A South American relation of our beloved Holly tree, Maté enjoys even greater popularity - at least in South America. In recent years that popularity has caught on in other parts of the world as well. The secret to its high esteem are not its looks, but rather to be found in its properties. Maté is the South American equivalent of Coffee or Tea. Maté bars are as ubiquitous as coffee houses in Europe or North America. But its consumption is far more ceremonious than that of our favourite brown brews. Maté is traditionally served not in cups, but in little gourds, from which it derived its name (Mati was the name of the gourd, which in time attached itself to the herb itself). The gourd is half filled with the cured and cut Maté leaves and topped with hot (not boiling) water. The resulting tea is sucked through a 'bombilla', a metal straw that ends in a kind of sieve, which prevents the leaves from clogging up the tube. Maté contains less caffeine than coffee, but more than black tea and is a hugely popular stimulating beverage. It first became known in the West via the Jesuits who learned about Maté from the Guarani Indians of Paraguay. They tried the tea and liked its effect - so much so, that in the early days it was also known as 'Jesuit tea'. Today, worldwide demand has risen dramatically and Maté plantations have been established to meet the demand.
Maté tea is an effective, refreshing stimulant, which can be drunk as a substitute for Tea or Coffee. As an effective nervous system tonic it refreshes the mind and enhances memory, while combating fatigue, nervous exhaustion and stress. It also counteracts certain types of headaches and depression. In Western herbal medicine it has been used for attention deficit syndrome. Maté is rich in vitamins and amino acids an can suppress appetite, a property which has made it a popular choice in certain herbal weight-loss formulations. In South America it is used as a blood cleanser and antioxidant, immune system stimulant and anti-inflammatory agent. Its anti-inflammatory properties rely on its ability to stimulate the production of cortisone.
The Guarani Indians consider Maté one of the most important herbs the creator God has given them. It is widely used in ceremonies to facilitate clearing the mind to focus on the ritual. It is almost always used in healing rituals as a base for other healing herbs. Guarani shamans sometimes use this herb to achieve a clairvoyant trance. It also plays a role as an aphrodisiac.