Coffee and tea have become staple drinks for billions of people worldwide as a way to start their day. And for good reason! There is a feeling of comfort that comes from drinking a hot cup of coffee as you enjoy the sweet, nutty, smokey, and sometimes bitter flavors. It tantalizes your tastebuds and wakes you up.
However, some people start their day with an equally satisfying drink that provides many more health benefits for the mind and body. This article will explore the "other morning drink," yerba mate tea. We'll look at what yerba mate tea is and the top health benefits you'll get with every sip.
Important note: Consult a doctor before you drink mate tea or take a yerba mate extract as an alternative to conventional medications.
What is Yerba Mate Tea?
Yerba mate tea, yerba maté or "mate" for short, is an ancient medicinal herb and national drink of many South American countries. This widely consumed traditional drink has been named "the drink of the gods" by some indigenous tribes. Mate drinkers claim it can be as strong as coffee, give you great health benefits like tea, but leave you feeling euphoric like chocolate.
Yerba mate tea is made from the dried leaves of the evergreen holly bush (Ilex paraguariensis). This bush is part of the holly family and a native plant found mostly in the wilderness of South America. However, there are many yerba mate plantations where the leaves are cultivated for tea production.
The taste of yerba mate is grassy or earthy with a flavor similar to green tea. Some say it has a woody and smoky flavor similar to coffee. Your yerba mate's taste will depend on how you brew it. The flavor also varies significantly between tea bags and loose tea.
Customs and Traditions
In traditional ceremonies, yerba mate is made and served in a small gourd, a drinking vessel made of wood, metal, or ceramic, also called a calabash. The tea maker stuffs several leaves into the gourd, pours hot water in, and leaves it to brew. Tea drinkers pass the gourd around, taking turns sipping the warm tea through a metal straw (bombilla).
Typically, the traditional yerba mate ceremony host will take the first drink. Then each guest drinks from the gourd, refills it with hot water, and passes it counter-clockwise to the next person. They pay careful attention and ensure not to touch the straw and disturb the contents of the gourd. It helps prevent the leaves from getting stuck in the straw.
The high amount of tea leaves means tea drinkers can refill the gourd several times without losing flavor or potency. If the person drinking feels like they want more, they'll refrain from saying thank you until the gourd has been refilled and they're completely satisfied.
Drinking yerba mate this way is seen as a social event - A time for bonding with friends and family. The cultural importance of yerba mate in many South American countries is similar to the green tea ceremonies of Japan or the coffee cafes of Europe.
How to Traditionally Prepare Yerba Mate
If you have a gourd or calabash, fill the bottom third of the calabash with a serving of yerba mate leaves. Then add hot water and let the tea steep for about 4-5 minutes before sipping it through the bombilla.
If you don't own a calabash, don't worry! You can also prepare yerba mate in a French press. Traditionally, yerba mate is served with milk, lemon juice, or burnt sugar. And you can continually top up the water several times before needing to make a new batch. Yerba mate is mostly served hot, but it can also be enjoyed as a cold beverage on hot days.
You don't have to have an elaborate ceremony to enjoy the drink. The many reported health claims today have skyrocketed the plant's popularity and have made it readily available as a tea, capsule supplement, skincare product, and energy drink. Let's look closer at what makes yerba mate a healthy tea to drink.
The Many Health Benefits of Drinking Yerba Mate
Consuming yerba mate gives you a warm and inviting cup of tea with a ton of flavor, but there are also many benefits for better health, such as weight loss and lower blood pressure. Whether your yerba mate consumption is frequent or occasional, here are some impressive health benefits of yerba mate you may not know.
#1. Antioxidant Power and Vital Nutrients
Yerba mate is loaded with a ton of beneficial plant compounds. The main four compounds are xanthines, caffeoyl derivatives, saponins, and polyphenols.
Xanthines, including caffeine and theobromine, act as stimulants in the same way as they do in coffee, chocolate, and tea.
Caffeoyl derivatives are considered the main health-promoting antioxidant properties in tea.
Saponins are the bitter compounds in yerba mate that contain anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-lowering properties.
Polyphenols are a large group of antioxidants that support a healthy immune system contain anti-inflammatory properties, and help reduce the risk of several diseases.
The antioxidant levels in yerba mate are comparable to green tea and provide many of the same healthy properties. Yerba mate contains several vital micronutrients, including vitamin C, B6, thiamine, and riboflavin. As well as containing potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, iron, manganese, and amino acids.
It is worth noting that many of these nutrients and antioxidants will be less potent in tea form than the amounts typically found in capsule or concentrated forms of yerba mate.
#2. Boosts Energy and Improves Mental Health
Yerba mate contains roughly the same caffeine as a cup of coffee. This means it may boost your energy levels, making you more alert and awake. Caffeine affects the nervous system and can give you more mental focus and clarity, reducing brain fog and sleepiness.
Some studies suggest that participants who consumed a single dose of yerba mate containing roughly 40-300 mg of caffeine improved alertness and attention and had faster reaction times. However, unlike coffee, yerba mate won't give you the jittery side effects.
#3. Enhance Physical Performance
Caffeine is known to help boost physical performance in athletes, reducing fatigue and the chance of injury. One study from 2014 showed that a group of healthy adults who were given a 1g capsule of yerba mate before exercising burned 24% more fat. Burning fat for fuel during exercises takes the pressure off your carb reserves, especially in high-intensity moments when a burst of energy is needed. The result could be better overall sports performance with the benefit of reduced body weight.
#4. Protect Against Infections
Yerba mate may help protect and prevent bacterial, parasitic, and fungal infections. Test tube studies show that a high dose of yerba mate extract could shut down the bacteria E. coli, a bacteria that causes stomach cramps and diarrhea. Some of the compounds in yerba mate may also support the immune system by helping stop the growth of certain fungal infections responsible for skin rashes and flaky skin.
#5. Great for Weight Loss
Some studies suggest that yerba mate may be a great way to manage and lose weight by reducing the total number of fat cells and reducing the total amount of fat stored in them. Since yerba mate also has the fat-burning properties of caffeine, it can help burn up stored fat in the body for energy.
A study from 2015 showed that people who were overweight lost roughly 1.5 pounds by taking 3g of yerba mate powder daily over 12 weeks. In comparison, those in the study who received a placebo gained an average of 6.2 lbs.
#6. Lowers The Risk of Cardiovascular Diseases and Bad Cholesterol
Animal studies showed that the specific antioxidant compounds in yerba mate such as polyphenols may help protect against heart disease. Although more research is needed in human trials, a study with 119 women, yerba mate helped reduce LDL (or bad) cholesterol levels over a 12-week period. It was also reported that yerba mate helps reduce the levels of triglycerides much more than those on a low-calorie diet.
#7. Lowers Blood Sugar Levels
Along with potentially reducing cholesterol, yerba mate also may lower blood sugar levels while improving insulin signaling, reducing symptoms in people suffering from type II diabetes. In one study from 2011, people who consumed 11 ounces of yerba mate three times a day significantly reduced their fasting blood sugar levels and the hemoglobin A1c, a long-term blood sugar control marker.
Possible Yerba Mate Side Effects
It is unlikely that drinking a warm cup of yerba mate daily will adversely affect you; it has so much goodness in it! However, despite the many yerba mate benefits, there are a few things to consider if you're thinking about having yerba mate and are unsure if this herb will interfere with your medications or cause some side effects.
Caffeine Side Effects - For some who drink caffeinated drinks like coffee, tea, and energy drinks, the caffeine content may give them jitters, headaches, and high blood pressure. Yerba mate contains less caffeine than coffee or tea but may cause the same side effects. Talk to your doctor if you're unsure about consuming drinks that contain caffeine.
Medication interactions - People dealing with depression or Parkinson's disease are often prescribed MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) as medication. Studies show that specific compounds in yerba mate interfere with MAOI activity. This means that taking MAOIs and yerba mate may have an adverse effect and stop the drugs from working correctly. The caffeine in yerba mate may interact with muscle relaxants like Zanaflex and anti-depressants like Luvox. Taking yerba mate with these medications may create an increased risk of the effects of the prescription drugs. As always, talk to your doctor if you're unsure.
Enjoy the Tasty Health Benefits of Yerba Mate
Whether you drink mate for the taste, the caffeine content or want all those good yerba mate benefits, this herbal tea is a great way to start the day with an energy boost, lots of focus, and a hearty, robust flavor.
For a unique twist on this ancient drink, try this delicious blend. Not only does it contain the healthy benefits of yerba mate, but it is loaded with nutritional properties from dandelion root, cocoa shell, roasted chicory root, and licorice root.