Yerba Mate: The best health booster you never heard of!

Being from Brazil, I grew up around Yerba Mate.  It is one of the most popular natural drinks in my home country.  However, it wasn’t until I move to the US that I came to fully appreciate the benefits of this amazing plant!  Yerba Mate is a member of the holly family and has been consumed for centuries in South America. Originating from the leaves and twigs of the holly bush, Mate is dried over fire and later steeped in hot water.

What is Chimarrão Brazilian Yerba Mate?

It’s pronounced “she-ma-HOWN” and sometimes spelled without the tilde mark as chimarrao. Basically, chimarrão is the term for traditional yerba mate from Brazil. Less formally, it’s synonymous with erva mate (pronounced “erva-MATCH”, with a soft “a” for “match”)—the Brazilian way of saying “yerba mate.”  It’s the traditional “Gaucho” herbal infusion of the three lower states of Brazil: Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, and Paraná, where mate is predominately consumed in the country.

Yerba Mate is grown all over South America, but for someone like me who has Guaraní heritage, it seems like almost a crime not to get to know this beautiful plant better.  As I started my research for this article, I came across this beautiful video by David “Mate” Askaripour of Circle of Drink, which gives a detailed history of Mate and how it came to be so popular.  This is definitely worth watching:

Benefits of Yerba Mate

  1. Yerba mate is an antioxidant powerhouse that contains many beneficial plant nutrients! It actually has more concentration of antioxidants than green tea!
  2. Thanks to its caffeine content, yerba mate can help increase your energy levels and boost your mental focus. It has less caffeine than a cup of coffee but a little more than a cup of tea. Caffeine can also affect the levels of certain signaling molecules in your brain, making it particularly beneficial for your mental focus.
  3. Yerba mate increases your body’s reliance on fat for fuel during exercise. It may also improve muscle contractions and reduce fatigue, all of which may contribute to better physical performance. In fact, in one study, those given one 1-gram capsule of ground yerba mate leaves right before exercise burned 24% more fat during moderate-intensity exercise (Source: Pub Med central). A higher reliance on fat for fuel during exercise spares your carb reserves for critical high-intensity moments, such as cycling up a hill or sprinting towards the finish line. This could translate into better sports performance.
  4. Yerba Mate | Restoring Eden mate may have some anti-bacterial, anti-parasitic, and anti-fungal properties. However, more research is needed. One test-tube study found that a high dose of yerba mate extract deactivated E. coli, a bacteria that causes food poisoning symptoms like stomach cramps and diarrhea (Source: Pub Med Central). Compounds in yerba mate may also prevent the growth of Malassezia furfur, a fungus responsible for scaly skin, dandruff, and certain skin rashes. 
  5. Yerba mate may reduce appetite, boost metabolism, and increase the amount of fat burned for fuel. This could help you lose weight. It seems to decrease the total number of fat cells and reduce the amount of fat they hold. Furthermore, in a 12-week study in overweight people, those given 3 grams of yerba mate powder per day lost an average of 1.5 pounds (0.7 kg). They also reduced their waist-to-hip ratio by 2%, which indicates lost belly fat (Source: Pub Med Central).In comparison, the participants given a placebo gained an average of 6.2 pounds (2.8 kg) and increased their waist-to-hip ratio by 1% over the same 12-week period.
  6. Yerba mate has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that may boost your immune system. Yerba mate contains saponins, which are natural compounds with anti-inflammatory properties. In addition, it provides small amounts of vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, and zinc. These antioxidants can strengthen your immune system and promote health. However, researchers have not yet investigated the direct effects of yerba mate on the human immune system.
  7. Yerba mate may improve insulin signaling and blood sugar control. However, more human research is needed. In fact, a recent animal study reports that it may improve insulin signaling.  It may also reduce the formation of advanced glycation end-products (AGEs), which are involved in the development and worsening of many diseases. However, research in people is currently lacking.
  8. Yerba mate’s antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and cholesterol-lowering properties may help protect against heart disease. Yerba mate contains antioxidant compounds, such as caffeoyl derivatives and polyphenols, which may protect against heart disease. Cell and animal studies also report that mate extract may provide some protection against heart disease. In humans, yerba mate seems to reduce cholesterol levels. In one 40-day study, participants who drank 11 ounces (330 ml) of yerba mate each day lowered their “bad” LDL cholesterol levels by 8.6–13.1%. That said, more studies are needed before strong conclusions can be reached.

How to drink Yerba Mate

Yerba Mate cups come in all shapes and sizes.  It can be made from a gourd, made of wood, glass, metal, ceramic and even cow horn!  It is generally used alongside with a BombillaA bombilla, bomba or massasa is a type of drinking straw, used to drink mate. In metal bombillas, the lower end is perforated and acts as a metal filter which is used to separate the mate infusion from leaves, stems, and other mate debris, and functions in a similar fashion to the perforated metal screen of a teapot.  

In terms of shape there are 2 types: One of them looks like a spoon with a strainer on it.  This one is by far the easiest one to use when drinking mate without the stems (pure leaf).  However, at times it can be difficult to clean.  You can also use a flexible straw with a metal spring on the end.  The spring it what acts as a strainer which can be removed for a faster clean.

If you do not want to use a bombilla, you can get started with steeping Yerba Mate as a tea.  If you decide to explore the full depth of flavor of this amazing plant, you can then invest in the complete set, of mug and bombilla.  You want to use a lower temperature water in order to prevent the overcooking of the herb.  If your water temperature is too hot, your drink will be very bitter due to the very quick extraction of the tannins of the herb.  

Yerba Mate infuses much slower than tea leaves or coffee. Brew too fast and you get very little flavor, too slow and it can be too strong. The temperature of the water may vary between 160- and 180-degrees F. DO NOT EVER ADD BOILING WATER. 

You can also use a french press to brew your Mate. A french press will pull all the nutrients out of yerba mate. The trick to making it work (especially with dusty yerba mate) is not to stir the yerba, it you stir a dusty brand the dust makes it to the top and clogs up the press.  Add about one tablespoon of yerba mate for every 12 oz of water in the press, wet the leaves with lukewarm or cold water let it sit a few minutes then add hot water. Allow the leaves to float to the top and settle. Do not stir. Insert the screen and push down slowly. You can brew the same yerba mate several times!

Yerba Mate has a strong flavor.  The depth of the flavor can sometimes be based on the location where it is grown and the time of year when it is harvested, along with the drying and toasting process. 

At the Emporium – we carry 2 types of Yerba Mate:

We encourage you to give this amazingly healthy beverage a try!