced beverage and called terere or terere . Usually sucked out of a horn cup called guampa with a bombilla. It could be prepared using cold or iced water (the most common way in Paraguay) or using cold or iced fruit juice (the most common way in Argentina). The "only water" version may be too bitter, but the one prepared using fruit juice is sweetened by the juice itself. Medicinal herbs, known as "yuyos", are mixed in a mortar and pestle and added to the water for taste or medicinal reasons. Terere consumed in Paraguay may also be made as an infusion of yerba mate with grapefruit or lemon juice.


The pronunciation of yerba mate in Spanish is . The word hierba is Spanish for grass or herb; yerba is a variant spelling of it which is quite common in Argentina. Mate is from the Quechua mati, meaning "cup". "Yerba mate" is therefore literally the "cup herb."

The (Brazilian) Portuguese name is erva-mate (also pronounced in some regions) and is also used to prepare the drinks chimarrao (hot) or terere (cold). While the tea is made with the toasted leaves, these drinks are made with green ones, and are very popular in the south of the country. The name given to the plant in Guarani , language of the indigenous people who first cultivated and enjoyed yerba mate, is ''ka'a, which has the same meaning as yerba.

"Congonha", in Portuguese, is derived from the Tupi expression for "erva mate", meaning something like "what keeps us alive".

Both the spellings "mate" and "mate" are used in English.Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged, 2002, shows the main entry for the word as mate ormate. The explanatory material for main entries on page 14a, headed 1.71, says "When a main entry is followed by the word or'' and another spelling or form, the two spellings or forms are equal variants. Their order is usually alphabetical, and the first is no more to be preferred than the second..." The acute accent on the final letter is likely added as a hypercorrection, and serves to indicates that the word and its pronunciation are distinct from the common English word "mate" , meaning a partner (US) or friend . However, the Yerba Mate Association of the Americas states that it is always improper to accent the second syllable, since doing so confuses the word with an unrelated Spanish word for killing ("Mate" literally means "(I) killed" in Spanish).


The plant is grown and processed mainly in South America, more specifically in Northern Argentina , Paraguay, Uruguay and southern Brazil . The Guarani are reputed to be the first people who cultivated the plant; the first Europeans to do this were Jesuit missionaries, who spread the drinking habit as far as Ecuador and Southern Chile.

When the yerba is harvested, the branches are dried sometimes with a wood fire, imparting a smoky flavor. Then the leaves and sometimes the twigs are broken up.

There are many brands and types of yerba, with and without twigs (con palo or sin palo), some with low powder content. Some types are less strong in flavor and there are blends flavored with mint, orange and grapefruit skin, etc.

The plant Ilex paraguariensis can vary in strength of the flavor, caffeine levels and other nutrients depending on whether it is a male or female plant. Female plants tend to be milder in flavor, and lower in caffeine. They are also relatively scarce in the areas where yerba mate is planted and cultivated, not wild-harvested, compared to the male plants.

Chemical composition and properties


Mate contains three xanthines: caffeine, theobromine and theophylline, the main xanthine being caffeine. Caffeine content varies between 0.7% and 1.7% of dry weight ; theobromine content varies from 0.3-0.9%; theophylline is present in small quantities, or can be completely absent.Vazquez, A, Moyna, P. Studies on mate drinking. J Ethnopharmacol 1986; 18:267-272 A substance previously called "mateine" is a synonym for caffeine (like theine and guaranine) Does Yerba Mate Contain Caffeine or Mateine?

Studies of mate, though very limited, have shown preliminary evidence that the mate xanthine cocktail is different from other plants containing caffeine most significantly in its effects on muscle tissue, as opposed to those on the central nervous system, which are similar to those of other natural stimulants. The three xanthines present in mate have been shown to have a relaxing effect on smooth muscle tissue, and a stimulating effect on myocardial (heart) tissue.

Mineral content

Mate also contains elements such as potassium, magnesium and manganese.

Antiobesity properties

In mouse studies, ilex paraguensis tea has been shown to lessen the tendency towards obesity induced by a high-fat diet.

Cholesterol lowering properties

Consumption of yerba mate ( Ilex paraguariensis ) improves serum lipid parameters in healthy dyslipidemic subjects and provides an additional LDL-cholesterol reduction in individuals on statin therapy .

E-NTPDase activity

Research also shows that yerba mate preparations can alter the concentration of members of the ecto-nucleoside triphosphate diphosphohydrolase (E-NTPDase) family, resulting in an elevated level of extracellular ATP, ADP, and AMP. This was found with chronic ingestion (15 days) of an aqueous yerba mate extract, and may {OR} lead to a novel mechanism for manipulation of vascular regenerative factors, i.e., treating heart disease.

Antioxidant potential

In an investigation of yerba mate antioxidant activity, there was a correlation found between content of caffeoyl-derivatives and antioxidant capacity (AOC).

Amongst a group of Ilex species, Ilex paraguariensis antioxidant activity was the highest.

Anti-Carcinogenic vs Carcinogenic potential

In vivo and in vitro studies are showing yerba mate to exhibit significant cancer-fighting activity. Researchers at the University of Illinois (2005) found yerba mate to be "rich in phenolic constituents" and to "inhibit oral cancer cell proliferation" while it promoted proliferation of oral cancer cell lines at certain concentrations.

This activity was due in part to inhibition of topoisomerase II activity in yeast.

Conversely, Yerba mate consumption has been associated with increased incidence of bladder, esophageal, oral, squamous cell of the head and neck, and lung cancer. However, a case-control study showed no increased incidence of bladder cancer in mate drinkers.

A study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer showed a limited correlation between oral cancer and the drinking of large quantities of hot mate. Smaller quantities (less than 1 liter daily) and warm rather than hot mate consumption were found to increase risk only slightly; alcohol and tobacco consumption had a synergistic effect on increasing oral, throat, and esophageal cancer. The increased risk, rather than stemming from the mate itself, could be credited to the high temperatures in which the mate is consumed in its most traditional way, the 'chimarrao'. The cellular damage caused by thermal stress could lead the esophagus and gastric epithelium to be metaplasic, adapting to the chronic injury. Then, mutations would lead to cellular displasia and to cancer..Given the influence of the temperature of water, as well as the lack of complete adjustment for age, alcohol consumption and smoking, the study concludes that mate is "not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans".

Researchers in Mississippi found that both cold and hot water extractions of yerba mate contained high levels of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) (i.e. [[Benzo(a)pyrene|Benzo[a]pyrene]]). However, these potential carcinogenic compounds originate from drying process of the mate leaves, which involves smoke from the burning of wood, rather from the mate itself.

The Culture of Yerba Mate

The Rio de la Plata experience is not complete without daily servings of yerba mate. It is common for friends to convene to "matear" several times a week. In cold weather the beverage is served hot and in warm weather the hot water is often substituted for lemonade. Children often take yerba mate with lemonade or milk and honey as well.

As Americans often meet at a coffee shop, drinking mate is the impetus for gathering with friends in Argentina and Uruguay. Sharing mate is ritualistic and has its own set of rules. Usually one person, the host or whoever brought the mate, prepares the drink and refills the gourd with water.

The gourd is passed around, often in a circle, and each person finishes the gourd before giving it back to the brewer. The gourd (also called "mate") is passed in a clockwise order. Since mate can be re-brewed many times, the gourd is passed until the water runs out. When a person no longer wants to take mate, they say "gracias" to the brewer when returning the gourd to signify they don't want any more.

During the month of August, Paraguyans have a tradition of mixing mate with crushed leaves, stems, and flowers of the plant known as Agosto Poty , which contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Adulterating mate in this fashion is toxic, as these alkaloids can cause rare condition of the liver, veno-occlusive disease, which produces liver failure due to progressive occlusion of the small venous channels in the liver. One fatal case has been reported in a young British woman who consumed large quantities of adulterated mate tea from Paraguay.

See also

Mate (beverage)

Materva (mate soft drink)

Yaupon Holly

Black drink

Ilex guayusa

Chimarrao (Brazilian mate infusion)

Terere (another type of infusion)

Ku Ding tea Ilex kudingcha

Nativa (beverage)

Didn't find what you were looking for.
Need more information for your travel research or homework?
Ask your questions at the forum about Flora of Argentina or help others to find answers.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Yerba mate

Disclaimer - Privacy Policy - 2009