Bring out the herb… but make it yerb(a)

Where to begin with this fascinating herb, known as yerba mate? Well, for starters, with the Guarani. Guarani, indigenous groups who inhabit what is now Paraguay, the northern part of Argentina, southern and southwestern Brazil, and southeastern Bolivia, with remains found even in some tombs in Peru, were already well versed in the use of mate before the arrival of the Spanish conquerors. The drink is so extraordinary and word spread so quickly that it wasn’t long before the Spanish began to consume it as well.

Foto: © FG Trade a través de
Photo: © FG Trade via

The several names of yerba mate

The Latin name is Ilex paraguariensis and there is a fierce debate among those who say the essence of mate lies in the stem, while the others argue that it is in the leaves themselves. This is why we find yerba mate sold both with and without the stem, which gives us different consistencies. In some parts of Brazil it is called chimarrao, or cimarrón in Spanish, which means feral or wild. Brazilian mate is produced in a different way, the leaves are stored wet, giving it a longer life.

Foto: © EmersonCruz a través de
Photo: © EmersonCruz via

It has a compound similar to caffeine in coffee or theine in tea, which has been dubbed mateine. While each organism will react differently to certain things, in the experience of followers of this great beverage, one which carries with it tradition and mysticism, mateine produces a relaxing and, at the same time, stimulating effect, and promotes concentration. Its properties are many – it is full of nutrients, antioxidants, diuretics, an enemy of cholesterol, an ally of study, a good companion for talks, and a complement to tobacco (although on this platform we try to support healthier habits).

Foto: © Igor Alecsander a través de
Photo: © Igor Alecsander via

A beverage, a ritual

It’s important to consider the ritual that encompasses the drink. Mate (MAH-tay) is actually the name for the vessel into which yerba mate is poured. The bombilla is the metal filter you imbibe it with, and every time you call it a straw, an Argentine dies. And then there is the art of cebar, or how to prepare the drink. Not everyone does it well, you have to take special care of the water temperature and know how to pour it. So popular is yerba mate in the countries that consume it, several national kettle makers have a setting for yerba mate temperatures (70-85° C or 158-185° F).

Foto: © Angelo D’Amico a través de
Photo: © Angelo D’Amico via

What more to say about this exquisite drink and the beautiful preparation ritual it entails? Che! To the preparation of the chimarrao, my friends! Try it and see. Get yourself maté mate (sorry, couldn’t resist) and compare your techniques. When the mate bubbles, it is said to be the breath of a spirit.

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