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Scientific Name(S): llex paraguariensis (St. Hill.) Family: Aquifoliaceae

Common Name(S): Mate, yerba mate, Paraguay tea, St. Bartholomew's tea, Jesuit's tea

Botany: Mate itself is a beverage, rather than a plant. It is prepared from the leathery leaves of llex paraguariensis, a species of holly. The genus llex includes over 400 species of trees and shrubs, many of which are used as ornamentals. They have alternate, simple leaves and single or clustered small berries that may be red, black or yellow.llex species require a relatively wet, moderate climate and are found worldwide except in polar regions. I. paraguariensis is found in Central and South America. The leaves (harvested from May to September) are dried, then powdered to produce the tea. Mate has a faintly aromatic smell and the flavor is astringent and smoky.

History: Yerba mate was used as a beverage by ancient Indians in Brazil and Paraguay; however, I.paraguariensis was first cultivated by Jesuit missionaries. Consumption of mate is common in Brazil south of the Amazon and in Paraguay and Argentina. In those areas, the beverage largely replaces coffee and tea. Preparations are also available in the United States, where they are sold in health food stores. Traditionally, yerba mate is served in a small gourd called a mate. It is drunk through a drinking tube, or bombilla, also with a filter attached to the lower end to prevent consumption of the leaf fragments. Leaves are prepared for use by plunging them briefly into hot water, drying them in a brick oven and fragmenting them. The beverage is prepared by putting a little hot water and some sugar in the gourd. The leaves are then placed in a gourd, then the gourd is filled with boiling water. Burnt sugar, lemon juice or milk may be used to flavor the infusion.

Uses of Mate'

Yerba mate has been traditionally used as a stimulant, diuretic and depurative. It is a caffeine- and vitamin-containing beverage that also acts as a centrally-acting stimulant.

Side Effects of Mate'

Heavy use can increase risk of esophageal cancer, especially in women.

Toxicology: A Uruguayan case-control study of 226 patients with esophageal cancer and 469 controls showed that heavy use of yerba mate was associated with a significant increase in the risk of esophageal cancer. Among heavy users, the relative risk was 6.5 for men and 34.6 for women. The risk for men was increased synergistically by alcohol consumption and tobacco smoking, but this increase was not evident among women. The increase in cancer risk was dose-dependent for men and women. It has been speculated that carcinogenesis may be cause by tannins (mate contains 7%­14% tannin) or the high temperature of the beverage. Another factor may be the presence of phenanthrene derivatives such as 1,2-benzpyrene. Because of the caffeine content, teas made from this plant should be used with caution by persons with high blood pressure, diabetes or ulcer disease.

Pyrrolizidine alkaloids were recovered from a contaminant in a mate tea sample of a woman who drank the tea for years.The consumption of such large amounts over time was associated with her hepatic disease.

Seven cases of anticholinergic poisoning (some later reversed by physostigmine) occurred within 2 hours of ingestion of a tea labeled commercially as "Paraguay tea." It was found that not llex paraguariensis itself, but a contaminant containing belladonna alkaloids caused the ill effects. This plant was evidently misidentified as I. paraguariensis at harvest and was an isolated incident in these reported cases.

For further toxicology information on other related llex species, refer to the "holly" monograph.

Summary: Yerba mate is a beverage made from an infusion of the dried leaves of llex paraguariensis. It contains many types of compounds with nutritional value and has been used as a depurative, stimulant and diuretic. Among many people in Central and South America, it replaces coffee and tea as a common beverage. Mate has been associated with esophageal cancer and liver disease. Its related species, the "holly" llex aquifolium,I.opaca and I.vomitoria are poisonous.

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