Mate Tea: an overview
Hailing from South America, mate, also known as yerba mate, is a traditional tea-like drink brewed from the dried leaves and twigs of the Ilex paraguariensis plant. Since first appearing on the scene back in the 1500s when the Guarani Tribe of northern Argentina, Tupi of Brazil and the people of Paraguay consumed the drink, mate has had an interesting history. Fascinating highlights include mate tea being banned by Jesuit priests in the 1600s, before making its way to high-class European homes during the 1700s and 1800s and the mate tea industry almost being decimated in the 1900s only to see greater demand for the drink today by health-conscious consumers who want to reap its many potential health benefits. Interestingly, the health benefits of yerba mate caught researchers’ attention in the United States in 1899 during the International Commercial Congress, when the tea was recognized for its healing and curative properties.
For many people around the world, while yerba mate offers a natural herbal remedy for healing, the tea is also a symbol of culture and part of social gatherings with family and friends. Rich in caffeine, the tea is traditionally made by steeping leaves in hot water and consumed in a gourd, but many people also use a French press for brewing these days. In some cultures, sharing yerba mate tea with others is a gesture of friendship and goodwill, and has become quite a common social practice particularly among the gauchos in Argentina, as well everyday people in Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, Chile and elsewhere in the world including the Middle East, Europe and North America.
When it comes to healing properties, yerba mate is rich in nutrients and antioxidants. It is interesting to note that other studies have shown that yerba mate tea also has more antioxidants than green tea. Also, there are several plant nutrients present in the yerba mate tea including the stimulating compounds xanthine, caffeine, and theobromine, which the latter two also found in coffee and chocolate.
Yerba mate also has health-boosting caffeoyl derivatives and polyphenols, both of which are known for their anti-oxidizing properties, as well as saponins which have been found to help with inflammation and lowering cholesterol. Finally, essential amino acids and vitamins are also present in yerba mate tea, with higher concentrations of Vitamin B and Vitamin C.
Benefits of Mate Tea
As far as health benefits, yerba mate offers quite a few according to some studies. While additional research is necessary to confirm the healing properties of yerba mate, recent studies revealed the different ways that the herbal tea can help to treat or reduce certain health conditions.
Enhances Energy and Mental Clarity. Given that yerba mate boasts caffeine, which by the way is about 85 mg per cup, people who consume the tea may experience a boost in energy and mental alertness. However, given that there is less caffeine in mate than coffee, the feelings of jitteriness are not there. When it comes to concentration, the caffeine in mate triggers molecules in the brain, which helps people to focus better. Other studies showed that consuming the mate with caffeine also impacted reaction time, alertness and the ability to recall things in the short-term.
Boosts the Immune System. Saponins, natural compounds in yerba mate, can help with inflammation, a symptom that can lead to other health problems if not treated. Along with the compounds, mate is full of healthy vitamins and minerals such as selenium, zinc and Vitamin C and Vitamin E, all known for helping to strengthen the immune system.
May Fight Infections. Yerba mate tea is made of compounds and other properties that are beneficial for combatting infections and other symptoms. Along with intestinal parasites, consuming mate tea may help to prevent infections from bacteria and fungi, as well as curb related symptoms such as diarrhea and skin rashes. It important to note that studies on yerba mate and infections were done using isolated cells, so further study is required to really gauge its effectiveness.
Helps with Constipation. When people are experiencing constipation and discomfort, drinking yerba mate tea can offer relief because of the stimulating effects of caffeine that can help with bowel movements.
Protects Against Heart Disease. Credit the caffeoyl derivatives and polyphenols in yerba mate to protect people against heart disease. The compounds are known for being powerful antioxidants that also help decrease inflammation and lower cholesterol levels, both of which can contribute to heart disease over time.
Decreases Blood Sugar Levels. For those individuals who have diabetes, consuming yerba mate tea may help to improve signaling and reduce the complications associated with the disease, as well as help to better control blood sugar.
Improves Physical Performance. Active types may notice that after consuming yerba mate that they may feel less fatigue and fewer muscle contractions. It is not surprising given that research reveals that the caffeine present in the tea can help improve sports performance, and one study revealed people who consumed the tea right before working out burned more fat. While the optimal amount of yerba mate to consume before physical activity has yet to be confirmed, drinking the tea does have its advantages.
Aids in Weight Loss. In studies, yerba mate has reduced the total number of fat cells indicating that consuming the tea may help with losing excess weight, as well as managing weight. Furthermore, consuming a yerba mate may increase stored fat that is used to burn energy. When observing overweight people in a 12-week study, researchers noticed a decrease in the waist-to-hip ratio, an indicator of losing belly fat. So, when it comes to weight loss, yerba mate can play a role in boosting metabolism, reducing people’s appetites and increasing the amount of fat burned for energy, all of which may contribute to overall weight loss.
Side Effects of Mate Tea
While yerba mate tea does not contribute to significant side effects, there are some instances when it is best to be mindful of their potential impact.
For instance, people who drink tea on a regular basis in large quantities may increase their risk for cancer of the digestive and respiratory tracts. Mate tea has also been associated with esophageal, lung and mouth cancer, with smokers being the most vulnerable; a however deeper scientific investigation is necessary to learn more about mate’s connection to cancer. Some experts cite that polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, a known carcinogen, is present in mate, and may be the cause for its potential cancerous effects.
Since yerba mate does contain caffeine, people who drink the tea who are sensitive to caffeine may experience irritability, difficulty sleeping, and migraines.
Women who are pregnant should not drink more than three cups of yerba mate a day.
As for interactions with other medication, yerba mate tea can interfere with medications containing monoamine oxidase inhibitors, as well as antidepressants and muscle relaxers. If you are concerned about whether you should be drinking yerba mate if you are taking prescribed medication or have a health condition, it is always best to consult a medical professional.
There is no standard serving for drinking yerba mate tea. However, people often drink anywhere from one to five cups per day. Yerba mate can be served hot or cold, and some people add sugar, lemon juice or milk to their liking. Others add orange essence, herbs, cinnamon or almond milk for interesting flavor combinations.
Yerba mate tea is available as loose tea leaves, in tea bags, in powdered form and bottled tea variations. In Brazil, mate is a popular type of iced tea and can be found being sold by vendors on the beaches.
When preparing yerba mate tea, the traditional process is similar to that of the process of preparing loose leaf teas and involves brewing and drinking from a gourd, which is also known as a calabash, using a metal straw, known as the bombilla, which serves as a filter. Along with the traditional methods, many people opt to make yerba mate tea using the French press method. Finally, it is not uncommon at social events for people to drink yerba mate tea from the same cup and pass it around during the gathering.
Rich in antioxidants and polyphenols, yerba mate is a tea that continues to attract global interest because of its healing properties. The herbal tea has been around for centuries ever since the people of South America, primarily Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil, started drinking it for medicinal reasons. Fast forward to modern times, and there is an increased demand for yerba mate all over the world among those who want to achieve greater health and wellness.
If you haven’t had the chance to try yerba mate tea, perhaps it’s time to experience this popular drink for yourself, especially if you are craving a little caffeine and energy boost during the day. So do you think you will be drinking yerba mate tea in the near future?