said to give
“the strength of coffee, the health benefits of tea, and the joy of chocolate”
We are in the hills and mountains of the Atlantic Rainforest in east central South America: northeastern to southern Brazil, eastern Paraguay, northern Argentina, and parts of Uruguay. Below, the Parana River courses through a basin of sedimentary rock. Written on the river’s currents is the timelessness of rain and sand, as heavy storms and frequent rainfalls have, for millions of years, driven sediment down the mountains and hills into the river, strengthening the basin and mineralizing the land. Dense populations of plants and animals, through nutrients released from their decomposition, have continuously envigorated the forest’s soil.
Over eons, heat, humidity, rain, sediment, and decay have assisted in bringing an exceptionally geologically sound area of the South American continent to peak rainforest fruition. Rock solid and intensely fertile, the Atlantic Rainforest has created, with vast imagination, a populous and profusely diverse biome. From the banks of the river to the heights of the forest grows a wildly exotic flora and fauna thick with plants, birds, insects, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals.
Standing in the forest, amidst its wide-ranging colors shimmering and subtle, where wing is on the rise and blooms stretch, where the hawk’s cry pierces the song of the bird, and monkeys swing high above the jaguar, deep in the chatter and buzz and noiseless slither, the industry and drive of life is greatly upon us. The predator moves with precision against its prey, and everywhere is the scent of damp, death, and procreation.
It is here, reaching 50 to 100 feet up from the forest floor and living for as long as 100 years, near water and under cover of forest canopy, in shade gently filtered by sunlight, the Ilex paraguariensis tree grows. We have found the source of Yerba Mate.
The Ilex paraguariensis tree is in the Holly family (Aquifoliaceae) of shrubs and trees. Its leathery leaves, glossy green with bright red berries, are reminiscent of Christmas Holly; yet rather than a holiday decoration, these leaves are the origin of a long-consumed, ritual-sustaining, health-supporting beverage that once was known only by indigenous South American tribes. Used to support health, tone energy, and draw together community members, a reverence of this rainforest tree was born. Over the centuries, through foreign exploration, intervention, and subsequent trading, Yerba Mate’s availability widened beyond the Atlantic Rainforest, crossed the seas, and in the not too distant past, extended to the shelves of North America’s herb shops.
Regrettably, the Yerba Mate tree, in the wild, is today an endangered species as much of the Atlantic Rainforest has been destroyed. Fragments are left of what was once a widespread, flourishing ecosystem that gave sustenance not only to its inhabitants; but by absorbing great quantities of carbon dioxide, regularly adding to the water cycle, and nurturing a considerable portion of the world’s wildlife, gave sustenance to the planet.
Some gathering of Yerba Mate is directly from the wild where few cultivation practices are employed and harvesting is manually done. In the remaining forests, interplanting trees and removing dead ones assist in densifying the tree’s population. However, to meet the world’s expanding demand for Yerba Mate, and turn a profit, plantations have been created by first stripping and destroying portions of the rainforest, then utilizing modern cultivation techniques to rapidly create a marketable yield. Rather, the intention to steward and harvest the tree in the wild as well as regenerate the soil in deforested areas is the ideal, for as a tree uniquely attached to its source, the survival of Yerba Mate is best achieved where it always has been, on its undisturbed native land. On long-lived land remarkably stable, stimulating, and nourishing, in a rainforest thrumming with variety and vigor, the success of all is the strength of the forest, and the forest’s strength is to be found in the one.
Yerba Mate leaves are made into tea, and that tea gives strength.
Harvested, held to an open fire, then air-dried, the resulting leaves are green with a mild smokey flavor. A drink may be made with hot or cold water, and the Yerba Mate may be combined with other herbs for taste or for additional medicinal value. Yerba Mate may be consumed in liquid extract form, as well.
The chemical composition of the leaf describes the story of Yerba Mate’s gifts toward good health, supplying us the reasons for its centuries’ old popular consumption. Not only is Yerba Mate bountiful in vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, but studies reveal its plant compounds help improve immunity and reduce the possibility of developing neurological and cardiovascular diseases and cancer; help promote diuresis, control appetite, and burn fat; enable proper digestion and cleansing and movement of the bowels; support better weight management and more secure control of diabetes; and perhaps most notably and noticeably, Yerba Mate offers exhilarating relief from fatigue.
Yerba Mate forwards to us its large capacity for nourishment, its encouragement of efficient metabolic function and extensive support against cellular damage, inflammation, and chronic disease, as well as its ability to shake us from our doldrums, elevating our spirit and quickening the power of our body and mind. All this born of a rootedness in one of our planet’s most magnificent examples of life in the extreme, the Atlantic Rainforest. All this in a cup of tea or a dropperful.
Dosing Suggestions: Two cups of tea or 1 to 2 dropperfuls daily. Yerba Mate contains stimulating xanthines, including caffeine. Interestingly, as a tonic herb, the stimulation Yerba Mate gives is smooth and even; however, because energy levels are raised, best to dose early in the day.
The longer Yerba Mate leaves steep in hot water, the more bitter will be the brew. Consider adding Peppermint leaf or Lemongrass to enhance flavor: add lemon juice or honey to remove any bitterness and milk to reduce the temperature.
To make a cold brew, place a tablespoon of Yerba Mate leaves in an 8-ounce glass jar, fill with water, cover, and place in the refrigerator overnight. Strain in the morning. Add orange, lemon, lime, or pineapple juice. Stir well.
The high antioxidant values in Yerba Mate are higher than those in Green Tea. Combining Yerba Mate with Green Tea and Rooibos creates an incredibly high potency antioxidant drink. To sweeten, add honey.
In a study, Yerba Mate, in combination with Guarana and Damiana, helped prolong gastric emptying, making subjects feel fuller longer and reducing their weight.
Safety Considerations: Excessive consumption of Yerba Mate (in the form of hot tea) has been reported to increase the risk of certain cancers. No increased risk has been associated with the warm or cold tea. Yerba Mate may potentiate monoamine oxidase inhibitor medication. Appropriately, if pregnant or lactating, or under medical supervision and using prescription medicine, please discuss possibility of the use of this herbal medicinal with your physician(s
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Maria and Ingrid are Co Owners of STL Herbs and Aromatics. They have been working in the field of Herbal and Aromatic Medicine for over twenty years. This blog is intended to inform and empower people to begin utilizing plant medicine for personal health and well being.
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