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Yerba mate

This article is about the plant, for the drink see mate (beverage).
Yerba mate / Erva-mate

Ilex paraguariensis
Conservation status

Near Threatened
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Aquifoliales
Family: Aquifoliaceae
Genus: Ilex
Species: I. paraguariensis
Binomial name
Ilex paraguariensis
A. St. Hil.

Yerba mate / Erva-mate*, Ilex paraguariensis, is a species of holly (family Aquifoliaceae) native to subtropical South America in Argentina, eastern Paraguay, western Uruguay and southern Brazil. [1]

The yerba mate plant is a shrub or small tree growing up to 15 meters tall. The leaves are evergreen, 7–11 cm long and 3–5.5 cm wide, with a serrated margin. The flowers are small, greenish-white, with four petals. The fruit is a red berry 4–6 mm diameter.[2]



The infusion called mate is prepared by steeping dry leaves (and twigs) of yerba mate in hot water, rather than in boiling water like black tea. It is a slightly less potent stimulant than coffee and much gentler on the stomach. Drinking mate with friends from a shared hollow gourd (also called a mate in Spanish, or cabaça or cuia in Portuguese) with a metal straw (a bombilla in Spanish, bomba or canudo in Portuguese) is an extremely common social practice in Argentina,[3][4] Uruguay, Paraguay, southern Chile, eastern Bolivia and Brazil [5] and also Syria and Lebanon.

The flavor of brewed yerba mate is strongly vegetal, herbal, and grassy, reminiscent of some varieties of green tea. Many consider the flavor to be very agreeable, but it is generally bitter if steeped in boiling water (as with coffee), so it is made using hot but not boiling water. Unlike most teas, it does not become bitter and astringent when steeped for extended periods, and the leaves may be infused several times. Additionally, one can purchase flavored mate in many varieties.

In Brazil, a toasted version of mate, known as chá mate or "mate tea", is sold in teabag and loose form, and served, sweetened, in specialized shops, either hot or iced with fruit juice or milk. An iced, sweetened version of toasted mate is sold as an uncarbonated soft drink, with or without fruit flavoring. The toasted variety of mate has less of a bitter flavor and more of a spicy fragrance. It is more popular in the coastal cities of Brazil, as opposed to the far southern states where it is consumed in the traditional way (green, drunk with a silver straw from a shared gourd).

Similarly, a form of mate is sold in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay in tea bags to be drunk in a similar way to tea. This is known in Spanish as mate cocido or cocido. In Argentina this is commonly drunk with breakfast or as part of merienda (roughly, afternoon tea), often with a selection of facturas (sweet pastries). It is also made by heating yerba in water and straining it as it cools.

In Paraguay, yerba mate is also drunk as a cold beverage. Usually drunk out of a cows horn in the countryside, terrerre as it is known in the guaraní language, is served with cold or iced water. Medicinal herbs mixed in a mortar and pestle are added to the water for taste or medicinal reasons. Tereré consumed in Northern Argentina may also be made as an infusion of yerba mate with grapefruit or lemon juice.


The pronunciation of yerba mate in standard Spanish is [ˈɟɛrβa ˈmate]. The Rioplatense dialect spoken in Uruguay and Argentina turns the first sound in yerba into a postalveolar fricative consonant, giving [ˈʃɛrβa] in regions closer to Buenos Aires and Montevideo, gradually blending into [ˈʒɛrβa] as one goes farther from the city, and eventually to [dʒɛrβa] around Mendoza. The word hierba is Spanish for grass or herb; yerba is a variant spelling of it which is quite common in Argentina. Mate is from the Quechua mati, meaning "cup". Yerba mate is therefore literally the "cup herb".

The (Brazilian) Portuguese name is erva-mate [ˈɛrva ˈmati] (also pronounced as [ˈɛrva ˈmate] in some regions) and is also used to prepare the drinks chimarrão (hot) or tereré (cold). While the tea is made with the toasted leaves, these drinks are made with green ones, and are very popular in the south of the country. The name given to the plant in Guaraní (Guarani, in Portuguese), language of the indigenous people who first cultivated and enjoyed erva-mate / yerba mate, is ka'a, which has the same meaning as erva/yerba.

In English-speaking countries, the spelling used is yerba maté (with an accented é)[6][7][8][9]—where the acute accent indicates that the e is not silent, and thus that the word should not be pronounced as the English word mate.


  The plant is grown and processed mainly in South America, more specifically in Northern Argentina (Corrientes, Misiones), Paraguay, Uruguay and southern Brazil (Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Paraná). The Guaraní are reputed to be the first people who cultivated the plant; the first Europeans to do this were Jesuit missionaries, who spread the drinking habit as far as Ecuador.[10]

When the yerba is harvested, the branches are dried sometimes with a wood fire, imparting a smoky flavor. Then the leaves and sometimes the twigs are broken up.

There are many brands and types of yerba, with and without twigs, some with low powder content. Some types are less strong in flavor (suave, "mild") and there are blends flavored with mint, orange and grapefruit skin, etc.

The plant Ilex Paraguariensis can vary in strength of the flavor, caffeine levels and other nutrients depending on whether it is a male or female plant. Female plants tend to be milder in flavor, and lower in caffeine. They are also relatively scarce in the areas where yerba mate is planted and cultivated, not wild-harvested, compared to the male plants.[11]

Chemical composition and properties

  Mate contains xanthines, which are alkaloids in the same family as caffeine, theophylline, and theobromine, well-known stimulants also found in coffee and chocolate. Mate also contains elements such as potassium, magnesium and manganese.[12] Caffeine content varies between 0.3% and 1.7% of dry weight (compare this to 2.5–4.5% for tea leaves, and 1.5% for ground coffee).

Mate products are sometimes marketed as "caffeine-free" alternatives to coffee and tea, and said to have fewer negative effects. This is often based on a claim that the primary active xanthine in mate is "mateine", erroneously said to be a stereoisomer of caffeine. As it is not chemically possible for caffeine to have a stereoisomer, this claim is false. "Mateine" is an official synonym of caffeine in the chemical databases. [13]

Researchers at Florida International University in Miami have found that yerba mate does contain caffeine, but some people seem to tolerate a mate drink better than coffee or tea. This is expected since mate contains different chemicals (other than caffeine) from tea or coffee.

From reports of personal experience with mate, its physiological effects are similar to (yet distinct from) more widespread caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea, or guarana drinks. Users report a mental state of wakefulness, focus and alertness reminiscent of most stimulants, but often remark on mate's unique lack of the negative effects typically created by other such compounds, such as anxiety, diarrhea, "jitteriness", and heart palpitations. (The laxative effect of coffee derives from a substance that surrounds the raw bean, not the caffeine itself.[citation needed])

Reasons for mate's unique physiological attributes are beginning to emerge in scientific research. Studies of mate, though very limited, have shown preliminary evidence that the mate xanthine cocktail is different from other plants containing caffeine most significantly in its effects on muscle tissue, as opposed to those on the central nervous system, which are similar to those of other natural stimulants. Mate has been shown to have a relaxing effect on smooth muscle tissue, and a stimulating effect on myocardial (heart) tissue.[14]

Mate's negative effects are anecdotally claimed to be of a lesser degree than those of coffee, though no explanation for this is offered or even credibly postulated, except for its potential as a placebo effect. Many users report that drinking yerba mate does not prevent them from being able to fall asleep, as is often the case with some more common stimulating beverages, while still enhancing their energy and ability to remain awake at will. However, the net amount of caffeine in one preparation of yerba mate is typically quite high, in large part because the repeated filling of the mate with hot water is able to extract the highly-soluble xanthines extremely effectively. It is for this reason that one mate may be shared among several people and yet produce the desired stimulating effect in all of them.

In vivo and in vitro studies are showing yerba mate to exhibit significant cancer-fighting activity. Researchers at the University of Illinois (2005) found yerba mate to be "rich in phenolic constituents" and to "inhibit oral cancer cell proliferation". [15]

On the other hand, a study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer showed a limited correlation between oral cancer and the drinking of hot mate (no data were collected on drinkers of cold mate). Given the influence of the temperature of water, as well as the lack of complete adjustment for age, alcohol consumption and smoking, the study concludes that mate is "not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans".[16] Yerba mate consumption has been associated with increased incidence of bladder, esophageal, oral, squamous cell of the head and neck, and lung cancer. [17][18][19][20][21][22] It should be noted that the consumption of hot beverages itself is a risk factor for several kinds of cancer.

The pyrrolizidine alkaloids contained in mate tea are known to produce a rare condition of the liver, veno-occlusive disease, which produces liver failure due to progressive occlusion of the small venous channels in the liver. One fatal case has been reported in a young British woman who consumed very large quantities of mate tea from Paraguay. McGee, JO'D (1976). "A case of veno-occlusive disease of the liver in Britain associated with herbal tea consumption". J. clin. Path 29: 788-794. Retrieved on 2007-11-05.

An August 11, 2005, United States patent application (documents #20050176777, #20030185908,[23] and #20020054926) cites yerba mate extract as an inhibitor of MAO activity; the maximal inhibition observed in vitro was 40–50%. A monoamine oxidase inhibitor is a type of antidepressant, so there is some data to suggest that yerba mate has a calming effect in this regard.

In addition, it has been noted by the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine that yerba mate can cause high blood pressure when used in conjunction with other MAO inhibitors (such as Nardil and Parnate). [24]

Emerging research also shows that Yerba Mate preparations can alter the concentration of members of the ecto-nucleoside triphosphate diphosphohydrolase (E-NTPDase) family, resulting in an elevated level of extracellular ATP, ADP, and AMP. This was found with chronic ingestion (15 days) of an aqueous Yerba extract, and can lead to a novel mechanism for manipulation of vascular regenerative factors, i.e., treating heart disease.[1].

Mate contains both caffeine and theobromine (which antagonize adenosine receptors) and reduces the body production of adenosine in the blood (prolongs half life of ATP, ADP, and AMP). These two processes will synergize to provide a much cleaner stimulation than a simple dose of caffeine (only blocking adenosine receptors).

See also


  1. ^ World Conservation Monitoring Centre (1998). Ilex paraguariensis. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 09 May 2006.
  2. ^ Yerba mate — what? at
  3. ^ Yerba Mate: National Drink of Argentina?
  4. ^ Yerba mate in Argentina
  5. ^ Basic guide to yerba mate.
  6. ^ The New Oxford American Dictionary
  7. ^ The Oxford English Dictionary
  8. ^ American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
  9. ^ the Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary
  10. ^ Ross W. Jamieson "The Essence of Commodification: Caffeine dependencies in the early modern world", Journal of Social History, Winter 2001
  11. ^ Nativa Yerba Mate]
  12. ^ Mundo Matero - Chemical Features
  13. ^ Does Yerba Mate Contain Caffeine or Mateine?
  14. ^ RainTree Nutrition, Tropical Plant Database. Yerba mate.
  15. ^ Pixie Maté. Studies on Yerba mate healthy energy.
  16. ^ International Agency for Research on Cancer, Mate Research
  17. ^ Bates MN et al (2007). "EBladder cancer and mate consumption in Argentina: a case-control study.". Cancer Lett. 246(1-2): 268-73.
  18. ^ De Stefani E et al (2007). "Non-alcoholic beverages and risk of bladder cancer in Uruguay.". BMC Cancer. 7: 57.
  19. ^ Goldenberg D et al (2004). "Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg.". Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 131(6): 986–93.
  20. ^ Sewram V et al (2003). "Maté consumption and the risk of squamous cell esophageal cancer in uruguay.". Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 12(6): 508–13.
  21. ^ Goldenberg D et al (2003). "The beverage maté: a risk factor for cancer of the head and neck.". Head Neck. 25(7): 595–601.
  22. ^ Pintos J et al (1994). "Maté, coffee, and tea consumption and risk of cancers of the upper aerodigestive tract in southern Brazil.". Epidemiology. 5(6): 583–90.
  23. ^ US Patent description of "Monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors and uses thereof"
  24. ^ Dietary supplemental fact sheet from the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Yerba_mate". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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