YERBA MATE LEAF
The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs
By Leslie Taylor
“Yerba Mate has been used as a beverage since the time of the ancient Indians of Brazil and Paraguay. Methods of preparation for the traditional tea beverage vary. In one method, the branches are cut, then held over an open fire (to fire-cure the leaves). This deactivates the enzymes in the leaves (making them more brittle), and the green color of the leaves is retained in the subsequent drying process (with charred bits often found in the resulting tea product, which lends to a smoky flavor). Other methods include a brief par-blanching of the leaves in boiling water (to deactivate the leaf enzymes and soften its leathery texture). They then are toasted dry in large pans over a fire or inside a brick oven – resulting in a finished brown-leaf tea.
“The wild plant has a distinct aroma and taste that has not been matched by plantation cultivation. In Brazil and Paraguay (leading exporters of Mate), some production still comes from wild stands – most of which is found in the humid depressions of the foothills. However, most of the Mate in commerce today comes from large cultivation projects in Paraguay and Uruguay.
“The word ‘mate’ is Spanish for gourd, and refers to the small gourd cup in which the tea beverage traditionally is served throughout South America. It is also served with a metal drinking straw or tube, called a bombilla, which has a filter attached to the lower end to strain out leaf fragments. The bottom third of the gourd is filled with fire-burned or toasted leaves, and hot water is added. Burnt sugar, lemon juice, and/or milk often are used to flavor the refreshing tea, which occupies a position rivaling that of coffee in the U.S.
“In addition to its standing as a popular beverage, Yerba Mate is used as a tonic, diuretic, and as a stimulant to reduce fatigue, suppress appetite, and aid gastric function in herbal medicine systems throughout South America. It also has been used as a depurative (to promote cleansing and excretion of waste). In Brazil, Mate is said to stimulate the nervous and muscular systems and is used for digestive problems, renal colic, nerve pain, depression, fatigue, and obesity.
“Yerba Mate also has a long history of use worldwide. In Europe, it is used for weight loss, physical and mental fatigue, nervous depression, rheumatic pains, and psychogenic- and fatigue-related headaches. In Germany, it has become popular as a weight-loss aid. Yerba Mate is the subject of a German monograph that lists its approved uses for mental and physical fatigue. In France, Yerba Mate is approved for the treatment of asthenia (weakness or lack of energy), as an aid in weight-loss programs, and as a diuretic. It also appears in the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia and is indicated for the treatment of fatigue, weight loss, and headaches. Yerba Mate is now cultivated in India, and the Indian Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia lists Yerba Mate for the treatment of psychogenic headaches, nervous depression, fatigue, and rheumatic pains.
“The primary active chemical constituency of Yerba Mate comprises xanthine alkaloids (caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline), saponins, and 10 percent chlorogenic acid. Sterols are also present in Yerba Mate, and novel saponins have been discovered in the leaf. Saponins are plant chemicals with known pharmacological activities, including, as recent research shows, stimulating the immune system. In addition, Yerba Mate leaf is a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and fifteen amino acids.
“Yerba Mate does contain caffeine. This fact continues to be confirmed by independent research every year. The caffeine content of Yerba Mate has been assayed to contain between .7 and 2.0 percent, with the average leaf yielding about 1.0 percent caffeine. In living plants, xanthines (such as caffeine) are bound to sugars, phenols, and tannins, and are set free or unbound during the roasting and/or fermenting processes used to process Yerba Mate leaves, coffee beans, and even cacao beans.
“The traditional use of Yerba Mate for fatigue is explained by its primary active chemical: caffeine. Caffeine is a known stimulant, even documented with the ability to enhance athletic and cognitive performance after sleep deprivation and stress. Yerba Mate’s traditional use for the heart may be due to the phytochemical theophylline, also used as a pharmaceutical medication used to stimulate the heart muscle. All three xanthines (caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline) have diuretic properties, which may validate the traditional use of the plant as a diuretic. These substances have several other documented pharmacological actions including central nervous system stimulation, relaxation of smooth muscle (especially bronchial muscle), myocardial stimulation, and peripheral vasoconstriction.
“Researchers have noticed Yerba Mate has a thermogenic effect in healthy individuals, which indicates a rise in the proportion of fat burned as energy. Combining Yerba Mate, Guarana, and Damiana prolongs gastric emptying (which allows one to feel fuller longer) and reduces body weight. Yerba Mate leaf inhibits lipoxygenase, an enzyme involved in inflammation and inflammatory diseases. Extracts of it have been shown to relax smooth muscle, to increase bile flow, and inhibit vasoconstriction. A U.S. patent cites Yerba Mate for inhibiting monoamine oxidase (MAO) activity by 40 – 50 percent in vitro, reporting that it might be useful for a variety of such disorders as ‘depression, disorders of attention and focus, mood and emotional disorders, Parkinson’s disease, extrapyramidal disorders, hypertension, substance abuse, eating disorders, withdrawal syndromes and the cessation of smoking.’
“Yerba Mate has significant antioxidant activity. Its high antioxidant values are linked to rapid absorption of known antioxidant plant chemicals found in Mate leaves. An infusion of the leaf has been demonstrated to inhibit lipid peroxidation – particularly LDL (low-density lipoprotein) oxidation. Oxidation of LDL is considered to be the initiating factor in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis. Another study in vitro has shown Yerba Mate to inhibit the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), with an effect comparable to that of two pharmaceutical AGE inhibitor drugs. The formation of AGEs plays a part in the development of diabetic complications.
“Heavy drinkers of Yerba Mate in South America were documented with an increased risk of upper-aerodigestive tract cancers. It was speculated that this risk was caused by the tannins in the leaf (Yerba Mate contains 7 – 14 percent tannins) consumed at a high temperature. As a result, more drinkers began adding milk to their Mate. It was suggested that the milk would bind to the tannins in the brew, reduce the temperature, and mitigate much of their (possibly) negative effects.
BOTANICAL SAFETY INFORMATION
Avoid during pregnancy or lactation. Contains caffeine and should not be used by persons who are sensitive or allergic to caffeine. Avoid use with other central nervous system stimulants. Avoid with heart disorders and epilepsy. May induce anxiety or aggravate depression. Avoid use with MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors). Avoid use with gastric or duodenal ulcers. May significantly inhibit absorption of non-heme iron. Not recommended for excessive or long-term use.
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