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Yerba maté (yer-bah MAH-teh) may be a humble drink in your teacup (or gourd, if you drink it traditionally), but it’s roots go as far back as the indigenous populations of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil.
The Guarani People, as the indigenous group are known, were the first to discover Yerba maté and utilise the plant as a source of nutrition and energy. They used hollowed-out gourds as drinking vessels, and would sit together to share the tea between themselves.
It became a cultural staple, a symbol of ritual and worship, and a valuable currency within South America. However, such a powerful brew wasn’t to be contained within its home soil for much Longer…
With the arrival of Spanish Conquistadors to the New World in the late 16th century, the trade of maté began to boom. Before long, the Jesuits had their hands on the plant, and began to brew it as they did ordinary tea, and it garnered the nickname “Jesuit’s Tea”.
The Jesuits began to plant and harvest their own Yerba maté, and eventually discovered that the seeds only germinate after being eaten by a Toucan!
For a while this gained them a great advantage as maté farmers, but this only lasted until 1769 - when they were forced to leave South America and abandon plantations.
So what was to become of the Yerba maté trade?
The secret to growing this medicinal plant was rediscovered in Santa Ana in 1903, which gave way to the first modern Yerba maté plantation.
It began to be commercially processed in the early twentieth century, and through trial and error, it became known that Yerba maté will not grow anywhere beyond it’s home soil. It is still a treasured resource in the regions in which it grows.
Today it is the national drink of Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Southern Brazil. It is consumed nearly as much as water in these places, and is consumed 6 times more frequently than coffee. In these places, drinking Yerba maté is still very much a symbol of sharing, friendship and tradition. The processes of harvesting, preparing and drinking Yerba maté have remained practically unchanged for over 500 years.
No doubt the consumption of Yerba maté will continue long into the future, as those who drink it continue to experience the invigorating health benefits it gives.