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What is Maté?

Maté is a tea brewed from the dried and minced leaves of Ilex paraguariensis (yerba maté), an evergreen tree in the holly family that grows to 8 to 15 m in height. The green leaves are 8 cm long, alternate, ovate, and have a wedge-shaped base. The stalks are up to 15 mm long. The flowering stage produces white petals that may be clustered into groups of 1 to 15 flowers during the spring season. The fruits are red and contain 4 to 5 seeds. The species is native to Paraguay, Uruguay, northeastern Argentina, and southern Brazil and requires a relatively wet and moderate climate.

Scientific Name(s)

Ilex paraguariensis A. St.-Hil.

Common Name(s)

Maté is also known as chimarrao, hierba maté, kaiha, erva maté, yerba maté, Paraguay tea, St. Bartholomew's tea, and terere.

What is it used for?

Traditional/Ethnobotanical uses

Yerba maté infusion has been used for centuries in folk medicine as a stimulant against physical and mental weakness, and for treating liver and digestive diseases, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and inflammatory diseases such as arthritis and rheumatism. Yerba maté was used as a beverage for it depurative (to promote cleansing and excretion of waste), stimulant, and diuretic properties by the native people of Brazil and Paraguay. The plant Ilex paraguariensis first was cultivated by Jesuit missionaries in these regions. Consumption of maté is common in Brazil south of the Amazon River and in Paraguay and Argentina. In those areas, the beverage largely replaces coffee and tea. Raw leaves are not consumed, but are harvested from May through September and flash heated to halt enzymatic processes. The leaves are then wood smoked, dried, and aged—processes that alter the chemical composition and flavor of the resultant powdered leaves. Traditionally, yerba maté is served in a small gourd called a maté and consumed through a drinking tube, or bombilla, with a filter attached to the lower end to prevent consumption of the leaf fragments. Burnt sugar, lemon juice, or milk may be used to flavor the infusion.

General uses

Maté has been traditionally used as a caffeine- and vitamin-containing beverage for its stimulant, diuretic, and cleansing properties. Effects against cancer and hardening of the arteries have also been suggested, as well as weight-reduction properties. Clinical trials are limited.

What is the recommended dosage?

Yerba maté is widely used as a beverage; however, limited clinical studies have formed a basis for dosing. Numerous commercial products are available. A 600 and 900 mg capsule formulation, 1 to 3 capsules by mouth daily, is marketed as energizing, rejuvenating, and adding nutritional value; caffeine content is typically 22%.


Avoid use with an allergy to any of the components of yerba maté. Avoid use during pregnancy and lactation due to documented adverse effects. Yerba maté use in patients with high blood pressure or heart disorders should be restricted.


Avoid use due to documented adverse effects. Low birth weight, birth defects, and premature birth have been associated with caffeine ingestion.


None well documented.

Side Effects

Case reports exist of newborns suffering from caffeine withdrawal because of long-term maté use by the mother. Symptoms included increased irritability, crying, and muscle spasms in the limbs.


Some studies suggest that high maté consumption (more than 1 L per day) may be associated with cancer, especially head, neck, and bladder cancers; however, studies are conflicting. Factors such as smoking and alcohol consumption, the role of heat-induced injury, and wood smoke in the processing of the leaves, were not addressed.


1. Maté. Review of Natural Products. Facts & Comparisons [database online]. St. Louis, MO: Wolters Kluwer Health Inc; July 2013.

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