SmartshopHerbsEnergyYerba maté (Ilex paraguariensis)
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Yerba maté (Ilex paraguariensis)

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Yerba maté is known as a drink, brewed from the dried leaves and stemlets of the perennial tree Ilex paraguarensis. It is an evergreen member of the holly family. It grows wild in Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Brazil, but is most abundant in Paraguay where it is also cultivated. The plant is classified vaguely, according to Western herbal medicine, as aromatic, stimulant, bitter, aperient (laxative), astringent, diuretic, purgative, sudorific (sweat inducing), and febrifuge (fever reducing). Mate contains numerous vitamins and minerals.

Yerba maté (literally, the 'maté herb') gets its name from the traditional cup (called 'maté' as well) used to drink it. This cup, originally a dried and decorated gourd, can be made out of almost anything these days. In South America it is still sipped from this cup using a metal or wood decorative straw/filter called a bombilla.

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Maté tea has become almost pathologically ritualized in a manner reminiscent of coffee and tea abuse in Western and Eastern countries. Among the native Guarani, on the other hand, the natural use of maté for healthful purposes has persisted. They use it to boost immunity, cleanse and detoxify the blood, tone the nervous system, restore youthful hair colour, retard ageing, combat fatigue, stimulate the mind, control the appetite, reduce the effects of debilitating disease, reduce stress, and eliminate insomnia.


To prepare the maté infusion, the dried minced leaves of the Yerba maté are placed inside the maté cup and hot water (approx. 70°C) is added. The infusion is sucked through a metal pipe called "bombilla," which has a strainer at its lower end to prevent the minced leaves from reaching the mouth. There are as many different techniques to prepare maté as mate drinkers, here is a fairly traditional method:

  • Fill the maté cup with Yerba mate up to 3/4 of its capacity. A variation that will give you more tea per infusion and a less potent taste is to fill the maté cup only half way, or even a little less than that.
  • Pour some hot water in until it nearly fills the cup. Don't worry if some of the leaves remain dry, floating on the top. They will eventually absorb water in subsequent infusions.
  • Let it stand a few seconds and replenish with hot water when the previous one is absorbed by the dry maté leaves.
  • When the water is not absorbed any more, close the bombilla's "mouthpiece" with your thumb and insert it firmly into the maté cup.

Some people add sugar and/or some herbs (like mint, for example). Some replace the water with milk, especially for the children. You drink and replenish the maté with hot water many times till the liquid comes out with almost no taste. The repetitive extraction with hot water seems to be an efficient way of extracting the beneficial properties of the herb.


Most of the info on this page is based on this useful website. Also Erowid has gathered a lot of information. Find here another botanical/historical report and Wikipedia gives extended descriptions of preparing and drinking maté.

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