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What is Yerba Maté?

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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 each year.

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.

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