Yerba mate, often called the drink of “friendship and health,” is touted as a drink that is not only an enjoyable social custom, but healthy for your body as well. Claims concerning the health benefits of yerba mate are plentiful, although many are based on a long history of antecodal evidence instead of scientific studies.
This drink, the name of which translates to “cup herb,” is made from the leaves and twigs of the evergreen tree/shrub of the yerba mate, which is also a species of the holly plant. It is grown and mostly consumed in South America — specifically, Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. Traditionally, the dried leaves and twigs are packed into a cup made from a gourd, steeped in hot (not boiling) water, then drunk through a metal or wooden straw with a strainer, called a bombilla. It is very popular, and treated as a social occasion, much like tea in other parts of the world.
One of the biggest health benefits of yerba mate is that it is a side-effect free stimulant. Although it has a small amount of caffeine, it also has xanthines, theobromine and theophylline, which are stimulants. Many say that while it acts as a stimulant, you don’t have the jitters, stomach upset and anxiety that is often associated with coffee. For people who don’t tolerate coffee well, they may find yerba mate preferable. The ingredients stimulate myocardial tissue (heart tissue) while relaxing smooth muscle tissue. It contains 20 vitamins and minerals — including magnesium, potassium and manganese — 15 amino acids and some say, has 90% more antioxidants than green tea.
Some small studies have found that yerba mate may combat atherosclerosis, or blockages of the arteries. It may also have some cancer retarding properties, but most studies have been conducted on animals. Other purported health benefits of yerba mate include the following:
While there are many documented health benefits of yerba mate, drinking large quantities of it has been associated with liver disease and certain oral cancers. Supporters claim that drinking hot beverages, regardless of what they are, is associated with an increased risk of some cancers. Additionally, due to the stimulants it contains, it shouldn’t be used with MAO inhibitors because it may raise blood pressure. For most healthy people, the drink makes a good addition to the diet, but for people with certain physical conditions, they should consult a medical professional before trying it.