Yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis) and guayusa (Ilex guayusa) are two closely related holly plants native to South America, both of which produce caffeine. Because yerba mate tea is not made from the Camellia sinensis plant, it is not technically “tea” by scientific classification. However, yerba mate falls within the product category of tea and is colloquially referred to as such.
The first section of this article briefly highlights the flavour, preparation, and health benefits of yerba mate tea, and the second section consists of my recommendations for yerba mate products. The third section is a comprehensive discussion of yerba mate tea, including its origin, history and specific health benefits. The fourth and final section summarizes this article’s key points.
Flavour, Preparation, and Health Benefits of Yerba Mate.
Flavour Profile of Yerba Mate.
Yerba mate has a grassy, slightly tart flavour, which is due to the high tannin content in the leaves.
How To Brew Yerba Mate.
You can prepare yerba mate with boiling water, but to minimize bitterness, use water that is 95 °C (200 °F). Pour water on the leaves and steep for three to five minutes, depending on the desired strength. Use a bombilla straw for drinking your yerba mate; the straw acts as a filter, allowing you to drink the tea while separating it from the leaves.
Health Benefits of Yerba Mate.
Yerba mate tea has several health benefits associated with it, many of which are similar to the health benefits of guayusa. Yerba mate can help with energy, weight loss, strengthening the immune system, cardiovascular health, and protection against infections.
Tea Recommendations and Personal Thoughts.
Founder of The Tea Tribe
Yerba mate has a distinctive taste that not everyone initially likes. For those looking to start drinking yerba mate, I recommend beginning with a blend. A favourite of mine is Morning Kick from Bird & Blend Tea Co. Two other favourites were Chocolate Rocket and Main Squeeze, both of which were carried by DavidsTea but are no longer available. For those who have graduated to the status of straight yerba mate tea drinkers, Guayaki’s Traditional Loose-leaf Yerba Mate is a staple.
Individuals who place value on health and fitness tend to gravitate to yerba mate because of its ability to enhance energy and weight loss, along with the other health benefits. While yerba mate is growing in popularity in North American markets, I believe tea companies have fallen short in offering diverse, high-quality blends.
A Comprehensive Discussion of Yerba Mate.
For modern tea drinkers, yerba mate is the name of the tea drink. However, the name is made up of two distinct components of the drink. The English translation of the word yerba is “herb”, while the word mate is derived from the Quechua word “mati”, meaning “infusion of a herb”.
Cultivation, Production and Export of Yerba Mate.
The yerba plant (Ilex paraguariensis) is an indigenous plant from South America. The concentration of caffeine and other nutrients varies depending on if the plant is female or male, with milder flavours and lower caffeine concentrations tending to come from female plants. The majority of yerba mate tea is made from the male plants containing higher caffeine levels (Wikipedia, 2019).
South American farmers plant the seeds in a protected environment, and once mate seedlings have germinated, they are transferred from the nursery to the field. It takes four years for the yerba mate plant to mature enough to be ready for the first harvest.
After yerba is harvested, the branches and leaves are usually dried by a wood fire producing a smoky flavour. When dried, yerba leaves are then stored in bags to age the tea, further shaping the taste profile. Once the mate is sufficiently aged, it is milled, blended, packaged and sold (Yerba Mate Argentina, N.D).
Two countries, Brazil and Argentina, supply most of the yerba mate tea to the global market (87.6%) (Tridge, 2019). Interestingly, Uruguay is the biggest global importer of yerba mate, suggesting market demand is mainly confined to South America. The import and export trends of yerba have a bearing on consumers outside of South America: yerba is not as easy to find as more common tea varieties, like black and green tea. Because of this, there is a natural degree of expertise and exclusivity to those who do drink yerba mate.
Health Benefits of Yerba Mate.
The high concentration of polyphenols found in yerba mate tea is the compound behind many of the attributed health benefits (Gambero, 2015). Research has shown that allergy symptoms can improve with yerba mate consumption (Bremner, 2002), and some studies have shown that yerba mate can play a role in reducing high blood sugar (Bracesco, 2011).
Rich in Antioxidants.
While green tea receives attention for its concentration of antioxidants, what is less known is that yerba mate contains slightly more antioxidants than green tea (Chandra, 2004). The three main classes of antioxidants in yerba mate are caffeoyl derivatives, saponins and polyphenols.
Caffeoyl derivative compounds are the primary health-promoting antioxidants in yerba mate. Saponins have anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-lowering properties; these bitter compounds are what give yerba mate it’s tart taste. Polyphenols are an extensive collection of antioxidants that are known to reduce the risk of numerous diseases.
While the concentration is low, yerba mate contains seven of the nine essential amino acids needed by the human body. It also contains almost every vitamin and mineral your body requires. Since yerba mate has an impressive profile of nutrients (Tenorio, 1991), try including yerba mate consumption into your daily routine, along with a healthy diet and exercise (Heck, 2007).
Yerba mate tea also contains compounds including caffeine, which increase mental energy, focus (Nehlig, 1992) and mood (Petre, 2016). However, what makes yerba mate different from coffee is that it has a unique profile of compounds. While not scientifically proven, many tea drinkers that consume yerba mate maintain that the drink provides the energy boost similar to coffee without the jittery side effects.
Yerba mate has a beneficial effect in the management of obesity (Conceição, 2016). In one study, yerba mate treatment prevented weight gain and reduced total body fat, visceral fat and food intake. Yerba mate also contains compounds that act as an appetite suppressant (Wichtl, 2004) and may be useful for those looking to lose weight (Kim, 2015).
Another study found yerba mate to be a safe long-term dietary supplement. Specifically, long-term consumption may be beneficial for improving diet-induced obesity, insulin resistance, abnormally high lipids in the blood, as well as fat buildup in the liver (Conceição, 2016). Another study suggested that yerba mate modulates the expression of genes that are changed in the obese state and restores them to more normal levels of expression (Gambero, 2015).
Research shows that caffeine can improve sports performance, making chilled yerba mate a great drink to have while working out. Beyond offering an overall boost in your workout, yerba mate may be an effective way to promote weight loss when combined with exercise. One study found that participants burned 24% more fat during moderate-intensity exercise when given one 1-gram of ground yerba mate leaves right before activity (Alkhatib, 2014)! Scientific evidence suggests that the compounds in yerba mate increases the metabolic rate and reduces both the number of fat cells, as well as the amount of fat each cell holds (Kang, 2012). Other scientific studies have found yerba mate also increases the amount of stored fat burned for energy (Alkhatib, 2014)(Martinet, 1999).
Yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis) is technically not tea because it does not come from the Camellia sinensis plant. Instead, yerba mate is a member of the holly plant family and one of the few plants that produce caffeine. Yerba mate is closely related to guayusa, also a member of the holly plant family.
Yerba mate is indigenous to South America and produced mainly in Brazil and Argentina. Yerba mate has not yet taken off in the European and North American markets. However, it is increasing in popularity, especially among those interested in health and fitness.
Although yerba mate has slightly less caffeine than coffee, it can be a good substitute as many people claim it comes without coffee’s jittery side effects, which can help avoid an energy crash. Perhaps the most significant and most understated benefit of yerba mate is its potential to help tea drinkers lose weight. Several scientific studies examining yerba mate’s ability to help regulate weight show positive results. Specifically, yerba mate helps reduce body fat and improves workout performance.
Share what you think of yerba mate, why you drink it, and what your favourite brands are in the comments below.
Alkhatib, A. (2014). Yerba Maté (Ilex paraguariensis) ingestion augments fat oxidation and energy expenditure during exercise at various submaximal intensities. Nutrition & Metabolism, 11(1), 42. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-11-42
Bracesco, N., Sanchez, A., Contreras, V., Menini, T., & Gugliucci, A. (2011). Recent advances on Ilex paraguariensis research: Minireview. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 136(3), 378–384. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2010.06.032
Bremner, P., & Heinrich, M. (2002). Natural products as targeted modulators of the nuclear factor-KB pathway. Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, 54(4), 453–472. doi: 10.1211/0022357021778637
Chandra, S., & Mejia, E. G. D. (2004). Polyphenolic Compounds, Antioxidant Capacity, and Quinone Reductase Activity of an Aqueous Extract of Ardisia compressa in Comparison to Mate (Ilex paraguariensis) and Green (Camellia sinensis) Teas. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 52(11), 3583–3589. doi: 10.1021/jf0352632
Conceição, E. P. S., Kaezer, A. R., Peixoto-Silva, N., Felzenszwalb, I., Oliveira, E. D., Moura, E. G., & Lisboa, P. C. (2016). Effects of Ilex paraguariensis (yerba mate) on the hypothalamic signalling of insulin and leptin and liver dysfunction in adult rats overfed during lactation. Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, 8(1), 123–132. doi: 10.1017/s2040174416000519
Gambero, A., & Ribeiro, M. (2015). The Positive Effects of Yerba Maté (Ilex paraguariensis) in Obesity. Nutrients, 7(2), 730–750. doi: 10.3390/nu7020730
Heck, C., & Mejia, E. D. (2007). Yerba Mate Tea (Ilex paraguariensis): A Comprehensive Review on Chemistry, Health Implications, and Technological Considerations. Journal of Food Science, 72(9). doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2007.00535.x
Kang, Y.-R., Lee, H.-Y., Kim, J.-H., Moon, D.-I., Seo, M.-Y., Park, S.-H., … Oh, H.-G. (2012). Anti-obesity and anti-diabetic effects of Yerba Mate (Ilex paraguariensis) in C57BL/6J mice fed a high-fat diet. Laboratory Animal Research, 28(1), 23. doi: 10.5625/lar.2012.28.1.23
Kim, S.-Y., Oh, M.-R., Kim, M.-G., Chae, H.-J., & Chae, S.-W. (2015). Anti-obesity effects of Yerba Mate (Ilex Paraguariensis): a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 15(1). doi: 10.1186/s12906-015-0859-1
Martinet, A., Hostettmann, K., & Schutz, Y. (1999). Thermogenic effects of commercially available plant preparations aimed at treating human obesity. Phytomedicine, 6(4), 231–238. doi: 10.1016/s0944-7113(99)80014-2
Muñoz-Culla, M., Sáenz-Cuesta, M., Guereca-Barandiaran, M. J., Ribeiro, M. L., & Otaegui, D. (2016). Yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis) inhibits lymphocyte activation in vitro. Food & Function, 7(11), 4556–4563. doi: 10.1039/c6fo01061j
Nehlig, A., Daval, J.-L., & Debry, G. (1992). Caffeine and the central nervous system: mechanisms of action, biochemical, metabolic and psychostimulant effects. Brain Research Reviews, 17(2), 139–170. doi: 10.1016/0165-0173(92)90012-b
Petre, A. (2016, May 1). What is Caffeine, and is it Good or Bad For Health? Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/what-is-caffeine
Tenorio, M. D. S., & Torija, M. E. I. (1991). Mineral elements in mate herb (Ilex paraguariensis St. H.). Arch Latinoam Nutr. , 41(3), 441–454. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1824521
Tridge . (2019). Mate global export and top exporting countries. Retrieved from https://www.tridge.com/intelligences/mate/export
Wichtl, M. (2004). Herbal drugs and phytopharmaceuticals: a handbook for practice on a scientific basis. Stuttgart: Medpharm. 978-0849319617
Wikipedia. (2019, June 18). Yerba mate. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yerba_mate
Yerba Mate Argentina. - How is yerba mate produced? Retrieved from https://yerbamateargentina.org.ar/en/yerba-mate/como-se-produce/