Yerba Mate: 6 Benefits

Growing up, one of my mom’s closest friends Ester was (and still is) from Argentina. Her mom Lucinda drank yerba mate every day. We didn’t know what it was but the funky drinking cup and silver straw she used were very appealing. After much begging, she let us taste it. It was sweet and a rush. And we loved the funky cup and silver straw. Fights over who would drink it next ensued regularly. After we were sufficiently amped up, Ester would cut us off and put everyone out back to run in circles and wear it off. The tea was also super sweet because Lucinda added a teaspoon of sugar to it, which, of course, made it even better.

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With Lucinda at my birthday party. That’s my brother Frank and Lucinda’s granddaughter Elizabeth.

Fond of comforting childhood memories, I stumbled upon yerba mate in a health food store one day in my mid-30’s. I had completely forgotten about my childhood experience with it until that moment and was compelled to purchase it in the hope of reliving a happy memory. Unfortunately, without the sugar and the funky cup and straw the experience was lacking. But there was the caffeine-like rush that I so loved way too much. The struggle is real. I’m a caffeine addict. Actually, a speed addict whatever the substance that gets me the rush (now it’s just caffeine so don’t freak out!). Anyway, I drank it a bit much and had to cut it out altogether.

Fast forward to the present. I’ve tamed the beast in favor of sleep these days but I still imbibe in the occasional black coffee and caffeinated tea. During a visit to my parents’ house a couple of decades ago, Lucinda gave my brother a funky cup and silver straw because she knew how much he loved it. I now own my parents’ house and the funky cup and silver straw. I keep it where I can see it. It reminds me of a happy childhood memory. Still a tea drinker, I’m hooked on this company I came upon somehow on one of my seemingly never-ending online linking frenzies. It’s called The Tea Spot. They carry a nice variety of organic teas. And, yes. Yerba mate. Naturally, I ordered it.

Brewing it in my Bodum tea pot had not yielded the same Lucinda-like results for which I yearned.  I dusted off the funky cup and silver straw and brewed it up gaucho style. But no white sugar, or any sugar. It’s evil as we all know. As I was sucking it down in my kitchen envisioning Gael Garcia Bernal snapping his fingers for his yerba mate in Mozart in the Jungle, I began to wonder about the health benefits of yerba mate. After all, Lucinda lived to be 96 I believe and in relatively good health for most of her life.

So this is what I’ve found:

Yerba Mate tea (Mate), is widely consumed in southern Latin American countries (I already knew this but included it for you).  It is made from an infusion of the dried leaves of Ilex paraguariensis, a plant of the Aquifoliaceae family.  Mate is often drunk out of a dried gourd using a metal straw called “bombilla.”

Scientific literature reports that Mate tea is:

  • hypocholesterolemic (low blood cholesterol), hepatoprotective (prevents liver damage), central nervous system stimulant, diuretic, and antioxidant;
  • beneficial to the cardiovascular system;
  • a protector of DNA oxidation;
  • potentially useful in the management of obesity;
  • plentiful in numerous active phytochemicals that may be responsible for its health benefits — the 2 highest compounds are the polyphenols (chlorogenic acid) and xanthines (caffeine and theobromine), followed by purine alkaloids (caffeic acid, 3, 4-dicaffeoylquinic acid, 3, 5-dicaffeoylquinic acid), flavonoids (quercetin, kaempferol, and rutin), amino acids, minerals (P, Fe, and Ca), and vitamins (C, B1, and B2); and,
  • highly concentrated in bioactive compounds and has also been shown to be cytotoxic to human cancer hepatoma (liver cancer) cells.

Some epidemiological studies have reported an association between the consumption of Mate tea and an increased risk of various types of cancer, including oral, oropharyngeal, esophageal, laryngeal, and bladder.  Boo!

Why do most of us look so miserable? Perhaps no yerba mate?
Why do most of us look so miserable, spooked or downright insane? Perhaps no yerba mate?

So what have we learned here? Some is good. Too much is bad. Moderation strikes once again. Damn it!



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More reading if you’re interested or still buzzing from all the yerba mate you just drank:

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