Evergreen shrub or small tree growing to 20 ft (6 m). Has large leaves, white flowers, and small reddish fruit.
Habitat & Cultivation
Maté grows wild in northern Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and southern Brazil, and is widely cultivated in Argentina, Spain, and Portugal. The leaves are picked when the berries are ripe, heated over a wood fire, ground, and then stored in sacks for a year before being sold.
Maté contains xanthine derivatives, including about 1.5% caffeine, about 0.2% theobromine, theophylline, and up to 16% tannins. The high tannin content means that maté should not be consumed with meals, as tannins impair the absorption of nutrients.
Medicinal Actions & Uses
Maté is a traditional South American tea that increases short-term physical and mental energy levels. It is taken as a fortifying beverage in much the same way as tea (Camellia sinensis) is consumed throughout Asia and Europe. Maté has properties similar to those of tea and coffee (Coffea arabica). It stimulates the nervous system and is mildly analgesic and diuretic. As a medicinal herb, maté is used to treat headaches, migraine, neuralgic and rheumatic pain, fatigue, and mild depression. It has also been used in the treatment of diabetes.
I. guayusa, from Ecuador, is used in much the same way as maté but is also employed medicinally to treat malaria, liver pain, and syphilis. It is thought to aid digestion and cleanse the digestive tract.