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Background and History
Yerba mate is a traditional beverage which is extremely popular in Brazil, Paraguay, Urugay, Argentina, Bolivia, some parts of Spain, and (fairly recently) a large part of the Europe, the Americas, and select parts of Asia. It was a traditional beverage drunk by the Gurarani peoples of South America and, prior to the general commericalisation of the plant today, was initially wildcrafted and later on cultivated by the locals only in sizeable amounts. The plant is a native to the subtropical areas of South America and is actually related to the holly (family Aquifoliaceae).
Yerba mate can be considered as a traditional / indigenous drink, with the drinking process being highly ritualized. The method of drinking a typical serving of yerba mate is via the use of a gourd (usually made from calabash, but is also available in a wide assortment of other materials) called a mate to which a straw (traditionally made of silver or bamboo, but now made from a wide assortment of materials) called a bomba or a bombilla is inserted from which one partakes of the beverage. It is typically prepared by deftly piling up the dried yerba mate leaves into the mate gourd, inserting the bombilla, and pouring hot or cold water over it in order to infuse the beverage.  An entire drinking culture has been built upon the small ritual of consuming yerba mate, so much so that it has even been compared to the Chinese and Japanese art of the tea ceremony.
The yerba mate plant itself begins life as a small, unassuming bush during its infancy, only to later grow into a full-fledged tree measuring a maximum of fifteen metres tall at the height of its maturity. The plant is an evergreen, with dark-green to emerald-green hued leaves which strongly resemble that of the eucalyptus plant. It is also notable for its small, white or pale-jade inflorescence and a small, edible red drupe. The plants leaves are generally harvested at a critical junction whereby they are only partly mature. The leaves (including the twigs and sometimes even the soft bark from the braches) are then dried and later on broken up to make the yerba mate 'tea', which is almost always sold in its loose form (although examples made into teabags to exist). 
The leaves may then be drunk in its 'young' state, or allowed to dry further (or 'age') in order to reputedly help increase its potency and its health benefits. When cultivating yerba mate, the male plants are almost always more preferred than the female plants, as these tend to contain more potent concentrations of caffeine and other volatile compounds that make the drink extremely enjoyable and (in some cases) even addictive. Yerba mate is generally drunk as a recreational beverage, although with its recent surge in popularity throughout the majority of the Americas, select parts of Asia, and a larger part of the Western world, it has also been drunk almost solely as a health beverage.
Just like tea, yerba mate allows for multiple brewing or infusion times, generally depending upon the age of the loose leaf, the length of time it is allowed to steep in the water, and the relative temperature of the water upon brewing time. Because it can be infused and drunk more than once, a single 'round' of yerba mate starts out strong, and is characterised by a pronounced grassy, vegetal aroma and flavour not at all dissimilar from some Japanese strains of green tea, until the flavours mellow out and dissipate altogether, again, much like a good pot of tea.
Common / Popular Uses
In the places where yerba mate is most popular, it is commonly drunk as a recreational beverage, with its national popularity being shown by the fact that nearly every local possesses their own mate gourd, bombilla straw, and their own handy vacuum flask for ready and instant preparation anywhere. Yerba mate is most commonly prepared hot or moderately hot in the 'straight-up' fashion, or otherwise prepared with roasted yerba mate leaves (the preparation being called mate cocido, which is distinctive for its more robust, 'spicier' taste and aroma).  Other variations also exist, with mate leaves being mixed with mint leaves, orange peel, medicinal herbs (called yuyos) to improve or change the flavour profile of the beverage, although this is typically considered by some purists as adulterating the beverage, typically the inferior aroma or taste of low-grade yerba mate leaves. A cold version of the beverage, called terere also exists, which is brewed using iced water instead of the typical hot water, allowing for a milder, and a more longer-lasting round of drinks. 
In areas where the drink is most popular, it prepared everyday and drunk by people of all ages, from all walks of life. Outside of its cultural presence, yerba mate is considered a health drink. In the traditional context, yerba mate is drunk to help alleviate the symptoms of stress, to elicit relaxation, to provide a steady stream of invigourating energy to the drinker, to uplift one's spirits, and to treat minor diseases like flu, general malaise, indigestion, diarrhea, and dyspepsia.  In this regard, yerba mate can be considered a tonifying, energizing, carminative, and digestif beverage. It is even given to ailing individuals in the (traditional) belief that it boosts the immune system and hastens healing.
Recent studies have found that the consumption of yerba mate yields a number of health benefits. Yerba mate contains very high amounts of antioxidants, and thus acts as an anti-cancer, anti-stress, cardio-protective, and immuno-boosting beverage.  Yerba mate is also known for its ability to help sharpen the mind's ability to focus due to the caffeine present in the leaves. The combination of caffeine and the antioxidants found in the leaves also enhance the body's ability to generate and metabolise energy. Because it hastens the body's metabolism, yerba mate is generally sold outside of Paraguay as a weight-loss beverage, as it not only helps to metabolise stored fats, but it also curbs one's appetite. 
Modern herbal medicine has also prescribed yerba mate as a remedy for osteoporosis, depression, urinary tract infections, chronic fatigue syndrome, hypotension, and renal disorders. It is also believed by some that yerba mate is a heart tonic due to its containing significant amounts of theobromine - the feelgood inducing chemical also found in cacao.  In spite of the large number of individuals who are proponents of the health benefits of yerba mate, conflicting scientific suggests that very little of the attributed medicinal properties of yerba mate actually yield desirable or concrete results. On the other hand, advocates of the drink also have their own stance with regards to the efficiency of the beverage's medicinal properties and health benefits.
Esoteric / Magickal Uses
In spite of being a relatively new herb in the sphere of mainstream Western herbalism, yerba mate has been employed for magickal purposes, although in a non-traditional sense. For the native Guarani peoples and, subsequently, the Paraguayans, the use of yerba mate was strictly relegated to it's a general beverage and a medicinal plant. It may have been considered sacred by the aboriginal cultures, but the currently known magickal properties associated with yerba mate stem from modern magickal practice more so than any deeply-rooted traditional ascription of specific magickal properties. The closest thing that the Guranai peoples have to a magickal usage for yerba mate stems from its legendary origin; it being a plant gifted by the Goddess of the Moon and the Cloud as remuneration for inadvertently terrifying the peoples by appearing in jaguar-form. The goddess, it was said, gave the people the plant to be used as a drink of friendship and to bridge the gaps between all peoples - a sacred practice which is perpetuated to this very day. 
Within the context of modern sympathetic magick, yerba mate is generally employed in the brewing of love potions, as it is said to help strengthen the bonds of a relationship and to prevent lovers from straying. It may also be worn as a talismanic herb that is said to attract love or increase one's attractiveness to the object of one's desire. It is typically worn upon one's person, encased in a red medicine pouch or juju bag. In sympathetic magick, performing the reverse (i. e. spilling yerba mate tea before one's partner instead of drinking a brew together) is said to elicit the end of a relationship, granted that such is the intent of the caster. 
While yerba mate is generally safe when drunk in moderate to moderately large dosages, some scientific studies have posited the possibility that it may be carcinogenic, although conflicting studies suggest that it is usually the temperature at which the beverage is drunk which causes it to become a carcinogenic threat, and not the constituents of the plant itself which poses a threat. It has been advised that yerba mate be drunk warm instead of piping hot (as is the wont for most enthusiasts) to reduce the possibility of contracting or developing oral or esophageal cancer from its consumption.
Because the beverage contains a significant amount of caffeine, individuals who are hypertensive should also limit their intake of yerba mate. As a general safety precaution, pregnant and nursing women should refrain from the consumption of the beverage until the interim of their pregnancy or nursing stage. Yerba mate should likewise not be given to children, as there is a strong possibility that it may be detrimental to their health. Persons above the age of sixteen may freely partake of mate in moderate amounts without any risk for detrimental side-effects, however, individuals who have a history of alcoholism or substance abuse should refrain from its consumption. Likewise, people who suffer from diabetes, glaucoma, anxiety, and heart conditions should limit their intake of yerba mate, or do away with it altogether if at all possible.
Yerba Mate, Other Names - Past and Present
Spanish: chimarrao / mate cocido / cha mate / terere / mate / yerba mate
French: mate (adapted from Spanish) / the de Saint Barthelemy / the des Jesuites / the de Bresil / the du Paraguay / yerbamate (adapted from Spanish)
English: mate (adapted from Spanish) / green mate / yerba mate (adapted from Spanish) / St Bartholomew's tea / Paraguay tea / chimarrao (adapted from Spanish) / Jesuit's tea
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Ilex paraguariensis
   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yerba_mate
Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt. © herbs-info.com 2013
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