As an alternative to your morning cup of coffee or tea, yerba mate (pronounced yer-bah mah-tay) is making a big splash in the U.S. Grown beneath the tree canopy in the South American rainforest, yerba mate is a very popular drink in countries like Argentina, where it is preferred seven-to-one over coffee. This beverage is made from the Ilex paraguariensis plant, a relative of the holly family, known for its stimulating and antioxidant properties. Traditionally, people in South America enjoyed this brew by filling a hollowed out gourd with yerba mate leaves and hot water and using a straw to sip the hot infusion. Over the centuries, it has been thought to enhance vitality, clarity and well-being. Today, you can find yerba mate in the coffee/tea section of many supermarkets. Brew yerba mate leaves, either in loose-leaf form or in tea bags, into a hot, earthy beverage just like you would tea or enjoy prepared yerba mate beverages in bottles or cans.

Health tonic?

Like coffee and tea, yerba mate appears to possess plant compounds that may promote health. Yerba mate contains the stimulants caffeine (in similar amounts as coffee), theophylline, and theobromine, as well as polyphenols and flavonols that act as antioxidants. In a 2007 review published in the Journal of Food Science, University of Illinois researchers reported that yerba mate shows the potential to reduce cholesterol levels, stimulate the central nervous system, act as a diuretic, benefit the liver and cardiovascular system, and aid in weight loss due to a thermogenic, or fat-burning, effect. Of course, much more research needs to occur before health experts can recommend yerba mate for specific health benefits.

Of some concern is the correlation between hot yerba mate and increased risk of cancers of the esophagus, larynx, and oral cavity. A 2009 scientific review found that, while several epidemiological studies support an increased cancer risk, there are no population-based, case-control studies available to clarify this risk. The scientists hypothesized that the temperature could damage the mucosa or accelerate metabolic reactions, including those with carcinogenic substances in tobacco and alcohol, if they are consumed together with yerba mate. In addition, Guayaki, a manufacturer of yerba mate products, reports that polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons present in yerba mate due to the traditional smoke-drying process may be a link to cancer; thus, the manufacturer has altered its drying process in order to reduce these compounds. For now, many health experts feel that it's generally safe to drink yerba mate in moderation, while at the same time avoiding tobacco and limiting alcohol.

Eco-friendly yerba mate.

Sipping yerba mate may also be an earth-friendly beverage choice. Guayaki founded a Market-Driven-Restoration business model, which aims to rebuild over 200,000 acres of rainforest and provide jobs to over 1,000 indigenous people by 2020. This approach directly links your purchase to farming communities in South American rainforests, where organic yerba mate is sustainably harvested from rainforest-grown cultivations and reforestation projects.


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