Yerba mate provides an energy boost similar to coffee, but with less caffeine and more nutrients. Learn about mate’s top mental & physical health benefits.
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Billions of people start the day with a hot cup of coffee or tea.
But in some parts of the world, people wake up with a drink you may not be familiar with — yerba mate.
Yerba mate is a traditional South American brew that’s been said to offer the “strength of coffee, the health benefits of tea, and the euphoria of chocolate” all in one beverage.
It was called “the drink of the gods” by many indigenous South Americans and later “the green gold of the Indios” by European settlers.
First, let’s take a look at the many evidence-based mental and physical health benefits of yerba mate.
Then we’ll explore how to prepare and drink yerba mate tea for maximum health and enjoyment, and the fewest side effects.
What Is Yerba Mate?
Yerba mate is a traditional drink made from the dried leaves of an evergreen holly, Ilex paraguariensis, a native plant of South America.
This plant is found in the wild but is also cultivated on plantations.
In countries where yerba mate is widely consumed, it assumes the cultural importance of coffee cafés and Japanese tea ceremonies.
Drinking yerba mate tea is often a social event.
Sharing this drink from a traditional gourd is a sign of friendship and bonding.
Mate drinking has its own vocabulary, not unlike ordering a coffee at Starbucks!
It’s wildly popular in Uruguay, where it’s not unusual to see people walking down the street sipping mate while carrying a thermos of hot water to refresh their drink.
It’s consumed in 98% of all Argentinian households. (3)
If you haven’t tried it, the best way to describe the taste is grassy and similar to green tea.
If you weren’t raised on it, you might find it an acquired taste.
But even if you don’t love it, you may want to drink it anyway.
Yerba mate consumption is increasing in many parts of the world, but not because of the way it tastes.
It’s gaining in popularity because of the way it improves how people feel.
10 Mental & Physical Health Benefits of Yerba Mate
The obvious and immediate benefits of yerba mate are increased energy and enhanced mental clarity, alertness, focus, and concentration.
Some of its other health benefits are less widely known, at least to those of us not living in a mate-drinking part of the world.
1. Yerba Mate Provides a Smooth Increase in Energy
Yerba mate is well known for providing an energy boost that’s been described as gentle, clean, and calm.
Compared to the other most commonly used stimulants in the world — coffee, tea, kola nut, cocoa, and guarana — yerba mate reportedly delivers the most balanced energy boost.
Yerba mate drinkers experience a state of alert wakefulness similar to that of coffee, but without coffee’s side effects.
It rarely interferes with sleep and doesn’t cause caffeine jitters.
Athletes use it to enhance physical performance. (4)
It’s useful for people suffering from mental or physical fatigue, or from chronic fatigue syndrome. (5)
You may have come across the claim that yerba mate contains no caffeine, but this is not true.
It contains 85 mg of caffeine per 8-ounce cup, which is more than tea but less than coffee. (6)
You may hear that yerba mate contains mateine instead of caffeine.
While the caffeine-like effect of yerba mate may feel different than that of coffee, a unique compound has not yet been discovered.
One theory is that mateine is probably just caffeine bound to a tannin or phenol in the raw leaf.
At least for now, mateine is simply another name for caffeine. (7)
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2. Yerba Mate Boosts Mental Functions of All Kinds
Everyone wants to be as smart, productive, focused, and creative as possible, and yerba mate may just help you do that.
Yerba mate contains a moderate amount of caffeine, the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world. (8)
The brain-enhancing benefits of caffeine are commonly known.
It enhances memory, mood, and alertness. (9)
It makes you more motivated and productive by stimulating production of the neurotransmitter dopamine. (10)
These three alkaloids work together to provide unique, mild stimulant effects, as they also do in coffee, chocolate, and tea. (11)
Yerba mate has found a niche following among brain hackers seeking to optimize mental performance with anything that gives them an edge.
Bestselling author Tim Ferriss is among the most famous biohackers.
He admits he’s experimented extensively with brain-enhancing substances of all kinds, including smart drugs.
And, in the end, his all-time favorite brain-enhancing substance is yerba mate.
He prefers it over coffee since he experiences no crash and finds it non-addictive.
And unlike smart drugs, it has no “payback time.”
3. Yerba Mate Is a Nutritional Powerhouse Loaded with Vitamins, Minerals, and Antioxidants
Yerba mate is so loaded with nutrition that it’s been said to contain practically all the micronutrients needed to sustain life.
Each serving of mate contains the following vitamins and high concentration of these minerals: (13)
- vitamin A
- vitamins B1, B2, B3, and B5
- vitamin C
- vitamin E
It also contains other beneficial phytonutrients such as tannins, trace minerals, chlorophyll, flavonoids, quercetin, and amino acids. (14)
Yerba mate contains 11 polyphenols and exhibits more antioxidant power than any other tea-based drink. (15)
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4. Yerba Mate Has a Long History of Traditional Medicinal Uses
Leslie Taylor, ND is an herbalist and naturopath who has dedicated her life to exploring the healing properties of native, medicinal plants of the Amazon rainforest.
In her book The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs, Taylor lists dozens of uses for yerba mate including:
- as a stimulant
- as an overall tonic and digestive aid
- as part of a weight loss regime
- as a general nerve tonic for pain, fatigue, and depression
- for allergies and sinusitis
You can learn more about traditional yerba mate benefits and uses in her tropical plant database.
There you’ll find close to 100 scientific references to studies that support the health claims of traditional yerba mate.
5. Yerba Mate Can Boost the Immune System
Yerba mate is high in compounds called saponins.
Saponins are natural emulsifiers that boost the immune system and have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. (16)
Yerba mate also contains potent antioxidants known as polyphenols. (17)
6. Yerba Mate Tea Can Help You Lose Weight
Yerba mate got a big boost in awareness as a weight loss aid after Dr. Oz included it in a segment on his TV show about teas that can help you lose weight.
But can it really help you lose weight?
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7. Yerba Mate Has a Long History as a Digestive and Elimination Tonic
One traditional yerba mate benefit is for treating constipation, diarrhea, and indigestion.
Its natural antibacterial properties combat E. coli, one of the most common causes of food poisoning. (22)
At least one saponin found in yerba mate destroys intestinal parasites. (23)
It’s also useful for both preventing and treating urinary tract infections and bladder and kidney stones. (24)
8. Yerba Mate Can Build Strong Bones, Even Without Exercise
Drinking yerba mate tea increases bone density, even in people who don’t exercise.
This was a somewhat surprising discovery since caffeine is associated with bone mineral loss and exercise is deemed critical for building strong bones.
This study found that postmenopausal women, a group particularly at risk for osteoporosis, who regularly drank mate had almost 10% greater bone density in their spines than women who didn’t drink it. (25)
Neither group of women exercised.
9. Yerba Mate Helps Keep Your Heart Healthy
Yerba mate is useful for heart-related conditions including heart failure, irregular heartbeat, and low blood pressure. (26)
Its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties protect the heart and cardiovascular system. (27)
The theobromine in mate relaxes blood vessels, allowing for better blood flow.
10. Yerba Mate Extract Kills Cancer Cells
We’ve saved this benefit for last since it’s the most controversial.
Yerba mate contains several known anti-cancer compounds such as saponins, ursolic acid, rutin, tannin, chlorogenic acid, and chlorophyll. (28)
When yerba mate extract is added to human colon cancer cells in a test tube, the cancer cells self-destruct. (29)
Conversely, there’s some concern that yerba mate may cause some kinds of cancer, mainly esophagus, lungs, mouth, pharynx, and larynx. (30)
However, there’s evidence that the real cause is that mate is traditionally consumed scalding hot.
Frequent exposure to extremely hot liquids is known to cause these kinds of cancers. (31)
Another theory holds that smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol in excess, which mate drinkers in certain areas of South America do, may be contributing factors. (32)
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How to Prepare Yerba Mate Tea
There are many ways to prepare yerba mate that range from super simple to fairly involved.
To start, you might want to prepare it in a way that requires no special equipment.
The easiest way is to brew it like tea using yerba mate tea bags.
There’s no need to feel guilty that you’re taking a modern shortcut.
Kids in mate-drinking countries are introduced to the tea in this way since mate made with tea bags is less potent.
You can also make it from loose mate leaves just like you would any loose tea using a strainer or infuser.
If you’ve got a French press, you can make yerba mate in it just as you would coffee.
When you are ready for a more authentic experience, you can upgrade to drinking yerba mate from a gourd (calabash) with a silver straw (bombilla).
Here’s a short video that shows how mate is traditionally brewed.
A Look at Processed Yerba Mate Drinks
Unlike coffee or tea, yerba mate is not readily available in most parts of the world.
So if you’re a fan, you may be tempted to try a canned or bottled yerba mate drink.
Here’s a quick look at what’s right — and wrong — about these drinks.
Yerba mate purists would shudder at popping open a bottle or can and taking a swig of a sugar-laden, fruity “mate drink.”
But if you are trying for a healthy upgrade from soda or typical energy drinks, these drinks could be a step in the right direction.
Yerba mate based energy drinks have 100 times more antioxidants and polyphenols that standard energy drinks! (33)
If you are concerned about sugar or caffeine, read all labels carefully.
The amount of both in these drinks varies greatly.
The most popular brand of prepared yerba mate drinks in the United States is Guayaki.
Guayaki Energy Shot contains 140 mg of caffeine per 2-ounce shot.
This is less than the 200 mg in a 2-ounce Regular Strength 5-Hour Energy shot.
Guayaki’s bottled teas contain 140 mg of caffeine per 16-ounce bottle compared to 80 mg in an 8-ounce can of Red Bull.
The exception is the peach flavor (Peach Terere) which contains only 80 mg.
Both the lemon mint and hibiscus lime bottled teas are unsweetened, but Guayaki canned drinks contain about 28 grams of sugar per 15.5 ounce can.
If you want the convenience of ready-made yerba mate drinks, but don’t want sugar or flavorings, another option is to add yerba mate liquid extract or powder to hot water to make instant yerba mate.
Yerba Mate Side Effects and Interactions
Just because people in South America drink mate all day long doesn’t mean you should!
Some people may experience the typical symptoms of excess caffeine — anxiety, nervousness, heart palpitations, and insomnia.
And since it’s great at keeping you regular, too much can have a laxative effect.
Due to its caffeine content, yerba mate is not recommended if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or have anxiety issues. (34)
And keep in mind that if you smoke or drink alcohol heavily, drinking yerba mate might increase your risk for certain cancers.
One comprehensive study conducted in Argentina found an increased risk of bladder cancer in yerba mate drinkers, but only in those who also smoked. (35)
There are several medications that should not be mixed with yerba mate.
These include drugs used to treat heart disease, asthma, cancer, depression, diabetes, or any drugs that work by stimulating the nervous system.
In almost every case, the problem is not unique to yerba mate but is due to ingesting moderate amounts of caffeine.
It’s not just a matter of overstimulation — in some cases, caffeine can alter a drug’s effectiveness.
If you regularly consume other caffeinated drinks with no problem, you should have no problem with yerba mate.
But if you have any doubt, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.
Yerba Mate Benefits: Take the Next Step
Yerba mate is one of the healthiest drinks in the world.
It provides an energy and productivity boost similar to coffee, but smoother, with less caffeine and more nutrients.
It is generally less stimulating than coffee and rarely causes caffeine jitters or insomnia.
Yerba mate offers a multitude of mental and physical health benefits, from improved cognition to stronger bones.
Yerba mate makes a nice change of pace from coffee and tea, and is a healthy replacement for sugar-laden energy drinks or soda.