Some of you may already drink yerba mate on a regular basis, or you have only heard small mentions of yerba mate and how wonderful it is, or you may have never even heard of it at all. But if you enjoy your daily cup of coffee you may want to make the switch to yerba mate after what I have to tell you.
Yerba mate is actually made from the stems and leaves of the small yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis) tree, a member of the holly family native to Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. Yerba mate has been awarded such titles as “The Drink of the Gods” and “the green gold of the Indios”. It was discovered centuries ago by the native people of South America and has been consumed to increase energy, health and longevity. It is the national drink of Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina, and is commonly consumed throughout South America.
- Yerba mate contains 24 vitamins and minerals, 15 amino acids, and antioxidants.
- It is a wonderful alternative to coffee as it provides the same vitality and mental clairty without the jitters.
- It has 52 more active compounds than green tea, and has higher polyphenol and antioxidant concentrations than green or black tea.
- It has been used by indigenous people in South America to aid in digestion and scientific studies have found that it does this by increasing bile flow.
- The polyphenols found in teas, including yerba mate, have been shown to help prevent bad breath by reducing bacterial growth.
- There are many other health benefits of yerba mate, a wonderful list can be found in a PDF document titled “Yerba Mate – Healthy Energy Beverage”.
The Caffeine Debate
Many people may refer to the stimulant found in yerba mate as “mateine”, but most research suggests that there are multiple stimulants in yerba mate including caffeine. According to the Yerba Mate Association of the Americas,
yerba mate contains a total of 3 xanthine alkaloids: caffeine; theobromine (euphoric stimulant associated with chocolate); and theophylline (primary stimulant in green tea). The combination of all 3 of the xanthine alkaloids is unique to mate – and results in ‘the balanced buzz’.
This is why yerba mate does not normally produce the harsh side effects, including headaches, jitters, and upset stomach, for those with caffeine sensitivies. Still many believe that the stimulant in yerba mate is not caffeine but that current scientific tests cannot distinguish between caffeine and whatever the stimulant may be. Guayaki, one of the leading yerba mate producers, calls yerba mate “naturally caffeinated” to be as scientifically accurate as possible. Guayaki even provides a chart called Energy Meter that displays the comparative amounts of “caffeine” per serving size in some of their beverages along with other common teas and coffee drinks. In the case of traditional loose leaf yerba mate, 8oz will contain approximately 85 mg of “natural caffeine” compared to an 8oz cup of brewed coffee, which has approximately 135 mg of caffeine.
Buying Yerba Mate
If you search on the internet for yerba mate you will find numerous websites to buy it, but some of the major companies that produce yerba mate are Guayaki, Eco Teas, and Aviva, Ltd. I cannot vouch for the later two companies, but my experience with Guayaki and their products has been phenomenal. The company’s story is awesome, though I may be biased, since the company was started by two students from my alma mater, Cal Poly, SLO. Many of the companies that produce yerba mate including the three above, sell organic shade-grown yerba mate and are committed to fair trade. In the case of Guayaki, they goes as far as to claim that you can reduce your carbon footprint by drinking Guayaki Yerba Mate as opposed to other commercial beverages.
Drinking Yerba Mate
Yerba mate can be purchased both loose leaf, in tea bags, pre-steeped, and combined with fruit juices and other teas. Traditional yerba mate is drunk from a gourd with a bombilla, a metal filter straw. But the possibilities seem limitless for yerba mate and both Guayaki and Eco Teas provide recipe pages you can experiment with.
And while I do love a good cup of coffee, I cannot deny how much I love the smell of freshly brewed yerba mate. It is a wonderfully refreshing earthy experience that I have enjoyed turning people onto, including my husband. I encourage all those coffee fanatics to give it a try, you may just give up your morning cup of jo for a gourd and bombilla.
Image: El Mate by edithbruck under Creative Commons License
Tom Stevens, M.D. says
This is so emblematic of how screwed up our health is today. We ignore 1,000 years of epidemiological evidence showing that coffee has had no real adverse impacts on human health (when consumed in moderation) and jump straight into bed with foreign substances we want to believe come from Ponce de Leon’s fountain of magical youth.
So instead of eating familiar whole foods, we’re attracted like flies to a bug lamp to “new!”, “exotic!” and other products with health come-ons. Nobody tells you to eat an orange, but our e-mail boxes are filled with spam from people trying to sell us açai berry flushes.
Enough with the fads and gimmicks. There’s nothing wrong with your tea. There’s nothing wrong with your coffee. But there are bored people and there are product marketers who want to convince you that everything your grandmother knew as proper food is wrong and unhealthy.
Just say “no”. Because if you look at this nation’s waistlines and life expectancy, that policy is a complete failure for our health.
I have enjoyed Mate for several years – I started drinking it in lieu of coffee when I got pregnant. Just a few days ago I was reading the book Herbs Dymystified where they referred to several peer-reviewed studies linking yerba mate to various cancers. Some of these appeared to be attributed to the indigenous ways of drinking (gourd/metal straw) and the effects of heat. But some of the negative effects were attributed to hydrocarbons (also found in cigarette smoke). I did some extensive googling and made the (very sad) decision to give up mate. Wanted to pass it on, get your thought. It was surprising to me as I always thought of it as extremely healthy!
Yay for mate! I drink a blend of yerba mate and green tea every morning, with a little maca extract and agave nectar thrown in for good measure. Coffee has always given me a stomach ache, but I’ve loved yerba mate so far. Thanks for writing about it! 🙂
Tom said: “We ignore 1,000 years of epidemiological evidence showing that coffee has had no real adverse impacts on human health (when consumed in moderation) and jump straight into bed with foreign substances we want to believe come from Ponce de Leon’s fountain of magical youth.”
– ahem, and coffee isn’t foreign? and most green tea isn’t foreign? 😉
– don’t get me wrong, I totally agree with taking issue with the latest fad “miracle” whatever-it-is when there is often a local option that does just as well if not better, but as someone who was on hardcore asthma meds for many years and for whom caffeine in the form of coffee or green tea made me miserable in a hyped-up “ping-y” kind of way, whatever Yerba Mate has going synergistically in the way of it’s chemical compounds did NOT give me the jitters/side effects the way that the other two drinks can and actually helped me wean off of theophylline and rescue inhalers after decades of use.
Drinking Yerba Mate also helped a colleague wean herself off of a nasty coffee addiction without the usual headaches and other side effects, and yet didn’t leave her feeling subsequently addicted to the YM instead.
– and I also agree with Carlota’s feel for Guayaki as a company. I’d much rather buy ANY drink that’s made/produced organically and fair trade – which SO many coffees and teas are not.
P – (who doesn’t currently drink YM because she’s pregnant, soon to be nursing, but does appreciate what it has to offer – especially for those who are addicted to large amounts of coffee every day)
andrie montes says
Wondering to which nation is Dr. Tom Stevens referring when it comes to life expectancy? United States 76 to Argentina’s 74?!
Carlota Bindner says
To Dr. Stevens, all I have to say is it is somewhat disappointing to see such a close minded attitude, especially from someone who is of the medical profession.
Just because you have never heard of yerba mate you automatically label it a fad. My mother was drinking yerba mate back in the 70s, a decade before I was born. Yerba mate is a tea, but it is a tea with a lot of benefits, just like green tea. The nutrients from yerba mate have been found in scientific studies. I didn’t write an article on it because it is the latest thing, it is something I noticed no one else had written in length about though it has been mentioned in a number of posts throughout Green Options. And lately since we have a new baby in the house it has helped my husband and I keep going through the late nights.
Another important point, which P brought up, is that most yerba mate is grown in a sustainable manner and often they are fair trade, unlike the majority of coffee that people consume.
No, there is nothing wrong with coffee, I drink a lot of coffee, but I do think it is healthy to include tea as an alternative in your diet. For some yerba mate will provide then with a source of energy that will not give them the adverse reactions that coffee or green or black tea can cause.
And when you refer to the nation’s waistline, you seem to have lost me, we are in the middle of an obesity epidemic are we not? An epidemic that researchers are saying will possibly cause a decrease in the life expectancy of U.S. citizens. When people think about coffee these days they think of some sugar laden drink from Starbucks or other coffee chain, not a cup of simple black coffee. At least yerba mate is normally enjoyed without anything else added to it, which is a lot healthier.
An alternative to coffee, yes, healthy? – definitely not. Research has shown that Mate is linked to increased risks of cancers of the esophagus, mouth, larynx, head and neck, bladder, kidney, and lung and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
I”m amazed how sites like this promote the tea’s healthy values without even mentioning the risks of drinking Yerba mate on a regular basis.
While I’m writing this I’m actually drinking a cup of Yerba mate, which I occasionally like to do, but I will continue drinking coffee (black without sugar) on a regular basis because it is much less harmful than so many try to make us believe. Much less harmful than Yerba mate is.
Most mate is traditionally smoked, which would explain the presence of hydrocarbons. You can get green/unsmoked mate, which wouldn’t have the hydrocarbons. Problem solved.
I would have to say that Yerba mate does not taste as good as coffee but what I like about it is its weight losing effects. It raises metabolism, suppresses appetite, and helps the body burn calories through its ‘thermogenic’ effect.
Sarah Mackie says
can you back your statements with actual research about mate causing cancer? In all my years drinking Yerba mate and research into its properties I have never heard such a claim. You shouldn’t make sure severe comments without actual fact.