Saturday, November 18, 2006

Yerba Mate

As I have been having severe difficulties with a long-held stomach condition, I have had to forego the joys of consuming several large Iced Mochas this weekend. Seeking some replacement, I have returned to a beverage I discovered two years ago at a local coffeehouse- Yerba Mate (pronounced "yer-be mah-tay"). This drink doesn't tear up my digestive system the way coffee or copius amounts of espresso seem to.

What is Yerba Mate? To begin with, it is a member of the holly branch of the evergreen family. It is grown in Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil. Natives of that region have been drinking mate for hundreds of years. As Spanish Jesuits glommed on to its benefits, they began to encourage the growth of plantations dedicated to cultivating the plant. Today Yerba Mate is more popular in these countries than coffee is in the United States. Typically it is prepared by steeping its leaves (and sometimes twigs) in boiling hot water. In its native countries, it is consumed communally through a metal straw from a gourd. There's a uniquely social aspect to Mate... in fact some characterize it as a "ritual of friendship". It's got a very earthy taste, with a bitter edge. Its chemical components include xanthine (an alkaloid in the same family as caffeine), potassium, manganese and magnesiun.

The effects on the consumer seem to vary depending on the individual. Some report that it provides a mild euphoria. For others in it is simply relaxing. Regardless, it accentuates mental alertness and focus. Scientific research has shown that it relaxes smooth muscle tissue and stimulates the myocardial (heart) muscle, rather than the central nervous system. This means that the jitteriness, heart palpitations and anxiety that caffeine produces is absent in mate. There is also some indication that it acts as a MAO inhibitor (an antidepressant), which would explain its calming effect. Like Green Tea, mate is an antioxidant, and some westerners have gone as far as hyping it as a weight-loss alternative.

There is limited research that suggests that daily drinking of hot mate may contribute to an increased risk of upper gastroinitestinal cancer. It is speculated that this is due to the presence of tannins in the leaf. This has led to its decreased usage in hip cafes in the United States. But it must be noted that these studies involved consumers who were imbibing massive amounts of mate. This website has a fairly unbiased examination of the health risks and benefits involved with Mate.

I've personally experienced some of Mate's claimed euphoric qualities. I first tried it during a period of extreme mental and emotional stress, and found it of tremendous help. It may have had something to do with the fact that my use of it replaced excessive espresso consumption. Obviously I'm not a scientist, nor would I make a claim to being able to isolate variables throughout my daily life. But I continue to use mate occasionally, and it seems to have an ameliorative effect on the more troublesome aspects of my digestive system. I have even found that I can fall asleep after drinking mate, which has never been the case with coffee. Given the very mild health advisories, I have a a small amount of reservation about drinking it daily. But in moderation I have found it to be extremely beneficial. I have eschewed the traditional gourd for hygenic reasons- I find that a french press works quite nicely.


Anonymous Drink Deep said...

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2:43 PM  
Blogger base said...


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