Centuries ago, when indigenous people in the South American rainforest discovered the good energy provided by the leaves of the yerba maté tree (Ilex paraguariensis), it became the base of their herbal medicine. Now, scientific review is substantiating their reverence for “maté” (pronounced in two syllables as ma-tae).
News of maté’s health benefits and stimulation is spreading across North America as drinkers find that it is a healthy alternative to coffee and tea.
Innovations have modernized the earthy flavour of maté and new styles, including iced teas and convenient maté lattes, have jolted the beverage into the mainstream in North America. Maté is now sold in thousands of grocery stores, cafés and natural food stores.
Yerba maté provides a complex combination of xanthine alkaloids that include caffeine, theophylline, and theobromine (the euphoriant in chocolate). Caffeine levels vary by brand and blend, but most tea bags on the market range between 25 mg and 50 mg caffeine per 250-mL cup. It is anecdotally reported that caffeine-sensitive individuals who drink maté do not experience side effects such as headaches, stomach discomfort, and jitters commonly associated with caffeinated drinks.
Chemical substances found in maté may help the body to break down fat and turn it into energy.
Metabolic effects may also allow more calories to be burned. European physicians have been using maté in obesity treatments for years. In 2001 a team in Denmark studying obesity reported that a herbal preparation containing maté significantly delayed gastric emptying, which helped participants feel full longer and induced weight loss.
The list of maté’s proven health benefits continues to grow. Studies have shown it may stimulate adrenal glands to produce corticosteroids, which help suppress the inflammation and immune response due to allergies. Another study claims low-density lipoprotein (LDL, “bad cholesterol”) oxidation is inhibited by maté. LDL oxidation is considered to be the initiating factor to the onset of atherosclerosis. In addition to being good for human health, most maté sold in North America is grown in a sustainable manner in the shade of the natural rainforest, which protects wildlife habitat and helps maté maintain more medicinal and nutritional properties.
Because yerba maté is a stimulant, if you are taking medication, it would be wise to inform your medical health practitioner that you now enjoy this South American herbal drink.
In Argentina and Paraguay where yerba maté outsells coffee seven to one, it is prepared in a gourd also called a mate and sipped through a bombilla, a filtered metal straw.
Infusions of maté contain
196 active compounds, including vitamins A, C, E, B1, B2, niacin (B3), B5, and B complex; and the minerals calcium, manganese, iron, selenium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc; as well as 15 amino acids, carotene, chlorophyll, fatty acids, flavonols, inositol, and tannins. Yerba maté boasts 11 polyphenols, powerful antioxidants considered to exhibit anticancer effects. Maté’s polyphenol and antioxidant counts are higher than green and black teas. Maté also contains saponins, phytochemicals that stimulate the immune system and fight disease.