Ilex paraguariensis (yerba mate)

Ilex paraguariensis is a member of the holly family (Aquifoliaceae) native to subtropical South America.

The leaves of this tree are used to produce a herbal infusion called yerba mate or Paraguayan tea.

It is widely used in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, and its consumption often constitutes a form of social ritual.

Furthermore, some medicinal properties have been attributed to yerba mate, including:

  • stimulant to the central nervous system
  • diuretic
  • hypocholesterolemic
  • anti-inflammatory
  • antioxidant
  • anti-rheumatic
  • beneficial for the cardiovascular system

Paraguayan tea has been traditionally used by indigenous people and is nowadays one of the most important economic products in South America.

Species detail

Yerba mate

Yerba mate in the gourd © Jorge Alfonso Hernández, Creative Commons Attribution-
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The plant was formally described by Auguste François César Prouvençal de Saint-Hilaire in 1822. 

Its common name, 'maté' is metonymically derived from the gourd (Lagenaria vulgaris) - the gourd's name is 'mathi' in Quechua, a native South American language.

Yerba mate drink

Traditionally, the dry yerba mate leaves are packed in the gourd and infused by pouring water on it. Then the infusion is absorbed through a bombilla - a metal tube with perforations at the bottom.

  • Ilex paraguariensis
    Taxonomy

    The Paraguan tea is an evergreen tree that can grow up to 18 metres tall. Discover how you might recognise it.

  • Ilex paraguariensis
    Distribution

    Ilex parguariensis is native to South America. It prefers warm, humid conditions and acidic soil. Find out more.

  • Ilex paraguariensis
    Biology

    Ilex paraguariensis flowers are pollinated by bees and flies and its seeds are dispersed by birds.

  • Ilex paraguariensis
    Ethnobotanical use

    Yerba mate contains many active components that make it a nutritious drink and useful medicine. Discover what it contains and how it can be used, and why yerba mate tea may not always be quite what you expect.

  • Ilex paraguariensis
    References

    Get reference material for Ilex paraguariensis.

Images

Ilex paraguariensis

Illustration of Ilex paraguariensis, drawn in 1897.

Yerba mate

Traditionally, the dry yerba mate leaves are packed in a gourd and infused by pouring water on. Then the infusion is absorbed through a bombilla - a metal tube with perforations at the bottom.

© Jorge Alfonso Hernández, Creative Commons Attribution-
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Ilex paraguariensis

In the preparation of the drink yerba mate, Ilex paraguariensis leaves are scorched and dried while still attached to the twigs.

© André Karwath, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic
Ilex paraguariensis

Plantation of Ilex paraguariensis in Misiones, Argentina.

© Leandro Kibisz, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic
Ilex paraguariensis

Ilex paraguariensis tree.

© Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Author

Cristina Espada Mateos
GPI Technician
Botany Collections
Department of Botany

Some common names for Ilex paraguariensis

Ka’a - Guaraní (one of Paraguay's official languages)
Yerba mate - Spanish
Erva-mate - Portuguese
Paraguayan tea - English

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