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A little Yerba Maté "Maté" (MA-TAY) Education
Billions of people start the day with a hot cup of coffee or tea. But in some parts of the world, people wake up with a drink you may not be familiar with — yerba mate. I've been drinking it for the past 12 years, love the benefits, and want to share this with others. It was called “the drink of the gods” by many indigenous South Americans and later “the green gold of the Indios” by European settlers.Yerba mate is a traditional South American brew that’s been said to offer the “strength of coffee, the health benefits of tea, and the euphoria of chocolate” all in one beverage. Yerba mate is a traditional drink made from the dried leaves of an evergreen holly, Ilex paraguariensis, a native plant of South America.
This plant is found in the wild but is also cultivated on plantations similarly to familiar kinds of tea. In countries where yerba mate is widely consumed, it assumes the cultural importance exemplified by coffee cafés and Japanese tea ceremonies. Drinking yerba mate tea is often a social event. Sharing this drink from a traditional gourd is a sign of friendship and bonding. Mate drinking has its own vocabulary — not unlike ordering a coffee at Starbucks!
It’s wildly popular in Uruguay, where it’s not unusual to see people walking down the street sipping mate while carrying a thermos of hot water to refresh their drink. Pope Francis was the first pope photographed sharing mate with his followers. If you haven’t tried it, the best way to describe the taste is grassy and similar to green tea. If you weren’t raised on it, you might find it an acquired taste.
But even if you don’t love it, you may want to drink it anyway. Yerba mate consumption is not skyrocketing in many parts of the world because of the way it tastes. It’s gaining in popularity because of the way it improves how people feel.
The obvious and immediate benefits of yerba mate are increased energy and enhanced mental clarity, alertness, focus, and concentration. Some of the health benefits that follow are less widely known, at least to those of us not living in a mate-drinking part of the world.
1. Yerba mate provides a smooth increase in energy.
Yerba mate is well-known for providing an energy boost that’s been described as gentle, clean, and calm. Compared to the other most commonly used stimulants in the world — coffee, tea, kola nut, cocoa and guarana — yerba mate delivers the most balanced energy boost, according to Guayaki, North America’s top yerba mate distributor.
Yerba mate drinkers experience a state of alert wakefulness similar to that from coffee, but without coffee’s side effects. It rarely interferes with sleep and doesn’t cause the caffeine jitters.
Athletes use it to enhance physical performance. It’s useful for people suffering from mental or physical fatigue, or from chronic fatigue syndrome. You may have come across the claim that yerba mate contains no caffeine, but this is not true. At 85 mg caffeine per 8 ounces, it contains more caffeine than tea but less than coffee. You may hear that it contains mateine instead, a compound said to be similar to caffeine. While the caffeine-like effect of yerba mate certainly feels different than that of coffee, a unique compound has not been discovered. Mateine is simply another name for caffeine.
2. Yerba mate boosts mental functions of all kinds.
Everyone wants to be as smart, productive, focused, and creative as possible and yerba mate may just help you do that. Yerba mate contains a moderate amount of caffeine, the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world. The brain enhancing benefits of caffeine are commonly known.
It enhances memory, mood, and alertness. It makes you more motivated and productive by stimulating production of the neurotransmitter dopamine. But besides caffeine, yerba mate contains two related compounds, theobromine and theophylline. These three alkaloids work together to provide unique, mild stimulant effects, as they also do in green tea. Yerba mate has found a niche following among “brain hackers” seeking to optimize mental performance with anything that gives them an edge.
Bestselling author Tim Ferriss is among the most famous biohackers. He admits he’s experimented extensively with brain enhancing substances of all kinds, including smart drugs. And, in the end, his all-time favorite brain enhancing substance is yerba mate. He prefers it over coffee since he experiences no crash and finds it non-addictive. And unlike smart drugs, it has no “payback time.” He makes a special brew of yerba mate with ginger and turmeric that he calls “titanium tea.”
3. Yerba mate is a nutritional powerhouse loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Yerba mate is so loaded with nutrition that it contains practically all the micronutrients needed to sustain life. Each serving of mate contains the following vitamins and high concentration of these minerals:
• vitamin A
• vitamin C
• vitamins B1, B2, B3, and B5
• vitamin E
It also contains other beneficial phytonutrients such as tannins, trace minerals, chlorophyll, flavonoids, and 15 amino acids. Yerba mate contains 11 polyphenols and exhibits more antioxidant power than any other tea-based drink.
4. Yerba mate has a long history of traditional medicinal uses.
Dr. Leslie Taylor is an herbalist and naturopath who has dedicated her life to exploring the healing properties of native, medicinal plants of the Amazon rain forest.
In her book The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs , she lists dozens of uses for yerba mate including:
• as a stimulant
• as an overall tonic and digestive aid
• as part of a weight loss regime
• as a general nerve tonic for pain, fatigue, and depression
• for allergies and sinusitis
You can learn more about traditional yerba mate benefits and uses in her tropical plant database. There you’ll find close to 100 scientific references to studies that support the claims of traditional yerba mate.
5. Yerba mate can boost the immune system.
Yerba mate is high in compounds called saponins. Saponins are natural emulsifiers that boost the immune system and have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Yerba mate has been shown to be useful for treating bladder infections. It is also helpful in modulating the overactive immune response seen with seasonal allergies.
6. Yerba mate tea can help you lose weight.
Yerba mate got a big boost in awareness as a weight loss aid after Dr. Oz included it in a segment on his TV show about teas that can help you lose weight. But can it really help you lose weight? There’s some evidence that yerba mate can aid weight loss by reducing appetite, increasing energy expenditure, improving insulin sensitivity, and burning stored fat.
7. Yerba mate has a long history as a digestive and elimination tonic.
One traditional yerba mate benefit is for treating constipation, diarrhea, and indigestion.
It’s naturally antibacterial against E. coli, one of the most common causes of food poisoning. At least one saponin found in yerba mate destroys intestinal parasites. It’s also useful for both preventing and treating bladder and kidney stones.
8. Yerba mate can build strong bones, even without exercise.
Drinking yerba mate tea increases bone density, even in people who don’t exercise. This was a somewhat surprising discovery since caffeine is associated with bone mineral loss and exercise is deemed critical for building strong bones. Post-menopausal women, a group particularly at risk for osteoporosis, who regularly drank mate had almost 10% greater bone density in their spines than women who didn’t drink it. Neither group of women exercised.
9. Yerba mate helps keep your heart healthy.
Yerba mate is useful for heart-related conditions including heart failure, irregular heartbeat, and low blood pressure. Its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties protect the heart and cardiovascular system. The theobromine in mate relaxes blood vessels allowing for better blood flow.
10. Yerba mate extract kills cancer cells.
We’ve saved this benefit for last since it’s the most controversial. It contains several known anti-cancer compounds such as saponins, ursolic acid, rutin, tannin, chlorogenic acid, and chlorophyll. When yerba mate extract is added to human colon cancer cells in a test tube, the cancer cells self-destruct. Conversely, there’s some concern that yerba mate may cause some kinds of cancer — mainly esophagus, lungs, mouth, pharynx and larynx. However, there’s evidence that the real cause is that mate is traditionally consumed scalding hot. Frequent exposure to extremely hot liquids is known to cause these kinds of cancers. Another theory is that mate drinkers in certain areas of South America often smoke tobacco and drink alcohol in excess which may be contributing factors.
Drinking Yerba Mate
Traditionally, this brew is sipped from a gourd called a calabash through a silver straw called a bombilla (Pronounced Bom Bisha). Using a French press, like you would for coffee, works very well. The easiest way to get started is using yerba mate tea bags and drinking it out of a regular mug. And this might be the best way to start. Kids in mate-drinking countries are introduced to it by drinking tea prepared with tea bags which is less potent. Unless you know you tolerate mate and caffeine well, we recommend starting this way too.
Yerba Mate Benefits: The Bottom Line
Yerba mate is one of the healthiest drinks on the planet. It provides a similar energy and productivity boost as coffee but with less caffeine and more nutrients. It is generally less stimulating than coffee and rarely causes caffeine jitters or insomnia. It offers a plethora of health benefits from improved cognition to stronger bones. If you are looking for a healthy replacement for caffeine-laden energy drinks or soda or just want a change of pace from coffee, yerba mate is an excellent alternative.
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