Yerba Mate Tea – A Caffeinated Herbal Tea

Yerba Mate Tea – A Caffeinated Herbal Tea

Yerba mate tea, often just called mate, is an herbal tea made out of the leaves of Ilex paraguariensis. This plant, being in the Ilex genus, is a species of holly, related to the familiar American holly or English hollies. Yerba mate is unusual in that it is one of the few caffeinated herbal teas, indeed, the only caffeinated herbal tea that is widely available in western countries.

Yerba mate is not technically tea (the only true teas come from the tea plant, Camellia sinensis), and, even though it is technically an herbal tea, people selling it usually refrain from labelling it as such, because people tend to assume that herbal teas are caffeine free, and Yerba mate contains caffeine.

Traditional Drinking of Mate:

Yerba mate is consumed traditionally in a number of the native cultures of South America. This culture has spread into the traditional cultures of many of the countries of South America, which have blended both European and Native American cultural practices.

Traditionally, the mate leaves are steeped and the drink is served in a hollow gourd. Loose leaf mate is steeped in hot water in the gourd. These gourds are made rather permanent, sometimes reinforced with leather or metal. A group of people would then drink mate by passing the gourd around, and drinking it through a straw. The straw has a strainer in it, which filters out the leaves.

Health effects of Yerba mate:

Yerba mate has received some conflicting attention in association with its supposed health risks and benefits. Unfortunately, there is much less research on mate than on tea or coffee, and there are still many unanswered questions about the effects that this plant and the drink made from it have on health.

Some of the early research on mate suggested that it might be carcinogenic. However, it was later found that much of this risk was due to the way it was consumed: drinking hot liquids through a straw can increase the risk of burns and irritation to the mouth and throat, which, if done regularly over a prolonged period of time, can lead to an increased risk of mouth and throat cancer. Another confounding factor was that the early research on mate was carried out on populations that have extremely heavy use of alcohol and tobacco, on top of very heavy mate consumption. It has been proposed that mate does not actually increase cancer risk, but simply makes one more susceptible to carcinogens present in alcohol and tobacco.

Some other research, which was not confounded by these factors, has found powerful anti-cancer activity associated with mate. So it may turn out that mate is beneficial after all, although this has yet to be verified by a large body of strong research.

In conclusion:

Yerba mate is a fascinating herbal beverage, one of the few naturally caffeinated drinks other than tea or coffee, and definitely the most widespread caffeinated beverage in the United States after tea or coffee. It remains somewhat outside the mainstream but is definitely worth trying for people who like consuming caffeine but want to try something different. Little is known about the health effects of mate, but some of the earlier research that suggested it was carcinogenic was found to have confounding factors, so the drink is likely a lot safer than those initial studies gave the impression of.