What is Yerba Mate?
Yerba mate is used to make a beverage known as mate. When served cold, the drink is called tereré in Guaraní. It is traditionally consumed in central and southern regions of South America, primarily in Paraguay, as well as in Argentina, Uruguay, southern and central-western Brazil, the Chaco region of Bolivia and southern Chile. It is also popular in the Druze community in Syria and Lebanon, where it is imported from Argentina. Yerba mate was first cultivated and used by the indigenous Guaraní people and in some Tupí communities in southern Brazil, prior to European colonization. Yerba mate can be found in various energy drinks on the market, as well as being sold as a bottled or canned iced tea
Yerba mate translates to "mate herb", where mate is originally from the Quechua mati, a complex word with multiple meanings. Mati means "container for a drink", "infusion of an herb", as well as "gourd". Yerba mate, or Ilex paraguariensis, begins as a shrub and then matures to a tree and can grow up to 15 metres (49 ft) tall. The leaves are evergreen, 7–110 millimetres (0.3–4.3 in) long and 30–55 millimetres (1.2–2.2 in) wide, with a serrated margin. The leaves are often called yerba (Spanish) or erva (Portuguese), both of which mean "herb". They contain caffeine (known in some parts of the world as mateine) and related xanthine alkaloids, and are harvested commercially.The flowers are small, greenish-white, with four petals. The fruit is a red drupe 4–6 millimetres (0.16–0.24 in) in diameter
Mate was first consumed by the indigenous Guaraní and also spread by the Tupí people who lived in that part of southern Brazil and northeast Argentina, including some areas that were Paraguayan territory before the Paraguayan War. Therefore, the scientific name of the yerba mate is Ilex paraguariensis. The consumption of yerba mate became widespread with the European colonization in the Spanish colony of Paraguay in the late 16th century, among both Spanish settlers and indigenous Guaraní, who consumed it before the Spanish arrival. Mate consumption spread in the 17th century to the Río de la Plata and from there to Peru and Chile.
This widespread consumption turned it into Paraguay's main commodity above other wares such as tobacco, cotton and beef. Aboriginal labour was used to harvest wild stands. In the mid-17th century, Jesuits managed to domesticate the plant and establish plantations in their Indian reductions in the Argentine province of Misiones, sparking severe competition with the Paraguayan harvesters of wild strands. After their expulsion in the 1770s, the Jesuit missions — along with the yerba mate plantations — fell into ruins. The industry continued to be of prime importance for the Paraguayan economy after independence, but development in benefit of the Paraguayan state halted after the Paraguayan War (1864–1870) that devastated the country both economically and demographically.
Brazil then became the largest producer of mate. In Brazilian and Argentine projects in late 19th and early 20th centuries, the plant was domesticated once again, opening the way for plantation systems. When Brazilian entrepreneurs turned their attention to coffee in the 1930s, Argentina, which had long been the prime consumer, took over as the largest producer, resurrecting the economy of Misiones Province, where the Jesuits had once had most of their plantations. For years, the status of largest producer shifted between Brazil and Argentina. Today, Argentina is the largest producer with 56–62%, followed by Brazil, 34–36%, and Paraguay, 5%. Uruguay is the largest consumer per capita, consuming around 19 liters per year
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