Looking for an alternative to your standard cup of joe? How about Yerba Mate? With almost as much caffeine per cup as coffee, this unassuming herb can still help kick start your day, plus pack your body with antioxidants, and as you’ll read on, lots more!
But wait, what exactly is Yerba Mate? The tea starts as an evergreen shrub from the Holly family (Ilex paraguariensis) in the subtropical forests of Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina. Traditionally enjoyed by the indigenous Guaraní people, the leaves were steeped in small gourds and drank as a cold infusion through hollow straws. Today, the leaves are dried, roasted or smoked, and powdered, and the drinking vessels are often made of wood or bone,
called mates. The water is hot and strained through metallic straws, or bombillas, being refilled multiple times with hot water once drained. The beverage may have evolved over the centuries but the tradition of sharing Yerba Mate in groups begun by Guaraní ceremonies is still a bonding ritual that exists today, especially throughout much of South America.
Besides its ability to bring people together, this cousin to the Holly shrub contains an amazing array of health benefits with every sip.
1. Weight Loss
Much of the weight loss associated with Yerba Mate is because of its high caffeine content. When you’ve had one too many espressos and you’re up until 2 am, you’re all too familiar with the stimulating effects of caffeine. This potent alkaloid has a strong physiological effect on the body, increasing your heart rate and blood pressure, decreasing your appetite, dilating your blood vessels, and potentially inducing weight loss by increasing your resting metabolic rate, a process called thermogenesis. Studies show that supplementation of this herb over 12 weeks greatly increased weight loss amongst participants, specifically around the waist, and when paired with exercise, it significantly increased their ability to burn fat.
2. Lowers Blood Sugar
Animal research has long shown that Yerba Mate lowers blood sugar and improves insulin signaling, but finally, human studies as recently as 2020 show that in conjunction with the supplements White Mulberry and Chromium Picolinate, it is indeed helpful in improving blood sugar and reducing insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes. Regularly drinking mate every morning may be enough to lower your HbA1c percentages, an average of your blood glucose levels over 2 to 3 months, which is good news if you’re diabetic.
Keeping healthy in today’s world means protecting yourself from environmental toxins and the cellular damage they create. Supplementing with antioxidants is the best prevention, as research has shown that antioxidants are successful at scavenging and neutralizing toxins at a cellular level. Yerba Mate just happens to be brimming over with antioxidants, including saponins, which are slightly bitter compounds that are also anti-inflammatory, can help lower cholesterol and create a foaming action like soap. That’s why you’ll often see bubbles in Yerba Mate tea. Polyphenols are also present – similar to the well-known, brain-boosting, heart-friendly ones found in dark chocolate, blueberries, and red wine. Caffeoyl derivatives from caffeine carry stimulating antioxidants including xanthine and theobromine, making you feel more alert, focused, and able to take on your day or perhaps a lively party, such as you might find in Buenos Aires, where this beverage would be in high demand!
4. Improves Brain Health
Like coffee, the caffeine content in Yerba Mate makes it a wonderful beverage to use as a pick-me-up for the brain, improving mental clarity, focus, concentration, and productivity. However, the high antioxidant content found in mate is also good for the brain, as one study shows that drinking it leads to a lower incidence of Parkinson’s disease amongst 65-year-old South Americans. Oxidative stress plays an important role in the degeneration of neurons in Parkinson's disease. The antioxidants in mate may have a protective role against the illness.
5. Also Good for the Heart
Not only do antioxidants protect against neurodegenerative diseases, but they also help keep the heart healthy and strong. Turns out, the polyphenols and saponins present in Yerba Mate have lipid-lowering properties – or they lower the amount of fat found in the blood. A study in 2019 amongst overweight females revealed that daily consumption of mate led to reduced total and LDL (bad) cholesterol over 12 weeks, and when paired with a low-calorie diet, triglyceride levels (another type of fat found in the blood) also dropped.
But Take Caution
Because of its high caffeine content, those who are taking medications in which caffeine is contraindicated, such as specific asthma or contraceptive drugs, should beware. Yerba Mate also contains compounds that exhibit mild monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) activity. MAOIs are often prescribed in medications for depression and Parkinson’s disease and so it is not recommended to consume Yerba Mate if you are already taking medications for either one of these.
Because the leaves of the shrub are smoked before they are powdered means that, like grilled meats or tobacco, the tea often contains variable amounts of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which are carcinogenic. The role of mate (especially served hot) in increasing the risk of esophageal, larynx, and oral cancer, is supported by several epidemiological studies. The hot temperature may mildly damage the mucus lining of the
mouth and throat, thus accelerating metabolic reactions. However, more research needs to be done before a definitive statement can be made regarding cancer risk and Yerba Mate consumption. Either way, if you’d like to reduce your exposure to PAHs, consider purchasing unsmoked Yerba Mate, which is more available now than ever before.
Pairing Yerba Mate with Herbs
Don’t have a mate cup, a gourd at home, or a bombilla straw to enjoy your tea with? Don’t fret! Try some Blooming Mate Tea instead. A delicious floral tea blend that awakens your senses and invites Spring right into your cup or kitchen, Blooming Mate Tea contains a nice foundational dose of Yerba Mate, paired with rejuvenating brain herbs Gotu Kola and Ginkgo Leaf. In 2016, Gotu Kola Leaf proved to be more effective than folic acid in improving the memory of participants who had recently suffered from a stroke. Ginkgo Leaf contains anti-
inflammatory compounds that protect the heart and brain, and also increase blood flow and dilate blood vessels to these vital organs. Moringa Leaf is also found in Blooming Mate Tea, a power-packed herb that is rich in vitamins and nutrients, including Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Folate, Magnesium, Iron, Calcium, Phosphorus, and Zinc. Linden and Jasmine Flower add an uplifting aroma, lovely floral flavor, and mood-elevating quality to this tea, while Lemon Peel finishes off this blend with another infusion of Vitamin C and a nice citrusy twist of flavor.
However you choose to explore Yerba Mate, don’t do it alone. This herb is meant to be consumed with others, in a spirit of friendship and camaraderie. Salud!