The yerba mate contains xanthine and theophylline, two alkaloids known for their therapeutic use. The xanthine in the yerba mate is called “mateine” and it helps the muscles relax. This is one of the reasons why the mate is excellent for bronchial dilatation. The mateine also stimulates the central nervous system without creating any habit or addiction, which is the main difference with caffeine. Moreover, it works as a mild diuretic, it relaxes the blood vessels, thus reducing the blood pressure, and it enhances the psychomotor activity with no adverse effects, such as insomnia and irritability.
The mate has a rich chemical composition and, as a natural stimulant, it promotes mental and physical activity. The mate also contains a great amount of vitamins, such as B vitamins, which ease the entrance of sugar into the muscles and nerves. Vitamins C and E act as a natural defense and have positive effects on the fibers of the organism. And at the same time, the mineral salts act as a vasodilator, participating both in the work of the cardiovascular system and in the circulation of blood. Moreover, the effect the mate has as a stimulant of the digestive system is well-known, since it triggers the peristaltic movements and it facilitates the digestion. This is what makes the mate highly useful in cases of constipation as well as to stimulate the regular bowel movement.
In short, the yerba has positive effects not only as regards energy and vitality, but it also helps boost concentration and reduce anxiety and jitters. Besides, it makes us less prone to lead a sedentary lifestyle and it improves our moods, even in cases of depression. The fact that the mate is usually drank among a group of friends is not a coincidence, and all the positive effects of the mate are closely related to this.
In 1544, Hernando Arias de Saavedra, Hernandarias, noticed that the Indian people carried a small leather sack, called “guayaca”, around their necks. The sack had crushed leaves of yerba mate, and they called it “ka’a”. The Indians generally chewed these leaves or used them to prepare an infusion in a small pumpkin called “matí”, which is the origin of the term “mate”, and then they drank it with a bombilla, a sipper made with a tacuara cane straw.
During the first few decades of the XVII century, the Jesuits perfected the technique for cultivating yerba to such an extent that it became the first exportable product to reach the rest of the colonial provinces, yielding significant economic benefits. In order to compete with the tea England was commercializing, Spain put on the market minced yerba mate that could be used to prepare an infusion that became very popular under the name of “The Jesuits’ tea”. The Jesuits knew the secret for the extraction of seeds and the characteristics of the cultivation, which allowed them to develop premium quality plantations of yerba mate. But the Portuguese and the Spanish landowners considered that the incipient Jesuit Republic posed a threat to their interests, and since the Society of Jesus followed only the Pope’s guidelines, the Jesuit Republic was expelled from America in 1767, under the orders of Spanish King Carlos III. As a consequence, the tradition of the methodic and rational cultivation of yerba mate was lost, the plantations of yerba mate were abandoned and they ended up growing randomly in different areas of Paraguay, in the province of Misiones and in the south of Brazil.
Finally, in 1896, and after a conflict of interests concerning the areas most suitable for cultivation, a new method to cultivate yerba mate was created, based on the techniques used by the guarani Indians and the Jesuits. But it was only in 1911 that the real expansion of the yerba mate plantations took place, and in 1935 several rules regulating its cultivation were issued.
Indígenas y Jesuitas
Hernando Arias de Saavedra