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Looking for a coffee alternative that packs the same energetic punch? Try yerba mate tea for a healthy way to boost your day
Herbal health trends come and go, but coffee and tea are perennial favorites. What if you could enjoy a beverage that has the invigorating properties of coffee, the health benefits of tea and the rich decadence of chocolate? It may sound too good to be true, but Yerba mate is a beverage that will make you a believer.
Yerba mate is an herbal tea made from the leaves and stems of the evergreen shrub Ilex paraguariensis, native to South America. Related to the North American holly bush, the green, waxy leaves are harvested and dried to make the specialty tea that is used as a coffee alternative around the world.
History of Yerba Mate
Yerba mate's historic value stretches back to the indigenous peoples of South America, where it was used to enhance physical stamina. Consumption spread as this region became influenced by Spanish and European settlers and explorers, eventually leading to plantations dedicated to the cultivation of yerba mate, where I. paraguariensis was harvested year-round.
Traditional preparation methods call for steeping the crushed leaves, referred to as "yerba" or herb, inside of a hollowed-out gourd container called a "mate." Just enough cold water is added to cover the herbs and prepare them for hot water infusion. Once steeped, the yerba remains in the gourd while the tea is sipped through a filtering straw called a "bombilla."
The earthy taste of yerba mate is often balanced with sweetener, creating a full-bodied richness that has been compared to drinking hot chocolate. In many cultures, drinking yerba mate is a communal ritual, wherein the tea-filled gourd is passed to each member of the group, who in turn gives thanks for life's blessings with each sip.
Yerba Mate: Herbal Adaptogen
Yerba mate's popularity spans thousands of years and it's clear why this adaptogenic herb is so appealing. The tea's high caffeine content provides an energy boost, increased alertness and may even help improve concentration.[i]
Yerba mate consumption is also linked with increased stamina, which, combined with energy-boosting properties, can lead to enhanced physical performance.[ii] Yerba mate's stimulating properties were well-known to South American "gauchos" (Spanish cowboys) who used the "cowboy coffee" to help propel them through grueling cattle drives and long days of laborious farm work.
Modern medical science has linked regular consumption of yerba mate with improved mood, making it potentially useful in the treatment of mood disorders.[iii] The tea's combination of stimulant and mood-boosting effects shows promise for use in the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome and depressive disorders.[iv]
As with most plant-based medicinals, yerba mate's potency as a health tonic is due, in part, to a high concentration of polyphenols, micronutrients that produce antioxidant effects. A 2008 study on yerba mate's bioactive compounds found that they act as "free radical scavengers," concluding that regular consumption of yerba mate tea may help protect cells from damage and prevent breakdown of DNA strands, as well as boost DNA repair activity.[v]
Health Benefits of Drinking Yerba Mate Tea
Yerba mate has a wealth of anecdotal evidence supporting its use for a variety of health conditions. Traditional uses include weight loss, possibly due to an appetite reduction effect. Modern scientific studies have confirmed yerba mate's potential to boost metabolism by naturally suppressing hunger, leading to reduced food intake and a reduced growth rate of adipose (fat) tissue.[vi]
Researchers noted a higher basal metabolism in mice fed a yerba mate supplement and that the tea's effects on lipid metabolism can lead to lowered serum cholesterol, triglycerides and glucose concentrations, calling yerba mate a potential treatment for obesity and diabetes.[vii]
A study on yerba mate consumption among Type 2 diabetic and pre-diabetic patients aimed to replicate these benefits in human population groups. Researchers grouped 58 Type 2 and pre-diabetic patients into three groups:
- A "tea only" group consumed 330 milliliters of roasted mate tea three times per day
- Group two, "nutritional intervention only," received dietary counseling
- Group three, "tea and nutritional intervention," drank the same amount of yerba mate tea combined with nutritional counseling over 60 days
Researchers concluded that mate tea consumption improved the glycemic control and lipid profile of Type 2 diabetic patients while mate tea in combination with nutritional intervention was highly effective at decreasing serum cholesterol in pre-diabetic individuals, potentially decreasing their risk of developing heart disease.[viii]
Beyond yerba mate's potential for treating "diabesity," this powerful plant medicine has been studied for its usefulness in treating several metabolic conditions, including hyperinsulinism,[ix] fatty liver disease,[x] metabolic syndrome[xi] and the effects of a diet high in unhealthy fats.[xii]
[i] WebMD, Diet, Are There Health Benefits to Drinking Yerba Mate? https://www.webmd.com/diet/health-benefits-yerba-mate
[ii] WebMD, Diet, Are There Health Benefits to Drinking Yerba Mate? https://www.webmd.com/diet/health-benefits-yerba-mate
[iii] WebMD, Vitamins & Supplements, Yerba Mate, https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-828/yerba-mate
[iv] WebMD, Vitamins & Supplements, Yerba Mate, https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-828/yerba-mate
[v] Daniel D C Miranda, Demétrius P Arçari, José Pedrazzoli, Patrícia de O Carvalho, Suzete M Cerutti, Deborah H M Bastos, Marcelo L Ribeiro. Protective effects of mate tea (Ilex paraguariensis) on H2O2-induced DNA damage and DNA repair in mice. Mutagenesis. 2008 Jul ;23(4):261-5. Epub 2008 Feb 27. PMID: 18308716
[vi] Young-Rye Kang, Hak-Yong Lee, Jung-Hoon Kim, Dea-In Moon, Min-Young Seo, Sang-Hoon Park, Kwang-Ho Choi, Chang-Ryong Kim, Sang-Hyun Kim, Ji-Hyun Oh, Seong-Wan Cho, Sun-Young Kim, Min-Gul Kim, Soo-Wan Chae, Okjin Kim, Hong-Geun Oh. Anti-obesity and anti-diabetic effects of Yerba Mate (Ilex paraguariensis) in C57BL/6J mice fed a high-fat diet. Lab Anim Res. 2012 Mar ;28(1):23-9. Epub 2012 Mar 21. PMID: 22474471
[vii] Young-Rye Kang, Hak-Yong Lee, Jung-Hoon Kim, Dea-In Moon, Min-Young Seo, Sang-Hoon Park, Kwang-Ho Choi, Chang-Ryong Kim, Sang-Hyun Kim, Ji-Hyun Oh, Seong-Wan Cho, Sun-Young Kim, Min-Gul Kim, Soo-Wan Chae, Okjin Kim, Hong-Geun Oh. Anti-obesity and anti-diabetic effects of Yerba Mate (Ilex paraguariensis) in C57BL/6J mice fed a high-fat diet. Lab Anim Res. 2012 Mar ;28(1):23-9. Epub 2012 Mar 21. PMID: 22474471
[viii] Graziela A Klein, Aliny Stefanuto, Brunna C B Boaventura, Elayne C de Morais, Luciana da S Cavalcante, Fernanda de Andrade, Elisabeth Wazlawik, Patrícia F Di Pietro, Marcelo Maraschin, Edson L da Silva. Mate tea (Ilex paraguariensis) improves glycemic and lipid profiles of type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes individuals: a pilot study. J Am Coll Nutr. 2011 Oct ;30(5):320-32. PMID: 22081618
[ix] Jisook Pang, Youngshim Choi, Taesun Park. Ilex paraguariensis extract ameliorates obesity induced by high-fat diet: potential role of AMPK in the visceral adipose tissue. Arch Biochem Biophys. 2008 Aug 15;476(2):178-85. Epub 2008 Feb 26. PMID: 18314006
[x] Ghazi M E Hussein, Hisashi Matsuda, Seikou Nakamura, Toshihito Akiyama, Kouhei Tamura, Masayuki Yoshikawa. Protective and ameliorative effects of maté (Ilex paraguariensis) on metabolic syndrome in TSOD mice. Phytomedicine. 2011 Oct 21. Epub 2011 Oct 21. PMID: 22018902
[xi] Ghazi M E Hussein, Hisashi Matsuda, Seikou Nakamura, Toshihito Akiyama, Kouhei Tamura, Masayuki Yoshikawa. Protective and ameliorative effects of maté (Ilex paraguariensis) on metabolic syndrome in TSOD mice. Phytomedicine. 2011 Oct 21. Epub 2011 Oct 21. PMID: 22018902
[xii] A C Colpo, M E Lima, H S da Rosa, A P Leal, C C Colares, A C Zago, A C F Salgueiro, P R Bertelli, L Minetto, S Moura, A S L Mendez, V Folmer. Ilex paraguariensis extracts extend the lifespan of Drosophila melanogaster fed a high-fat diet. Braz J Med Biol Res. 2017 Nov 30 ;51(2):e6784. Epub 2017 Nov 30. PMID: 29211252