Ever heard of Lusia Roncoroni? She was the first ever Argentinian to live past her 110th birthday.
Did you know only 1 in every 1000 centenarians (i.e. people who are 100 or more years old) live past this age?
Then there is Virginia Moyano, who is exactly 113 years and 1 month old. When they ask her what is the secret to her long life, she humbly says “remembering beautiful memories that make you laugh”. Though statements like these always bring smile to our faces, we somehow cannot help but wonder – is there anything else?
According to statistics from 2013, there are almost 3,500 centenarians in Argentina, each with a story of their own to tell. Still, we yearn for that one ingredient that links them all; the one that promises eternal life (or at least a long and healthy one).
Yerba mate, El té de los dioses, as Argentinians would call it, or the green gold of the Indios, referred to it by the Europeans; while in reality the tea of gods might not promise eternity, it does offer unique benefits no other beverage, from Eastern nor Western medicine has provided so far.
What is Yerba Mate?
Yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis) translates to mate herb, with mate originating from the Quechua mati which denotes a container for a drink or infusion of a herb.
Yerba mate tea represents a national Argentinian drink and is traditionally consumed on the South American continent. This unique brew is often described by those who indulge in it regularly as the beverage that has the strength of coffee, the health benefits of tea and the euphoria of chocolate.
It is made from the dried leaves of an evergreen holly which can be found in the wild. The plant first grows as a shrub that later matures to a tree which can be up to 49 ft tall. Leaves of yerba mate are enriched with small, greenish-white flowers with 4 petals, as well as a red drupe fruit.
First-class yerba mate is shade-grown and thrives naturally in rainforests located between 10th and 30th parallels where humidity levels are pretty high, with up to 1500mm of rain annually. Nevertheless, as more and more people recognize its benefits, we are now seeing yerba mate cultivated on plantations all over South America.
Yerba mate provides energy boost and contains nearly 200 active compounds, i.e. 196 vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to be exact, while green tea has only 144. What is more, it has higher antioxidant and polyphenol counts than both black and green teas. Actually, of the 6 most popular stimulants (coffee, cocoa, guarana, tea, kola nut), yerba mate earned the title of the most balanced one, delivering both nutrition and energy.
The History of Yerba Mate
Traditionally, sharing yerba mate was a sign of bonding and friendship. It has a long history in traditional medicine, and for centuries Aché Guayakí tribe have consumed yerba mate due to its rejuvenating effects and high nutritional value.
In the 16th century, both Spanish settlers and indigenous Guaranis consumed yerba mate; 100 years later, it managed to spread to River Plate, continuing on to Chile, Argentina, Peru and Bolivia, turning into Paraguay’s main commodity, overshadowing tobacco. Today, Brazil represents the largest yerba mate producer, holding 53% of the market, followed by Argentina and its 37%.
In 1964, the Pasteur Institute found that yerba mate contains all the vitamins needed to sustain life. In fact, they claim it will be extremely difficult to find a plant in any area of the world that will come even close to the nutritional value yerba mate has to offer.
Dr. Leslie Taylor, a herbalist and naturopath, has dedicated her life to studying the healing properties of native, medicinal plants of the Amazon rain forest, and in her book The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs she provides almost 100 scientific references that support the claim of traditional yerba mate.
Over the years, a specialized vocabulary was developed around this beverage; unique words and phrases are used to refer to people who brew yerba mate and enjoy it, to denote different types of yerba mate, the tools used during the drinking ritual and preparation, and finally, the feelings that overcome you while consuming yerba mate.
Today, yerba mate assumes cultural importance and represents a social event. Aside from Argentina where people consume about 500 millions of dollars worth of yerba mate a year, it is extremely popular in Uruguay where you can actually see people walking down the street sipping tea from their thermos.
Yerba Mate vs. Coffee vs. Tea
Can you imagine exchanging the ritualistic morning coffee for a cup of tea? Almost no one is ready to trade the energy boost they receive from this heavenly drink – at least not until they are introduced to yerba mate that offers the same, and so much more.
Drinkers report experiencing a state of alert wakefulness, minus the side-effects that come with coffee. How come? Yerba mate contains caffeine, theobromine and theophylline, with the amount of caffeine varying between that of coffee and green tea. What differs it from tea is that yerba mate has lower tannin content, while unlike coffee, it is not acid and oil forming, thus not causing jitters.
Yerba mate contains 85mg of caffeine per 8-ounce cup, and is as such stronger than tea, but not as strong as coffee. There are those who are researching the presence of mateine, and although many claim that a caffeine-like effect of yerba mate tea feels quite different than after drinking coffee, there is no concrete proof of it.
The Benefits of Yerba Mate
From boosting energy levels to being used as a cancer preventive beverage, yerba mate benefits are countless and definitely worth looking into with more detail.
A study published in 2011 discovered that yerba mate leaves have both anticancer and anti-inflammatory capabilities. The results showed that the caffeoylquinic acid (CQA) derivatives successfully treat colon cancer. Namely, in vitro cancer cells died when exposed to bioactive compounds that can be found in one cup of tea. According to professor Elvira de Mejia, the caffeine derivatives do not only induce death in human colon cancer cells, but also reduce important markers of inflammation.
Stimulation of the Immune System
Yerba contains polyphenols, plant-based compounds which help the organism fight allergies, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Additionally, it contains saponins, a class of chemical compounds that can be found naturally in a number of species of plants. These compounds showed to have a positive effect on blood cholesterol levels and bone health, as well as to benefit cancer treatment. They can also stimulate the immune system and help body protect itself from various diseases. Additionally, saponins possess anti-inflammatory properties. Thus, it is evident that drinking yerba mate strengthens your body.
Increased Nutrient Intake
Yerba mate contains vitamins A, B1, B2, B5, B complex, C, E and niacin. In addition to these, you can also find calcium, iron, potassium, manganese, selenium, magnesium, zinc and phosphorous, as well as other health-promoting compounds, like carotene, flavonols, fatty acids, polyphenols, chlorophyll, inositol, trace minerals, tannins, plus around 15 amino acids. This endless list of nutrients you can get from only one cup of beverage seems out-of-this-world, but one thing is certain – no other medicine, let alone beverage, can boast such rich lineup of health-promoting ingredients.
Lowered Cholesterol and Blood Sugar Levels
According to a research published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, yerba mate consumption reduces levels of LDL cholesterol in healthy dyslipidemic subjects, and in those who were on statin therapy, which means that the consumption of yerba mate minimizes the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Its antioxidant compounds like polyphenols and caffeoyl derivatives, as well, lower the risk of heart disease.
Yerba mate may lower blood sugar and reduce the complications which are often associated with diabetes. It can also prevent the advanced glycation end-product formation (AGEs).
Improved Mental Functions
In this fast-paced, competitive world where everyone is looking to give their 100% at all times, yerba mate tea benefits come into light. Researchers reported improved memory, mood and alertness. Yerba mate consumers feel more motivated to work and more productive, all being a result of the stimulating production of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Aside from the already mentioned caffeine, yerba mate contains theophylline and theobromine, alkaloids which work together to provide mild stimulant effects, similarly to green tea.
Yerba mate is especially popular among brain hackers who wish to optimize their mental performance. What they highlight about this beverage is the fact that it helps them increase their mental energy, focus and clarity without causing any of the uncomfortable side-effects they tend to experience after caffeine consumption, like jitters, headaches or stomach-aches.
Among indigenous South American tribes, yerba mate was a popular herbal remedy for digestive alignments. It showed to stimulate increased production of gastric acids and aid in keeping the colon clean, what results in efficient waste elimination. Also, yerba mate will destroy stomach bacteria responsible for bad breath. Aside from being an effective treatment for diarrhoea, constipation and indigestion, studies have shown that yerba mate represents a natural antimicrobial against Escherichia coli.
Though not many are convinced that yerba mate boosts bone strength, it certainly contains all essential minerals needed for bone mineral density. Iron, calcium, potassium, zinc and phosphorus all play a significant part in the prevention of osteoporosis which comes with age.
Enhanced Physical Activity and Weight Loss Stimulation
Thanks to a complex collection of saponins located in the stems and leaves of yerba mate, it can have an effect on our weight. Namely, studies have proved yerba mate ingestion can increase fat oxidation and energy expenditure during exercise. Owing to the nutrients and chemical compounds that can be found in yerba mate, your body manages to use carbohydrates more efficiently. To translate this to layman’s terms: you will get more energy from the food you eat, as well as burn more calories that your body normally stores in fat cells. Regularly consuming yerba mate drink will help prevent lactic acid buildup in your muscles, thus significantly minimizing soreness you feel after a workout, and it will decrease the recovery time.
In 2014, a study published in Nutrition and Metabolism examined the effect of this particular type of tea on healthy males and females, concluding that it can have positive effect on sport performance and weight loss. Furthermore, another double-blind study proved yerba mate supplementation decreases the percentage of body fat, body fat mass and waist-hip ratio, thus proving it is an extremely effective way to fight obesity. Some of its stimulant qualities make you feel full soon after eating, slow down the digestion process and prolong the feeling of fullness. In summary – combining yerba mate with healthy nutrition and a fitness plan will help boost your metabolism, burn more calories and gradually curb your appetite.
Those who were not raised on yerba mate might find its taste rather peculiar, but this strange and unfamiliar flavour is often overlooked due to its multitude of benefits.
For years we have been listening about the health benefits of green tea, while all this time there might have been something much stronger, much more powerful. Yerba mate’s antioxidant power is higher than that of green tea; it contains nearly every mineral and vitamin your body needs, and may even contain 7 out of 9 essential amino acids. And much like coffee, it can improve your mental focus and provide energy boost, but unlike caffeine, it will not cause any side-effects.
Taking all of the above-mentioned into consideration – is it a coffee-worthy substitute?