Although mate is not yet well known outside of South America, its reputation as a healthy and medicinally useful plant is growing quickly all over the world.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Mate, maté, yerba mate (Spanish), erva-mate (Portuguese)
  • Scientific nameIlex paraguariensis
  • Plant typeHerb
  • Native regionSouth America
  • Main producer(s)Brazil
  • Main Economic UseCulinary

Regarded by its advocates as a better pick-me-up than coffee, mate has been one of South America's most popular herbs for thousands of years, offering a host of health benefits along with an energy boost. Experts believe the first mate plants to have come from subtropical South America, as wild populations grow today in southern Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and northern Argentina. Its first instances of human use date back to per-Columbian times.

Mate Medicinal Properties

Quick Facts (Medicinal Properties)
  • Medicinal actionDiuretic, Stimulant
  • Key constituentsCaffeine, theobromine
  • Ways to useCapsules, Hot infusions/tisanes
  • Medicinal rating(3) Reasonably useful plant
  • Safety rankingUse with caution

Health Benefits of Mate

Along with providing a host of nutritional benefits, research has shown that mate is useful for:

  • Increasing alertness. The most common use of mate is for its stimulating effects on the nervous system, which can reduce drowsiness and even provide relief for headaches or increase appetite.

  • Stimulating urination. Mate is also a diuretic, which can reduce fluid retention in the body.

  • Lowering cholesterol. Drinking mate has been shown to decrease levels of cholesterol in the blood.

How it Works

Mate's most active components are its xanthines, specifically caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline. These three substances all act as stimulants to the central nervous system, which decreases drowsiness and helps to keep people awake and alert. Pantothenic acid also reduces fatigue.

Caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline are also known diuretics and help to flush fluids out of the body. Additionally, mate contains saponins and nicotinic acid, which both have been shown to help lower levels of cholesterol in the blood, which can be beneficial to the heart.

Additionally, mate has many nutritional benefits. Unlike coffee, teas, or other drinks made to increase alertness, mate contains a great number of essential minerals that are highly advantageous to human health, such as aluminum, iron, manganese, potassium, and zinc. The leaves also have high concentrations of vitamins A, B₁ (thiamine), B₂ (riboflavin), B₃ (niacin), C (ascorbic acid), and E.

Other herbs well-known for their stimulant properties are coffee, guarana, and the tea plant, particularly in the form of green tea.

Mate Side Effects

Mate is possibly safe when taken in small amounts for short periods of time, although the caffeine content in the herb may cause insomnia, anxiety, nausea, increased heart rate, and increased blood pressure. However, research has indicated a possible link between consumption of high doses of or extended time taking mate and certain cancers. This link has not been proven, but mate should not be over consumed.

Mate Cautions

Mate can cause interactions with several different drugs, and it should not be consumed while taking other stimulants, certain antibiotics, estrogens, lithium, medications for depression, drugs for blood clotting, nicotine, alcohol, diabetes, or any medications that influence the body's ability to break down caffeine, such as birth control pills.

Mate is also not recommended for use for people suffering from alcoholism, anxiety disorders, bleeding disorders, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, glaucoma, high blood pressure, or osteoporosis. Additionally, pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid mate.

How to Consume Mate

Quick Facts (How to Consume)
  • Edible partsLeaves
  • Edible usesBeverage
  • TasteMildly bitter

Bitter by themselves, mate leaves are not eaten fresh from the tree. However, the plant is often brewed into a warm infusion, which is its most traditional use.

Natural Forms

  • Infusion. Traditionally, mate tea is made following several very specific steps involving the correct container to use, as well as the temperature and timing of the added water. Mate is drank for increasing alertness, flushing excess of fluids, and lower cholesterol.

Herbal Remedies & Supplements

  • Tincture. Mate may be extracted and made into a tincture that helps to reduce cholesterol levels as well as increase energy levels. Approximately 20 - 30 drops of tincture can be taken up to three times per day, and it can be added to other drinks to mask the taste.

  • Capsules. Capsules can also provide the benefits of mate with a disguised taste. They are most often used to increase alertness.


Natural Forms

Dried mate leaves are an increasingly common sight in health food stores and even some supermarkets today, though they are easier to find year-round in South American countries. They are also generally available via online retailers. Processed foods that feature the plant as an ingredient can be found in grocery stores in select locations.

Herbal Remedies & Supplements

Herbal supplements made from mate are carried by some specialized health food stores, though online outlets usually provide a wider range of possible brands, concentrations, and price points.


Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cyclePerennial
  • Harvested partsLeaves
  • Growing habitatSubtropical regions

Mate is propagated by seeds, which must be sown in nurseries immediately after harvesting or they will lose their ability to germinate.

  • After 30 - 60 days, the seedlings can be transplanted into the final growing location, ideally with nitrogen-rich soil and adequate fertilization.

  • Specific rainfall requirements limit successful mate growth to subtropical regions that receive no less than 47 inches (1,200 mm) of annual precipitation, as well as hot and humid environments - ideally around 71° F (22° C).

  • Though it prefers heavy rain and warmer zones, mate can inhabit mountainous climates and survive frequent snowfalls, as well as short-term temperatures as low as 21° F (-6° C).

  • Mate leaves should be harvested when the fruit is ripe, usually between March and June.

Additional Information

Plant Biology

Mate is a dioecious evergreen tree. It can reach heights of 60 feet (18 m), but usually only grows up to 20 - 25 feet (6 - 8 m). It has large, alternate leaves with a deep central vein. The flowers are small and white, giving way to reddish, single-seed fruit. The leaves are the only part of the plant that is used for significant purpose.

Mate may also be called Brazilian tea, Paraguay tea, yerba mate, chimarrao, or Cimarron.

  • Classification

    A member of the Aquifoliceae, mate - or Ilex paraguensis - is one of up to 600 species of flowering plants in this family. These species include European holly, the popular Christmas decoration, and its American counterpart, winterberry.

  • Varieties and Subspecies of Mate

    Mate has no distinct subspecies, but two varieties of the plant do grow in the wild. Ilex paraguariensis var. paraguariensis is suitable for human consumption and noted for its almost completely hairless leaves. Conversely, I. paraguariensis var. vestita has densely hairy foliage and is not industrialized, though it coexists naturally with the former in some parts of Brazil.

Historical Information

It is thought that the Guaraní people, who lived in the highlands between modern-day Brazil and Argentina, were the first to teach Spanish settlers about mate's nutritional and medicinal uses.

By 1670, Jesuit missionaries across northern South America were cultivating the plant on large plantations, sending it back to Portugal and Spain where it grew in popularity. When the Jesuits were expelled from Spanish territories a century later, both deforestation and a lack of interest forced production into steep decline, though it was never completely abandoned. By the end of the 1800s, the plant had bounced back to a level of popularity that hasn't waned since.

Economic Data

Peaks and valleys in mate's history of production have led to stunted exportation outside of South America, but international demand for the herb continues to grow as word of its health benefits spreads. Brazil gains the most from production today, generating over $36 million USD from 2007 sales alone, though the country is closely followed by Argentina, and Paraguay also sees profits from the industry. The plant is mainly sold for use as a tea, and demand, particularly in the Middle East, has increased considerably in recent years.

Popular Beliefs

Many of the groups of people living in South America passed down stories and legends about the origin of mate. These stories vary among the different groups, but many include gods and goddesses - such as the moon or the dusk - giving mate to the people as a gift for their hospitality or kindness.

Other Uses

Because of mate's popularity as a culinary and medicinal herb, it has very few other uses. It has begun to be used occasionally in some cosmetics, although it is still not a common ingredient. It is also closely connected to the tourist industry in the South American countries where it is grown, and many souvenirs relating to the plant or the drink are sold in souvenir shops.

Mate has a long traditional use as a medicinal herb, and research has confirmed that it possesses several important health benefits, notably an ability to energize, stimulate urination, and reduce cholesterol.


  • Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine
  • FAOSTAT, Neglected Crops: 1492 from a Different Perspective
  • Journal of Food Science, A comprehensive review on chemistry, health implications, and technological considerations on Ilex paraguarensis, 2007
  • European Journal of Business and Social Sciences, Yerba mate: Export and tradition in Brazil, 2013