|Maté is a tea-like beverage consumed mainly in
Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and southern Brazil. It is brewed from the dried leaves and
stemlets of the perennial tree Ilex paraguarensis ("Yerba Maté"). The
name "Maté" derives from the quichua word "matí" that names the
gourd (Lagenaria vulgaris) that is traditionally used to drink the infusion. The
scientific name Ilex paraguarensis was given by the French naturalist and
botanist Auguste de Saint Hilaire in 1822, the tree belongs to the family Aquifoliaceae
and grows between the parallels 10° and 30° (South) in the Paraná and Paraguay
rivers basins. It is a plant typical of the Alto Paraná region, Alto Uruguay region and
the Argentine NE. It is a tropical or subtropical plant, needing high temperatures, high
humidity and up to 1500 mm of annual rain. On average, 300,000 tons of Maté are produced
In the wild, the plant needs
about 25 years to develop completely, reaching in that case a height of up to 15 meters.
The leaves are alternated, cuneiform, elliptical or oval, with the border slightly
serrated. It flowers between the months of October and December. The flowers are small,
polygamous, dioicous, with calix and corolla in a tetrameric disposition. The fruit
resembles a pepper berry. Among several varieties, there are three that are the most
important: "angustifolia", "longifolia" and "latifolia".
Maté has a characteristic mature flavour which is
somewhat sweet, bitter, withered leaf like, and alfalfa-like, similar to that obtained
from tea (Camellia sinensis). Of the 196 volatile chemical compounds found in
Yerba Maté, 144 are also found in tea. The infusions of Ilex paraguarensis are
less astringent than those made of tea.
It is used in popular medicine and employed in
commercial herbal preparations as a stimulant to the central nervous system, a diuretic,
and an antirheumatic.