WHAT IS YERBA MATÉ?
What is yerba maté? Yerba maté is a South American drink brewed from dried leaves and twigs of the holly genus plant, with the botanical name Ilex paraguariensis.
Yerba maté grows as a shrub or small tree that can reach up to 15 meters high. This evergreen tree is a species of holly that produces small greenish white four petal flowers and a red berry.
When the yerba mate leaves and twigs are brewed, the tea is similar to green tea. It is said to be best brewed in hot, not boiling, water. Yerba maté has become known as the national drink of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina.
Known in some areas of South America as “The Drink of the Gods”, yerba mate is thought to possess a host of health benefits. Most of which help prolong life.
The history of yerba maté can be traced back to the semi-nomadic Guarani people of southern Brazil, northern Argentina and Paraguay.
These forest nomads are said to be the earliest known people to harvest and drink the stimulating yerba maté beverage. Legend has it that the Guarani believe the yerba maté tree to be a gift given to a group of weary travelers by a benevolent god as a reward for their righteousness.
This legend eventually carried on giving yerba maté tea its “Drink of the Gods” nickname. The Guarani were said to use yerba maté as a daily tonic for health. They gather around a fire to socialize and pass around the gourd of yerba maté. This ancient custom of drinking yerba mate from a gourd became a tradition.
Even today it continues to be a daily habit of the people now living in this area. Yerba maté also became a central part of their system of medicine and healing.
The tea became an important part of spiritual rituals. It also also served as currency for them when trading with the Incas and Charruas.
In the sixteenth century, Spanish conquistadores arrived in Argentina. When they arrived, they discovered the native people drinking their gourd of yerba maté tea. The Spaniards enjoyed this stimulating drink. They persuaded the people to teach them how to brew their own yerba maté tea. As demand for yerba maté started to rise, the Jesuits decided to begin harvesting and cultivating it on yerba maté plantations.
Today, the cultivation of yerba maté continues in parts of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay and the custom of drinking yerba maté tea has gone global.