When visiting a house in Mount Lebanon, you are bound to be greeted with a broad smile, a tray of different snacks, and a steaming gourd of yerba maté. A slightly bitter herbal drink, maté is made with the leaves and stems of a bush (Ilex paraguariensis St. Hilaire) native to the subtropical region of South America, and present in the South of Brazil, North of Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. Maté drinks have been consumed for generations as infusions popularly known as chimarrão, tererê (both from green dried maté leaves) and maté tea (roasted maté leaves)1.
Maté tea found its way to the Levant in the 19th century by immigrants that went to South America and returned home with the drink. While found in other regions, yerba maté is mostly consumed in mountainous Druze villages, where it has become an important staple in the Druze community and culture.
Yerba maté is traditionally enjoyed in social settings, mostly consisting of family and friends. The same gourd and metal straw, bombilla, are shared by the host and guests who are present. In a time where the Coronavirus (COVID-19) has spread across the globe, and is known to be transmitted easily when an infected person coughs or sneezes2, drinking yerba maté in this manner has become a risk to our health. Governments everywhere have issued safety measures to follow to prevent Coronavirus transmission and infection.
It’s clear that yerba maté hasn’t been part of any epidemic outbreak, but perhaps it’s time to take some precautions. Remember, the Coronavirus can be transmitted through saliva! It’s advisable to drink maté with people you know or with relatives that don’t have any apparent symptoms of respiratory diseases. Washing the gourd and straw with hot water after use and drying them is important, because if left for 24 hours at normal room temperature, bacteria can grow aided by the humidity of the yerba. It’s advisable to dry the gourd with the mouth pointing upwards after draining it to prevent bacteria growth. For practical and hygienic reasons, gourds made of glass or ceramic are a better option. Also, at least once a month, boil the straws in hot water with 2 tablespoons of sodium bicarbonate, then clean the inside for any left yerba.
Washing the straw with hot water after each turn and wiping it with a napkin or a lemon peel is not enough to kill the Coronavirus. So the best way to avoid contamination is by assigning a gourd and straw for every individual. It’s still okay, maté lovers can enjoy the rich flavors and mateine all to themselves.
Yet, regardless of the manner in which it’s consumed, yerba maté has many health benefits. According to a study conducted on obese subjects given oral supplements of maté capsules 3 times a day (3g/day) for 12 weeks, a significant decrease in body fat mass and percent body fat were recorded compared to the placebo group3. In another study performed on hypercholesterolemia individuals on cholesterol-lowering drugs, who consumed yerba mate infusions for 40 days, an additional reduction of 13.1% in LDL, and an increase in 6.2% of HDL-cholesterol were recorded, which suggests maté may reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases4. Being rich in phenolic compounds that have an antioxidant capacity, maté tea represents a potential source of agents that are capable of preventing cancer5.
Also, in 2015, a case control study was performed on individuals with Parkinson’s disease to investigate the link between the disease and yerba maté intake. The results showed that there is an inverse association between yerba maté consumption and PD, which means that yerba mate may have a potential protective role in the development of PD6. In addition, popular medicine and herbalists recommend it for arthritis, migraines, constipation, rheumatism, fatigue, hypertension, and for stomach and liver diseases7.
Yerba maté isn’t likely to pose a health risk to adults who occasionally drink it. More investigations need to be done into the side effects of yerba maté, but if it’s your cup of tea, enjoy it in moderation!
1. Bastos, D.H.M. & Beltrame, Daniela & Matsumoto, R.L.T. & Carvalho, Patrícia & Ribeiro, Marcelo. (2007). Yerba maté: Pharmacological Properties, Research and Biotechnology. Medicinal and Aromatic Plant Science and Biotechnology. 1. 37-46.
2. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). (2020). Retrieved 6 March 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/transmission.html.
3. Kim, S., Oh, M., Kim, M., Chae, H., & Chae, S. (2015). Anti-obesity effects of Yerba Mate (Ilex Paraguariensis): a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. BMC Complementary And Alternative Medicine, 15(1). doi: 10.1186/s12906-015-0859-1.
4. de Morais, E., Stefanuto, A., Klein, G., Boaventura, B., de Andrade, F., & Wazlawik, E. et al. (2009). Consumption of Yerba Mate (Ilex paraguariensis) Improves Serum Lipid Parameters in Healthy Dyslipidemic Subjects and Provides an Additional LDL-Cholesterol Reduction in Individuals on Statin Therapy. Journal Of Agricultural And Food Chemistry, 57(18), 8316-8324. doi: 10.1021/jf901660g.
5. de Mejía, E., Song, Y., Heck, C., & Ramírez-Mares, M. (2010). Yerba mate tea (Ilex paraguariensis): Phenolics, antioxidant capacity and in vitro inhibition of colon cancer cell proliferation. Journal Of Functional Foods, 2(1), 23-34. doi: 10.1016/j.jff.2009.12.003.
6. Gatto, E., Melcon, C., Parisi, V., Bartoloni, L., & Gonzalez, C. (2015). Inverse association between yerba mate consumption and idiopathic Parkinson’s disease. A case–control study. Journal Of The Neurological Sciences, 356(1-2), 163-167. doi: 10.1016/j.jns.2015.06.043.
7. Bastos, D.H.M. & Beltrame, Daniela & Matsumoto, R.L.T. & Carvalho, Patrícia & Ribeiro, Marcelo. (2007). Yerba maté: Pharmacological Properties, Research and Biotechnology. Medicinal and Aromatic Plant Science and Biotechnology. 1. 37-46.