Name: Mate (Ilex paraguariensis)
Otherwise known as: Paraguyan Tea, Yerba Nate
Habitat: An evergreen tree member of the Aquifoliaceae family growing to about 20m in moist rainforest conditions. It has dense, dark green, pointed leaves and produces small green berries from pink-white flowers that appear in the axils. Over consumption is very dangerous.
What does it do: The 16the century Spanish explorer Juan de Solis stated ‘…it is most excellent for giving relief from fatique, reducing the desire for food and producing an exhilaration of spirit’: an obvious parallel with coca, and invaluable to tired troops. The Jesuits established plantations in Brazil and exported it to Europe as ‘the green gold of the Indios’.
In 1860 the Paraguyans considered it so valuable an export that they went to war with their neighbours to secure the trade routes.
The plant contains xanthine alkaloids, saponins, chlorogenic acid, vitamins and 15 amino acids. There are a remarkable number of health claims made for a beverage made from the scorched leaves: that it is anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, antidepressant, thermogenic, neuroprotective, nervine, hypotensive, mildly anaesthetic, diuretic as well as being an appetite suppressant and supposedly an inhibitor of low density lipoprotein.
For centuries recognised as a blood cleanser and tonic, it relaxes smooth muscle and stimulates myocardial tissue. The ability to reduce lipoprotein not only makes it valuable in the treatment of atherosclerosis but has enormous potential in combating obesity.
Recent US research claims that the chemical compounds may help in disorders of attention and focus; Parkinson’s disease; hypertension and substance and food abuse; but there is now a link between the plant and mouth cancer.
The herb is now cultivated in India and The Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia has it listed as a treatment for nervous depression.