Yerba Mate is a caffeinated drink that combines the notes of coffee, tea and chocolate. It is a traditional South American drink which is quickly becoming a popular health food trend.
As it becomes more popular, it is also becoming more widely available in western health food stores. The taste is similar to that of a strong green tea.
Basically it is perfect for someone who loves the boost coffee gives them but doesn’t like the taste, or alternatively for someone looking for a new, satisfying hot drink that is linked with many positive health benefits.
What Is Yerba Mate?
‘Yerba mate’ is made from the Ilex paraguariensis plant using both the leaves and twigs. Traditionally the leaves are dried over the smoke of a fire and then soaked in boiling water to make a strong tea.
If you want the traditional experience, Yerba mate tea poured into a gourd and sipped using a special metal straw with a filter at the end designed to strain out the tea fragments of leaves and twigs.
In fact Yerba means the powdered tea mixture and Mate refers to the gourd it is served in. Yerba Mate is a hot drink meant to bring friends together.
Yerba Mate Can Boost Energy Levels
Yerba Mate is high in caffeine which has been proven to boost your energy, get rid of feelings of tiredness and improve your mental focus. The tea holds 85 mg of caffeine per 8 ounces which is less than a standard coffee but more than a normal cup of tea (source).
Caffeine works by affecting signalling molecules in the brain which produces the positive side effect of improving mental sharpness (1,2). Studies back this up, when people consume caffeine it resulted in improvement in short-term recall, reaction times and better alertness (3).
Yerba Mate Could Improve Body’s Defenses against Infection
While research is still in initial phases, yerba mate tea may contain anti-microbial functions to support your natural defense against infections.
Studies have seen that high doses of yerba mate extracts destroyed E. coli – the leading cause of food poisoning.
There has also been some research that shows that compounds in yerba mate prevent internal parasites from taking hold (7). However all these studies are outside of humans, in isolated cells in a lab environment so it is unclear whether the benefits would translate into the human system. More research is definitely needed in this field (8).
Yerba Mate Is Rich In Nutrients And Antioxidants
Yerba mate is a plant that has many beneficial nutrients, that includes Caffeoyl, Xanthines, Saponins and Polyphenols (9).
Caffeoyl derivatives are the leading antioxidant compounds found in the tea. Xanthines are stimulants like caffeine and theobromine – both of which are found in coffee, chocolate and tea.
Saponins are a bitter compound that also has properties like helping to lower cholesterol and being an anti inflammatory.
Polyphenols are a known antioxidant that is linked to reductions in many different types of illnesses.
Note that the tea is an infusion of the plant therefore the amounts of nutrients are quite small.
Yerba Mate May Help to Enhance Sports Performance
Recent research on caffeine effects on otherwise healthy adults showed that caffeine in Yerba Mate meant they burned off up to 25% more fat during a moderately intense exercise regime (17).
Yerba Mate May Lower Risks For Heart Disease
The antioxidant compounds in Yerba Mate – the caffeoyl derivatives and polyphenols also help protect your heart and circulatory system from diseases.
Human studies have found that the extract can lower cholesterol in the blood. Over 40 days, people drank 11 ounces of yerba mate daily and the result was a lowered LDL, or ‘bad’ cholesterol levels up to 14% (18).
Yerba Mate Can Aid In Weight Loss
There have been initial studies in animal which found that yerba mate reduces appetite and boosts metabolism – both of which help with weight loss (21). Another result was a decrease in the number of fat cells in the body, as well as the volume of fat they held (22).
One study used a group of medically overweight people and supplemented them with yerba mate for 12 weeks. The group that took 3 grams of yerba mate each day ended up losing an average of 1.5 pounds.
This group also improved their waist to hip ratio by up to 2% meaning they lost belly fat specifically – one of the biggest risk factors for obesity related diseases (23). The group in this test taking a placebo ended up gaining on average 6.2 pounds and actually increasing that waist to hip ratio by 1%.
Yerba May Boost Your Immune System
All of which help to support immune system function and promote internal health (26,27). Unfortunately research has not been conducted into the effects of yerba mate on human immune functions so there is no definitive proof.
Yerba Mate Can Lower Blood Sugar
Yerba Mate may be able to improve the body’s ability to signal for insulin in the blood and therefore improve blood sugar levels. This is another benefit that is not fully studied in humans however.
This study goes into details about how it improved the insulin signalling in rodents (28). There are indications that this tea might help stop advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) forming. These are known to develop and worsen a multitude of diseases (29,30).
How To Brew Yerba Mate
Traditionally the tea is brewed in a gourd or calabash and drunk through a special straw that filters out the plant fragments.
However you can use a coffee French press for the same effect. First fill the press with 1:4 ratio of yerba mate tea and water that is a little bit cooler than boiling water.
Leave for five minutes to steep and then press the filter down. Pour into individual cups to serve. The tea can be served with milk or lemon juice and sugar to taste.
You can continue to top up the press with hot water to steep a new batch, as the leaves are often potent enough to produce a few rounds of tea. You can serve as a hot or cold tea depending on your preference.
Yerba Mate Tea – Safety And Side Effects
Yerba mate tea is not likely to be harmful as an occasional drink. However excessive consumption is linked to the following:
General Caffeine-Related Side Effects
Yerba mate tea does contain moderate levels of caffeine.
The regular over consumption of caffeine is known to cause high blood pressure, headaches or migraines in some individuals (31,32). Other negative side effects have been listed as insomnia, increased nervousness, general unexplained feelings of restlessness or irritability, an upset stomach, a faster than normal heartbeat and sometimes even muscle tremors.
For these reasons anyone with caffeine sensitivity should drink yerba mate in moderation. Pregnant women should not drink any more than three cups a day of medium brewed yerba mate tea as too much caffeine increases the risk of a low birth weight as well as risks of miscarriage (33,34).
Other Potential Medication Interactions
The caffeine levels can interact with some drugs. Anyone taking Zanaflex, a muscle relaxant drug and the anti depressant Luvox should consult with their doctor about potential reactions between their drug and caffeine. In some cases, caffeine will increase the effect of those drugs.
People taking a MAOI drug should also proceed with yerba mate with caution. monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) are prescribed medication for Parkinson’s disease and sometimes depression. However the yerba mate tea has compounds that can mimic these drugs so speak with your doctor.
Potential Cancer Risks
The hot temperatures can damage the throat and digestive tract which can also encourage abnormal cell formation (37,38). So it is wise to use water that is not quite boiling temperature as you should when brewing any green tea. (Mix a bit of cold water with freshly boiled water.)