What is the origin of mate?
Mate is a beverage from South America, very popular in countries like Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay. To understand its present importance, it is necessary to know its history.
The Guaraní and their yerba
Mate consumption dates back to the Guarani people (natives of some South American countries), as confirmed by the investigations of essayist and journalist Amaro Villanueva. They chewed the leaves directly or placed them in a calabash gourd with water and sipped. In fact, the word “mate” comes from the Guarani “Caa-mate” ( “Caa” means plant or grass, and “mate” refers to the gourd). Other groups like the Incas, the Charruas and even the Araucanos adopted mate from the Guarani. For the natives, the mate plant was a sacred gift of the gods, and the mate had for them a special and spiritual significance, in addition to its nutritional value.
Popularity in colonial times
Thanks to its virtues and benefits, mate soon became popular among the Spaniards who colonized South America. The yerba was carried from its place of origin throughout the territory under Spanish rule, and especially the Jesuits were responsible for extending the use of mate by using it in their reductions, although they drank boiled mate and not from a gourd. They also discovered that the mate plant germinates only in certain regions of South America, a secret that was confirmed half a century later by the French naturalist Aimé Bonpland.
The “gauchos” and their love for yerba mate
During the long process of Argentina’s independence in the 19th century, the tradition of mate gained strength in Argentine folklore. The “gauchos” (a kind of Argentine cowboy) adopted mate as part of their culture, along with riding horses and wearing leather clothing. They drank mate in groups, for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner and before going to bed.
Yerba mate, today
Yerba mate is grown in Argentina, Paraguay and southern Brazil, where conditions of soil, temperature and humidity are ideal. Just like those old gauchos, mate is part of the daily life of an average Argentine. It is consumed equally in homes, offices, parks, universities and squares, not only for its properties as an infusion, but for its role as a social bond.