I decided to make this my entry for the Potion-Making Witchy Challenge!
When I first moved to the US I encountered this: Yerba Mate being sold as a soft drink (in a can?!)
Well, there’s really nothing wrong with it but it’s just not the same (the flavor or the experience) as drinking mate properly out of a gourd. Which has even earned its own emoji:
The way yerba mate is drank is by soaking dried leaves of the yerba mate plant in hot water, served with a metal straw in a container typically made from calabash gourd. The word “mate” comes from the Guaraní indigenous language meaning squash or calabash.
It is said that Uruguay is the country that drinks the most mate (8 kilos per person per year), but as an Argentine I grew up surrounded by mate drinkers too and as far as I know 80% of people in Argentina drink it regularly. A lot more than coffee for sure.
What is Yerba Mate good for?
Yerba Mate has all the qualities of a potion for focus as it is caffeinated, boosting the mood and rising energy levels. But it also has a few other proven medical benefits:
- Mental focus
- Reduced fatigue
- Weight loss
- Antioxidant activity
- Lower risk of certain cancers
- Improves heart health
The Mystical side of Yerba Mate
Sipped alone, yerba mate offers solace. Shared among friends, it is a communal rite. The real Magic of drinking mate happens in the act of sharing it. Although since Covid-19 this became a problem and the government had to issue warnings for people not to share mate with others anymore.
However, I wanted to share a few fragments of a folk poem written by Lalo Mir, an Argentine radio host, who summarized very well the cultural meaning of drinking yerba mate:
"Mate is exactly the opposite of television: It makes you chat if you’re with someone , and it makes you think when you’re alone.
Whenever somebody arrives at your house, the first thing that you say is “Hola” and the second is “¿unos mates?” (Care to share some mates?).
This happens in everyone’s house. In the house of the rich and of the poor. In winter or in summer.
Yerba is probably the only thing that is always in every home. Always. With inflation, or hunger, during military coups or democratic governments, during every of our pests and eternal curses. And if one day, we run out of Yerba, a neighbor won’t hesitate to give you some; because Yerba Mate can’t be denied to anyone.
Mate is nothing more and nothing less than a demonstration of values:
- It’s the solidarity to keep on drinking those washed out mates because the chat is good.
- It’s friendship.
- It’s the hospitality of an invitation.
- It’s the obligation of saying “gracias” (thank you), at least once a day. "
Note: Usually when you’re done with it, you say “gracias” to the cebador (the person pouring it) signaling that you don’t want any more.
How to Drink Mate from a Gourd
Everyone in the Cono Sur (Southern tip of South America) takes great pride in mate and we’re always eager to teach others about it. A while back I made this video on how to drink mate from a gourd in case you want to try it.
Keep in mind that it takes more than a couple sittings to get used to the bitter taste!