What Is Yerba Mate?

Annette McDermott
Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN
Yerba Mate

Yerba mate, also known as "mate," is made from the leaves of the Ilex paraguariensis tree native to South American rain forests and member of the holly family. The leaves are naturally caffeinated and nutritious, making this herb a popular alternative in some areas of the world to coffee or tea.

Yerba Mate Benefits

There are several benefits to drinking yerba mate. According to Guayaki.com, studies of yerba mate determined it is one of the most nutrient dense plants available and contains:

  • Vitamins C, A, E, Niacin, B1, B5, B2, B Complex
  • Calcium
  • Manganese
  • Iron
  • Selenium
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorous
  • Zinc
  • Chlorophyll
  • Polyphenols
  • Tannins
  • Amino Acids
  • Antioxidants
  • Theophylline
  • Theobromine
  • Saponins
  • Caffeine

Thanks to its high nutrient and chemical compound content, yerba mate is believed to:

  • Decrease fatigue
  • Improve focus
  • Support weight loss
  • Support digestion and elimination
  • Boost immunity

The herb also shows anti-cancer effects in mammals by strengthening natural defenses and protecting cells, reports Aviva Yerba Mate on its website.

Side Effects

Yerba mate may cause unwanted side effects. Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D., states on Mayo Clinic's website that yerba mate is unlikely to cause problems when used occasionally by healthy adults. However, she also says that some studies showed drinking large amounts of yerba mate over a long period may increase the risk of developing certain cancers.

This risk is highlighted in a Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention (CEBP) abstract. Researchers found that drinking yerba mate was linked to throat, lung, kidney, bladder, and esophageal cancers. It is believed this may be attributed to yerba mate's high content of carcinogenic PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons).

Since heat increases PAH levels, it is theorized by some that cold yerba mate has less PAHs than hot. However, CEBP's research identified high PAH levels in both hot and cold yerba mate infusions.

Additional Concerns

Other yerba mate side effects are due to the herb's high caffeine content, says WebMD on its website. Excessive caffeine may worsen anxiety disorders, bleeding disorders, heart disorders, diabetes, osteoporosis, and glaucoma. Children or pregnant or nursing women should not use yerba mate without first consulting a physician.

Caffeine may cause the following side effects:

  • Insomnia
  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Stomach upset and vomiting
  • Increased heart rate and respiration
  • High blood pressure
  • Tinnitus
  • Irregular heart beat

Yerba Mate vs. Coffee

Yerba Mate is to South Americans what coffee is to Northern Americans. It is consumed as an herbal tea and, like coffee, is caffeinated and available in different flavors and brews.

Yerba mate is the preferred drink of choice at local mate bars throughout South America and is present at most cultural and social gatherings. In the United States, most yerba mate is consumed in home kitchens; however, California opened its first mate bar in 2008.

Thanks to its high tannin content, yerba mate is comparable in taste to green tea yet more bitter than coffee or traditional black tea. Many people in South America prefer yerba mate straight, but the bitterness can be lessened by adding sweetener, milk, or flavorings such as peppermint or citrus.

How to Use

The traditional way to brew and drink yerba mate tea is with a gourd and a bombilla, a metal straw that contains holes to filter loose the loose leaves. But you can also brew yerba mate using a coffee pot, French press, or tea ball. Yerba mate tea and tea bags can be found at many natural health stores or online.

Aviva Yerba Mate recommends using four tablespoons of yerba mate per twelve cup coffee pot or one tea bag per eight ounce cup. The tea can be enjoyed hot or cold.

Drink Alternative

The indigenous people of South America have used yerba mate for centuries as a health tonic and cultural drink. It provides an energizing alternative to your morning cup of joe. Although more research is needed on whether the herb fights disease and supports wellness, it boasts a powerful ingredient list.

To reduce the risk of unwanted side effects, it is important to consult your doctor before using yerba mate, especially if you have a medical condition.

What Is Yerba Mate?