Yerba mate tea is a popular beverage consumed in most South American countries in place of regular coffee and tea. Brewed from the leaves and twigs of a native plant Ilex paraguariensis belonging to the holly family, this herbal tea contains appreciable amounts of caffeine, which provides a stimulating effect similar to coffee.
The indigenous people of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and parts of Chile had been using this invigorating tea long before Europeans made their way to the continent. However, it is considered the ‘drink of the gods’ not just for the energy boost caffeine provides, but for various health benefits as well. Not surprisingly, Yerba mate tea is becoming increasingly popular outside its home range, although it is not exactly a great-tasting beverage.
The slightly bitter, grassy taste of Yerba mate tea takes some getting used to, but here are some excellent reasons to drink it. Those who try it out of curiosity quickly become regular users, thanks to its beneficial effects on the body and mind.
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1. Yerba mate tea makes a great, energy boosting morning drink
This herbal tea is especially great as a morning pick-me-up because it provides a smooth energy boost, without causing any restlessness or agitation usually associated with coffee. The caffeine content of Yerba mate tea falls somewhere in between coffee and tea, but it also contains theobromine, the phytochemical behind the feel-good effect of chocolate.
Although theobromine has a stimulant effect similar to caffeine, it is milder and long lasting, besides acting as a muscle relaxant. Consequently, the energy boost provided by Yerba mate tea is more balanced and gentle.
2. Yerba mate tea increases mental clarity and cognitive function
Our brain can get foggy and fatigued with all sorts of sensory stimulations bombarding it. Mental fatigue can make it hard to focus on the important things and temporarily decrease your cognitive function. Drinking a cup of Yerba tea any time of the day can enhance mental acuity.
It improves focus and concentration and increases memory, helping you to understand complex concepts and retain information. The caffeine in the tea is mostly responsible for restoring mental clarity, but other potent plant substances may have supporting roles.
3. Yerba mate tea improves mood
Many users of Yerba mate tea find that it is superior to coffee because the mood enhancement lasts longer, and it is not followed by a ‘crash’ afterward. The easy camaraderie induced by the tea makes it a great non-alcoholic social drink.
The herbal tea stimulates the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with the pleasure centers of the brain. Low dopamine levels are known to cause fatigue, lack of interest or motivation, mood swings, depression, and even drug addiction, and memory problems. Drinking Yerba mate tea is one of the natural ways to increase dopamine.
4. Yerba mate tea has an excellent nutritional profile
This herbal tea has an impressive nutritional profile of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Apart from vitamins A, C, and E, Yerba mate tea contains several B-complex vitamins. It is an excellent source of niacin (B3), a vitamin known to lower triglycerides and LDL cholesterol and protect against atherosclerosis.
Potassium and magnesium are two minerals found in appreciable amounts in Yerba mate tea, but iron, calcium, zinc, sulfur, selenium, manganese and phosphorous are present in smaller quantities. Regular use of the tea provides a steady supply of these substances as well as some amino acids required for protein synthesis.
5. Yerba mate tea is great for digestive health
Yerba mate tea can take care of almost all the common problems associated with the gastrointestinal system. It acts as a digestive aid and is commonly used as a remedy for indigestion and diarrhea. It is found to have antibacterial and antiparasitic effects against E.coli and intestinal worms.
Regular use of the tea can improve the regularity of movements. This could be one reason for the wide popularity of this herbal tea. Many ancient medicinal traditions have long recognized the intimate relationship between digestive health and the overall well-being of a person. Any herbal remedy that improves gastrointestinal function is regarded as a general health tonic, and rightly so.
6. Yerba mate tea may help with weight loss
Drinking this herbal tea has been found to reduce appetite. Slowing of digestion and delayed gastric emptying may be responsible for this effect. The phenolic acids and flavonoids in the tea inhibit pancreatic lipase, thus reducing fat metabolism and absorption of dietary fats.
In addition to that, the energy boost associated with this herbal tea can increase calorie burning. It may even increase fat burning from the adipose tissue. Studies have shown that the tea improves insulin sensitivity, and may be particularly helpful to obese people who are insulin resistant.
7. Yerba mate tea enhances cardiovascular health
The heart-protective effect of this herbal tea comes from different mechanisms. The strong antioxidant effect of the phytochemicals in the tea may protect the heart and blood vessels against oxidative damage. They may also prevent the peroxidation of lipids. Oxidized lipid molecules tend to accumulate on the arterial walls, especially in damaged areas, forming atherosclerotic plaques.
Atherosclerosis is one of the markers of poor cardiovascular health since it can reduce the blood flow to the heart and other vital organs. When it completely blocks the blood supply to the heart muscles, it causes heart attacks. And, when supply to the brain is affected, it may result in stroke.
Laboratory experiments have also shown that Yerba Mate tea can reduce platelet aggregation. This reduces the risk of blood clots that can potentially cause stroke or heart attack.
The diuretic effect of the tea helps reduce hypertension, another leading cause of heart failure, thanks to the Theophylline found in the tea. It is an excellent source of Theobromine commonly used for treating high blood pressure. This compound relaxes the blood vessels and facilitates vasodilatation, reducing the load on the heart.
8. Yerba mate tea is full of antioxidants
The role of antioxidants in reducing inflammation, the risk of cancer, heart disease, and aging is well known. They mop up the free radicals that would otherwise damage tissues and organs as well as the DNA of cells. Vitamins A, C, and E are excellent antioxidants, but several polyphenols in Yerba mate tea are even more potent. Quercetin and rutin are two such important antioxidant molecules in the tea.
9. Yerba mate tea can prevent kidney and urinary tract infections
Drinking this tea regularly can prevent kidney stones as well as help eliminate existing ones. The diuretic effect of the xanthines caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline could be responsible for this. Regular intake of the tea reduces the risk of urinary tract infections too.
10. Yerba mate tea is an immune modifier
It is an accepted belief among Yerba mate tea drinkers that it increases resistance to diseases, especially seasonal infections like colds and flu. Although the exact mechanism is still not clear, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to prove this claim.
A combination of the immune stimulating effect and the antimicrobial properties of some of the phytochemicals in the tea could be responsible for this. Theophylline, in particular, can ease the chest congestion and wheeze associated with bronchitis and asthma. An improvement in overall health, thanks to the excellent nutritional and antioxidant profile of the tea, can also naturally enhance disease resistance.
Sometimes, an overactive immune system may trigger autoimmune diseases and allergies. Those who are troubled by seasonal allergies find great relief from symptoms on drinking the tea, thanks to its moderating effect on the immune system.
11. Preparing the tea
Traditional preparation involved infusing dry leaves in hot water. A vessel made from dried calabash gourd would be filled up to three-quarters with the leaves, and then hot water (160°F to 170°F) was poured into it. A silver straw was used for drinking the tea directly from the vessel.
The method of preparing the tea mostly remains the same even today, and it is a widespread social custom among natives. One person prepares the tea for a group of people, and after a few mouthfuls, the drink is shared by passing the mate and the straw to the next person. Powdered dry leaves are now available in tea bags, which makes brewing Yerba mate tea much easier, but lose leaf is favored.
Ready-to-use teas in flavored and sweetened versions are a common sight, but their efficacy concerning health benefits cannot be ascertained. Making your own is the best bet.
To make the tea from commercially available Yerba mate loose tea, add several spoonfuls of it to the brewing vessel, and pour hot water. Boiling water shouldn’t be used as it makes the tea very bitter. Let the infusion rest for 5 minutes before drinking the tea with the special straw, which has a filter to keep out the particles. It can be filtered into another cup if required. Sweeteners or fruit juice can be added to the infusion to make it more palatable for those who are new to the drink.
Drinking the tea very hot is thought to be responsible for the higher incidence of oral cancer as well as throat and esophagus cancers among people who habitually drink it. It is advisable to let the infusion in hot water cool down a bit before drinking it. Yerba mate tea can be prepared in cold water too; it is then known as Tereré.