by Piter Kehoma Boll
Christmas is in a few days and a plant that is always associated to this time of the year in Europe is the holly Ilex aquifolium. I was about to make it today’s Friday Fellow, but then I thought: why not a less popular but much cooler relative?
So let’s welcome Ilex paraguariensis, the yerba mate!
The yerba mate is a shrub or tree that can grow up to 15 meters in height and is found in several forest fosrmations of South America, especially along the Paraguay and Paraná rivers. The leaves are oval and have a dark green color and a slightly serrated margin. The flowers are mall and lack petals and the fruits are red as in its European cousin.
The leaves of yerba mate are used for the preparation of a traditional beverage called mate in both Spanish and Portuguese, and also as chimarrão in Portuguese. It is traditionally consumed in Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay and Southern Brazil, as well as in some areas of Bolivia and Chile. The consumption of mate started with the guarani people and later spread to the Tupi and to the European colonizers and is currently associated with the gaucho culture in South America.
The leaves of yerba mate are rich in caffeine and polyphenols, thus having stimulant, diuretic and antioxidant properties. The beverage seems to be able to help in weight loss by reducing the absorption of lipids and can also reduz the risk os several types of cancer. However, there are some evidence connecting the consumption of mate with increased risk of some cancers as well, such as oral and esophageal cancer. This risk, however, may be more related to the temperature of the beverage than the plant itself, so try not to drink it too hot!
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Heck, C. I.; De Mejia, E. G. Yerba Mate Tea (Ilex paraguariensis): A Comprehensive Review on Chemistry, Health Implications, and Technological Considerations. Journal of Food Science, 72(9):R138–R151. DOI: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2007.00535.x
Wikipedia. Yerba mate. Available at < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yerba_mate >. Access on December 17, 2017.
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