The yerba mate tea is the drink of choice for millions of people in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil; but in recent years, it has gained international reputation for being a completely natural drink with countless health benefits and medicinal properties. As yerba mate becomes more and more popular, we are also discovering more about its origin, preparation and effects.
Yerba mate is a herbal infusion prepared with the leaves of the yerba mate plant called Ilex Paraguariensis. It has a slightly bitter flavor and although there are several ways of drinking yerba mate, the most traditional is hot brewed mate, which is prepared by adding hot water to the mate leaves in a special gourd, and then drinking the infusion through a thin straw called bombilla. More information on how to brew a good mate tea here.
The Guaraní people (natives of some South American countries) are often credited with discovering and studying the benefits of yerba mate plants, developing the method by which this infusion is prepared and drunk today. Later, it was the Spanish Jesuits who were responsible for cultivating, transporting and trading yerba mate. Today, the Ilex Paraguariensis or yerba mate plant grows in Argentina, Paraguay and southern Brazil. All attempts to cultivate it outside these territories have been unsuccessful. Read more here about the history of yerba mate.
The yerba mate plant is native to the Paranaense rainforest, which extends through Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. It is part of a large family of species with more than 600 varieties; but Ilex Paraguariensis is the only variety used for the production of yerba mate.
The yerba mate plant can be as high as 10-30 meters in its natural state, although for the purpose of harvesting, the height is maintained 2 meters maximum. The leaves are evergreen, thick and dark green. The yerba mate tree produces small white flowers and a small berry-like red fruit.
The name Ilex Paraguariensis comes from the region where the yerba mate tea was originally consumed. The word “Paraguariensis” comes from “Provincia Paraguaria”, the area where the Jesuit missions were established in Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Brazil and Chile.
The Ilex Paraguariensis or yerba mate plant is mainly grown in the humid subtropical region of Argentina, in the provinces of Misiones and Corrientes, where rainfall reaches about 1800 millimeters per year and there is an average temperature of 21ºC. These plants also need the red soils found in these regions, which provide the appropriate minerals and acid level. The dry seeds are sown between March and April. When the plants begin to sprout, they are kept in a nursery for around 1 year before they are taken outside, where they will spend the next 3-5 years before the first harvest. The yerba mate plant can have a productive life of up to 100 years.
The yerba mate extract is made from the dried leaves and branches of the Ilex Paraguariensis plant. The harvesting of the yerba mate leaves is generally done manually (although some producers also have special machines) and can last up to 10 months, starting between January and May and extending until September. At the end of the harvest, the yerba mate tree regenerates and produces more leaves.
These yerba mate leaves are dried and then crushed. After a carefully controlled aging phase, then comes the milling process where the different parts of the plant are mixed in different proportions before being packaged. Learn more here abut the production of yerba mate.
After being packaged and distributed, yerba mate reaches all supermarkets in the consuming countries (Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil and some parts of Chile), and is also exported abroad, ready to be prepared as a tasty and very healthy hot beverage! Read more here about mate consumption.
Among many other benefits detailed in our extensive guide.
In Argentina, yerba mate is the most consumed beverage after water, with an average of 100 litres of mate per person per year, according to the National Institute of Yerba Mate. It is also considered the national drink in Uruguay. In Paraguay, it is usually drunk as cold brewed yerba mate (called tereré) and in southern Brazil it is drunk as chimarrão. In all these countries, drinking mate is also part of the culture and lifestyle of their citizens.
But nowadays, the consumption of yerba mate transcends the borders of South America. It is possible to buy and drink yerba mate all over Europe and in the United States, and its excellent properties are gaining more and more followers every day.