Written by Lisa Virtue, BA, NC
If you ever find yourself in Argentina, you will most definitely be offered a cup of their national drink: yerba mate. Argentinians still drink this tea-like infusion with a gourd and bombilla (a round drinking vessel with filter-straw). Yerba mate is preferred over coffee not only in Argentina, but also in Paraguay, Uruguay and Southern Brazil.
This woodsy beverage is made from the leaves of the shrub-like holly tree, native to the subtropical South American rainforest. For centuries South American tribes have sipped on this “drink of the gods” for its rejuvenative effects, giving them invigoration, focus and nourishment. Cowboys in Argentina refer to yerba mate as their liquid vegetable, having relied on it for nutrition during times of drought and famine.
Yerba mate is composed of natural chemical stimulants, including caffeine, theobromine (also present in chocolate) and theophylline. Yerba mate has a caffeine level somewhere between coffee and tea; a third the amount in coffee, but double that of tea. As far as theobromine goes, it is less intense than caffeine and gentler on the human nervous system. Caffeine, theobromine and theophylline have all been said to have a relaxing effect on smooth muscle tissue. Yerba mate is therefore a vasodilator, causing blood vessels to dilate allowing blood to flow more freely. Conversely, the same three chemicals have a stimulating effect on myocardial tissue. For this reason traditional medicine has long utilized yerba mate as a heart strengthener.
Many sports enthusiasts such as Ironman triathlete Brendan Brazier, author of The Thrive Diet, recommend yerba mate as an energy source. Brazier claims it is “one of the healthiest forms of stimulation.” He notes that yerba mate “is the ideal food to help you rise to the occasion in terms of improved productivity and increased athletic performance.” Brazier even includes the ground leaves in some of his recipes.
Yerba mate is a rich source of chlorphyll, antioxidants, trace minerals and is even a powerful digestive aid. It naturally contains 24 vitamins and minerals, plus 15 amino acids. In 1964 the Pasteur Institute and Paris Scientific Society concluded, “it is difficult to find a plant in any area of the world equal to mate in nutritional value,” and that it contained “practically all of the vitamins necessary to sustain life.” No wonder then that it is consumed daily by millions of South Americans. In Europe it is used to control weight, as yerba mate also helps to suppress the appetite. A study done in 1999 in Switzerland, found that yerba mate had a thermogenic effect, meaning that it increased the amount of body fat burned as energy. Great side effect!
Yerba mate is prepared similarly to any loose leaf tea, you can even buy it pre-packaged in tea bags in many delicious flavours. Just be careful to let your hot water cool slightly after it boils – you want the temperature of your water no hotter than 150 degrees F, otherwise it can burn the leaves. For information on how to prepare yerba mate the traditional way, read the The Mate Gourd Ceremony.
Here is a simple recipe for my Coconut Chai Mate Warmer, using yerba mate.
Coconut Chai Mate Warmer
- 1 can of coconut milk (I like Aroy-D) + 1 can-full of water
- 2 Tbsps Cardamom Chai Mate Tea (or use 1.5 Tbsps mate leaves and add your own blend of chai spices: cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, star anise, peppercorns, cloves, fennel)
- choice of sweetener (1-2 Tbsps honey or sugar, or a pinch of stevia)
- cinnamon to garnish
- pinch of salt
- Bring your coconut milk and water to a simmer.
- Allow it to cool slightly, and then add your yerba mate tea bags (or loose leaves plus spices).
- Cover and allow to steep for five minutes.
- Strain through a sieve.
- Add your choice of sweetener and salt, tasting as you go until you reach your perfect balance.
- Pour beverage into wide drinking glasses and dust with cinnamon.
What is Yerba Mate?
Yerba matÃ© via WikipediaÂ
All about tea – 14-health-benefits-yerba-mate
The Thrive DietRain Tree Nutrition -Â Tropical Plant Database
Yerba Mate vs. Coffee: Which is Healthier