The Yerba Mate infusion is the beverage of choice for millions in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil. However, lately, it has gained international fame for being a totally natural drink with endless health benefits and medicinal virtues. As Yerba Mate becomes increasingly popular, we are also finding out more about its origins, preparation and effects.
Yerba Mate is a herbal infusion made with the leaves of the Yerba plant, Ilex Paraguariensis. It has a mildly bitter flavour and, even though there are many ways of having Yerba Mate, the most traditional one is hot brewed Mate, prepared by adding hot water to the Mate leaves in a special pot, and then drinking the beverage through a thin straw, “bombilla”. Read more information about how to brew a good mate tea.
The Guaraní people – natives of South America – are usually credited with having discovered and learned the benefits of Yerba Mate plants, and with developing the method for preparing and drinking the infusion used today. Later, the Spanish Jesuits were the ones who cultivated, transported and traded Yerba Mate. At present, the Ilex Paraguariensis or Yerba Mate plant grows in Argentina, Paraguay and southern Brazil. All attempts to cultivate it beyond these regions have failed. Read more about the history of yerba mate.
The Yerba Mate plant is native to the Parana rainforest, which extends along Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. It is part of a big family of species with over 600 varieties. However, Ilex Paraguariensis is the only variety used in the making of Yerba Mate.
The Yerba Mate plant can reach as much as 10-30 meters in its natural state, even though for harvesting its height is kept at 2 meters at the most. The leaves are evergreen, thick and dark green. The Yerba Mate tree produces small white flowers and small berry-like red fruit.
“Ilex Paraguariensis” derives its name from the area where the Mate infusion was first consumed. The term “Paraguariensis” has its origin in “Provincia Paraguaria”, the region in which the Jesuit missions settled in Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile.
The Ilex Paraguariensis or Yerba Mate plant is principally grown in the wet subtropical region of Argentina, in Misiones and Corrientes, where rainfall reaches around 1800 millimetres a year and the average temperature is 21ºC. Those plants also require the red soils found in these areas, which supply the right minerals and acid level. The dry seeds are sown in March and April. When the plants start to sprout, they are kept in a nursery for about a year prior to being taken outside. Here they spend the following 3 to 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 produced from the dried leaves and branches of the Ilex Paraguariensis. The harvesting of the Yerba is usually manual – even though some producers rely on special machines, too – and may last up to 10 months. It starts between January and May, and extends till September. When the harvest is over, the Yerba Mate tree renews itself and produces more leaves.
These leaves are dried and crushed. Having carefully controlled the aging phase, comes the milling process in which the various parts of the plant are blended in different proportions prior to its packing. Dig deeper into the production of yerba mate here.
After its packing and distribution, Yerba Mate gets to every supermarket in the consuming countries (Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, Chile), and is exported abroad, too! Ready to be made as a good tasting, healthy, hot drink! Find out more about Yerba consumption here.
These are some of the many benefits you can find in our extensive guide.
In Argentina, Yerba is the most drunk beverage after water, with an average of litres of Mate per person a year, as shown by the National Institute of Yerba Mate. It is also regarded as the national beverage in Uruguay; in Paraguay, it is habitually drunk as cold yerba mate (“tereré”), while in southern Brazil, it is consumed as chimarrão. In all these countries, having Mate is part of the culture and lifestyle too.
However, these days drinking Mate goes beyond the borders of South America. It is possible to buy and drink Yerba Mate all around Europe and in the United States, and its great properties are reaching more and more fans by the day.