History and Tradition
Yerba Mate (Yur-buh Mah-tae) is an energizing herb tea from South America. The Yerba Mate tree is an evergreen from the Holly family that possesses prominent energizing effects and many health benefits.
Yerba mate can be traced back to the Guarani tribe in Southern Argentina and the Tupi people of Brazil. This leaf is deeply rooted in their cultures and they used its leaves as a drink and as currency in their exchanges with other tribes. These tribes directed prayers to Yerba Mate for the benefits they received after consuming it. For them, Yerba Mate is a gift from the gods.
It was not until the 1900’s that Mate expanded beyond the southern cone into North America. The 2000’s is when it established a strong footing in the health food revolution of the western world. It is highly sought after for its numerous health benefits and is consumed very generously.
Harvesting and Processing
The Mate plant is capable of growing over 30 feet in the wild and is kept as a tall shrub for commercial production. Commercial cultivation is limited to The Southern Cone where it is hailed as their national drink.
It all starts in a nursery where the seeds are nurtured to life, then moved to the forest and after a few years of maturing the plant is then ready to be harvested 2x a year.
The process is taken on by dedicated harvesters who use machetes to cut the branches. Each harvester creates their own unique stick from a mate branch and the leaves/branches are tied up in bags with the signature sticks holding them together
Bags of Yerba Mate are weighed and noted, and each harvester is paid for the weight of their bags. The bags are then taken a drying facility. The herb must be dried immediately in order to preserve the nutrients and active compounds.
Traditional preparation processes vary from region to region and culture to culture. A common method involves drying the leaves very slowly using wood smoke. This imparts very different flavor characteristics and chemical makeup; depending on the heat intensity and burning materials used.
The Good Stuff (Nutrition Facts):
Yerba Mate has quite the line-up of nutrients!
- 3 major Xanthines (caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline)
- 24 different vitamins and minerals(including vitamins a, b1, b2, b3, c, e, magnesium, calcium, iron, potassium)
- Purine alkaloids (caffeic acid)
- 11 polyphenols (chlorogenic acid)
- And 15 amino acids.
Yerba Mate also contains a specific, powerful mood regulator amino acid: L-Theanine. L-theanine has a synergistic relationship with caffeine that helps to balance out the stimulatory effects to help you stay alert without feeling jittery. This caffeine and L-theanine combination is referred to as a natural nootropic stack (cognitive enhancer).
Stimulants, like caffeine, promote beta waves and suppress the others. However, L-theanine stimulates the production of alpha brain waves which is associated with an awake, alert, and relaxed state of mental clarity.
The energizing effects of yerba mate come on gently and reach a powerful peak that provides a more natural and sustained feeling of energy, making it a great alternative to a mid-day coffee break.
Mate is also widely used to aid in weight loss by use of mate extract in capsule form with other herbal supplements, or brewed as a tea. Studies cite Yerba Mate to potentially interfere with cholesterol metabolism and delay intestinal absorption of fat. The thermogenic effect of Yerba Mate has been the source of interest to both researchers and those desiring to lose weight.
The 500-year-old tradition of preparing mate is started by packing the dried herb about ¾ full into a gourd and shaken lightly back and forth to make a, ‘mountain of mate’. The mate is then soaked with room temperature water and held at an angle to maintain the mountain shape and preserve the nutrients. A bombilla (filtered metal straw) is added, then hot water (not boiling) is used to fill the gourd.
Customarily, one gourd is shared among a group and refilled with water multiple times. Preparation of Mate without a guord can be done similarly to other herbal teas; maintaining a one tablespoon herb to 8oz. water ratio.
Steep for about 5 minutes. Longer = stronger
The graphic above compares the findings when individuals were given either L-theanine of a placebo during a demanding attention task. The results show significant increases in Alpha waves and activity in the right posterior parietal cortex, a region in the brain important to visual stimulus and attention. 
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