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What is Yerba Mate? + 6 Key Benefits

Yerba mate is a popular South American beverage that is proving to have some major health benefits. It's the national drink of Argentina and is starting to become popular worldwide.

Many people are loving yerba mate as an alternative to coffee. It contains some caffeine and can give you an energy boost, but drinkers don't report the same jittery feelings or caffeine crash that often come with coffee drinking.

Here's more about what yerba mate is, why it's beneficial for your health, and how to make yourself a cup of it.

What Is Yerba Mate?

Yerba mate is the name of a drink made from the dried leaves of a plant called Ilex paraguariensis. The plant is an evergreen shrub and a type of holly bush. It has some resemblance to the holly bushes we're familiar with because of its glossy green leaves and red berries.

The yerba mate plant is native to areas of South America and is believed to have first been cultivated by Jesuit missionaries. Today, it's still only in cultivation in small areas of Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil.

The leaves and young twigs of the shrub are harvested and dried (traditionally over a fire). They are often aged for a year before being packaged and sold. This dried mixture is what's used to make the herbal drink yerba mate (sometimes simply called mate).

The flavor of yerba mate is mild, earthy, and grassy. It's most similar to green tea but with it's own unique taste.

If you were to brew yerba mate the traditional way, it would be made in a gourd and sipped through a straw. Drinking it is as much a social tradition and symbol of friendship and goodwill as it is a healthy practice in many South American countries.

Key Benefits of Yerba Mate

Full of Antioxidants That Support Immune Health

yerba mate traditional tea

Yerba mate has a level of antioxidants similar to that of green tea. This gives it tons of benefits for your overall health, including anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties. (1)

Two notable groups of antioxidants include polyphenols, which have been linked to a lower risk of many diseases, and saponins, which can boost your immune system. By regularly consuming foods (or beverages) with saponins, you can help your immune system stay strong and fight off infections.

Besides antioxidants, yerba mate contains nearly every essential vitamin and mineral we need, making it a very remarkable plant! Most of these nutrients are present in small amounts but add up if you drink it regularly. (2)

Some of these many nutrients include vitamin C, zinc, and selenium, which each have their own immune-boosting properties.

Provides an Energy Boost

One of the top benefits of yerba mate is that it can boost your energy.

It does contain caffeine, although less than a cup of coffee does. The amount of caffeine will vary depending on how much of the herb you use and how long you brew it for. It's usually in a range of 40-85 mg of caffeine per 8 ounce cup. (3)

The main difference between yerba mate and many other caffeinated beverages is that drinkers report getting a gentle, sustained boost of energy. There aren't usually side effects like jitters or an energy crash later on.

May Improve Your Mood and Focus

Because it contains caffeine, yerba mate has some brain-boosting benefits. Caffeine is known to improve alertness, focus, and short-term memory. It can even enhance your mood. (4)(5)

Lower doses of caffeine are thought to be the most beneficial, in part because high amounts can have a negative impact on your nervous system. It's also important to keep in mind that stimulants like caffeine provide a short-term mental boost. There isn't any evidence yet that they have a long-term positive effect on brain health.

May Improve Exercise & Physical Performance

Consuming low to moderate amounts of caffeine can reduce fatigue and help you get more out of exercise. Caffeine is a well-known natural substance that can improve sports performance and physical endurance. This goes for both cardio exercise, like cycling, and resistance exercise, like weight lifting. (6)(7)(8)

Of course, most caffeine-containing energy drinks are also laden with sugar and other unhealthy substances. They aren't good for your body and can cause weight gain if you overconsume them.

Yerba mate, on the other hand, has been shown in at least one study to help those who took it before exercising burn more fat while exercising than those who didn't take it. (9)

May Help With Healthy Weight Loss

weight loss

One of the benefits of yerba mate still being researched is its ability to promote weight loss. In lab and animals studies, yerba mate has been found to reduce appetite, boost metabolism, and decrease the amount of fat in cells. (10)(11)

Along with this anti-obesity effect, consuming yerba mate before exercising can help you burn more fat (as previously mentioned).

In fact, it seems to help people lose weight and body fat regardless of whether they exercise or not. One study documented that supplementing with yerba mate for 12 weeks led to a modest weight loss in participants, while those in the placebo group actually gained weight. (12)

Supports Heart Health

Drinking yerba mate is supportive of health health, particularly because it can lower cholesterol levels.

Preliminary research shows that yerba mate has heart-protective properties that may lower your chance of getting heart disease. Part of this is likely due to its high antioxidant content, which can help protect your body from many chronic diseases. (13)

In human studies, consuming yerba mate has also been shown to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels in those with high cholesterol. This meant that it also lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease. More research needs to be done on this potential cholesterol-lowering effect, but the results so far are promising. (14)

How to Make Yerba Mate "Tea"

Yerba mate is technically an herbal tea, since it doesn't contain any green tea, black tea, etc. You can use tea bags filled with the herb or loose leaf yerba mate to make yourself a cup of tea. Here's how:

  1. Place a yerba mate tea bag or 1-3 teaspoons of the loose herb in a mug. A French press can also be used.
  2. Pour 8 ounces or more of hot water over the herbs.
  3. Let it steep, covered, for 3-5 minutes. The longer it steeps, the more bitterness it will have.
  4. Strain out the loose herbs or tea bag, and drink it hot or chill it in your fridge. Enjoy!
  5. Try adding milk, lemon juice, maple syrup, or burnt sugar to your yerba mate to experiment with flavors.

Precautions

Even though most people don't have a reaction to yerba mate like they do to coffee, it does contain caffeine. If you are sensitive to caffeine, drinking too much mate can cause headaches, nausea, and trouble sleeping.

Some compounds in yerba mate have been shown to fight certain cancer cells, but long-term consumption of yerba mate by smokers and heavy drinkers has been shown by some research to increase the risk of other cancers. You may wish to avoid consuming large amounts if you are a smoker. (15)

Yerba mate can also interact with a few medications, including MAOIs.

Enjoying the Benefits of Yerba Mate

Yerba mate can be a very relaxing beverage to drink, in spite of the fact that it acts as a mild stimulant. You may find yourself enjoying increased energy, better focus, and an improved mood. It can also help with weight loss and helps your immune system stay strong.

Why not discover why this herbal drink is so popular in South America and now around the world? Try it for yourself and see how you feel!