Yerba Mate – Origin & History

No beverage other than coffee and tea has achieved the kind of popularity that Yerba Mate has achieved. For the connoisseurs of this drink coffee and tea are far behind this wonder drink. So, where did this come from? How did it become so popular around the globe?

The Beginning of Yerba Maté

The history of Mate starts from the days of the Guarani people of South America. There is ample evidence to show they widely used this herb. They are known to have either directly chewed the herb or kept it in a calabash gourd and poured water and sipped the water. The name Mate also comes from the gourd. The original name Caamate is from Guarani. Caa means plant and mate refer to the gourd.

Soon the other groups like the Incas, Charruas and the Araucanos adopted the beverage and started using it regularly. For these people, it is almost a spiritual drink. They give it the respect that they give to anything associated with God. They appreciated the nutritional benefits of drinking Mate.

The Colonial Era of Yerba Maté

The mate gained much popularity during the colonial era when Spain conquered much of South America and colonized it. The Spaniard Jesuits understood the benefits of drinking mate. They spread the cultivation of Yerba spread throughout the area occupied by the Spaniards. They cultivated this extensively in the reductions – settlements where the Indians were made to live in. The Spaniards were mainly responsible for the outside world knowing about the beverage.

The Jesuits never drank the mate cold. They always boiled the Mate and drank. The Jesuits also knew the secret that Yerba seeds will germinate only in certain regions in South America. This was kept a secret for over half a century.

Interestingly the Jesuits had initially banned the drinking of Yerba Mate calling it a demonic drink. But later they had to adopt the drink as they found that they were losing the faithful people because of the ban. The later made the Indians cultivate and nurture the plants for commercial use.

The Mate comes with its own dark period. The Indians were tortured by the Jesuits to clear the forests as much as possible and plant the Mate and look after them. Probably no local people have been so tortured like the Indians by the Spanish labor contractors.

The Mate soon became to be called Jesuit Tea and became a good commercial crop for the Jesuits. It joined honey, maize, and tobacco as local currency when there was a shortage of coins.

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