The yerba is a
medicinal and cultural drink of ancient origins introduced by the
Guarani Indians. This drink is highly caffeinated and is prepared
by steeping the dry leaves in hot water. Yerba has benefits for health.
Yerba Mate is a tea-like beverage famous in all over the world but
is consumed mainly in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil. It
is brewed from dried leaves and stemlets of the perennial tree Ilex
paraguarensis. Mate derives from the quichua word “mati”
and the scientific name was given by the French naturalist and botanist
Auguste de Saint Hilaire in 1822.
This tree belongs to the family Aquifoliaceae and is very typical
in the Paraná region and Paraguay’s river basins. This
plant takes about 25 years to develop completely and its full height
reaches to about 15 meters. It flowers between October and December.
Mate has a flavor that is somewhat sweet and bitter. It is used in
popular medicine and helps the central nervous system by its aroma.
Mate is usually shared with friends with a bombilla (hollow gourd).
It is a very common practice in South America (Paraguay, Uruguay,
Some benefits of the mate is that it energizes the body, stimulates
mental alertness, helps lose weight, relieves stress, and calm allergies.
According to the legend, the Guarani ancestors passed the great ocean
to settle in the Americas. They found this land to be wonderful yet
dangerous and they inaugurated a new civilization and soon became
excellent craftsmen. The Guarani tribes worked the land and became
excellent craftsmen. They looked forward to the coming of a tall,
fair-skinned, blue eyed, bearded God (Pa' i Shume) who descended from
the skies and was pleased with the Guarni. He taught them religious
knowledge and imparted to them certain agricultural practices to benefit
them. He unlocked and revealed the secrets of health and medicine
by extracts of the native plants. One of these plants was the Yerba
Mate. This God taught them how to harvest and to prepare to ensure
health, vitality, and longetivity.
An Indian tribe would clear part of the forest and harvest the land
and plant manioc and corn. However, after four or five years the soil
would be worn out and the tribe had to move on. Tired of such moving,
an old Indian refused to go on and stayed where he was. His youngest
daughter, the beautiful Jary, was heartbroken by this decision and
quickly had to decide to either stay or go. However, she wanted to
help her fataher until his death. Despite her friends’ please,
she ended up staying with her father. Her decision gave her benefits
later. One day, an unknown shaman arrived at the ranch and asked Jary
what she wanted to do in order to feel happy. The girl did not ask
for anything. But the old man asked: "I want new forces to go
on and take Jary to the tribe that went away". The shaman gave
him a very green plant and told him to plant it, pick the leaves,
dry them on fire, grind them, put the pieces in a gourd, add cold
or hot water and sip the infusion. After saying, "In this new
beverage, you will find a healthy company, even in the sad hours of
the cruelest solitude," the shaman went away. Thus was born the
"caá-mini," which became Yerba Mate. With this drink,
the old man recovered and gained new strength and was able to resume
their long journey toward meeting their kinsmen. They were received
with the greatest joy. And the whole tribe adopted the habit of drinking
the green herb, bitter and sweet, that gave strength and courage and
comforted friendships at the sad hours of utmost solitude.
Some Guaraní words
related to Mate:
• Barbacuá: from mbarambacuá = ma (pile) + ra
(euphonic) + mbacuá (toasted or roasted thing)
• Caä: Yerba Mate
• Caá-guará: Mate drinker
• Caá-i-guá: Mate gourd (literally: container
of the water of Yerba Mate)
• Caá-u-ei: thirst of Mate
• Mboroviré: Yerba Mate slightly "canchada"
(desiccated and broken)
• Sapeca, sambeca or sapeá: pocá, peá or
mbecá (to open) + za or sá (eye) = to open the globules
or vesicles of the Yerba Mate by the heating process
• Ticuá cá ay: "cebar el Mate" (literally:
to throw water in the hole)