Yerba mate is a tealike beverage brewed from the leaves and stems of a South American plant related to the holly family. Yerba mate is said to taste like a mixture of coffee and green tea. Unlike tea, however, yerba mate is traditionally brewed and sipped from a gourd, through a silver straw known as a bombilla (pronounced bom-bee-ya). Here’s how you can prepare your own yerba mate, the traditional way.
Curing the Yerba Mate Gourd
Traditionally, yerba mate is prepared in a natural gourd, though you can also buy gourd shaped containers richly decorated with traditional designs. Either way, you’ll have to cure the gourd before you use it for the first time. You’ll cure the gourd differently depending on whether you’re going to drink your yerba mate pure, with no additives like sugar, or sweetened.
To cure the gourd for pure yerba mate, fill the gourd with fresh yerba mate and boiling water. Allow the gourd to stand for 24 hours. Rinse and repeat twice more.
To cure the gourd for sweetened yerba mate, dip the gourd in boiling water, then put in three teaspoons of sugar and a hot coal. Cover the mouth of the gourd and shake it well. This coats the inside of the gourd in carmelized sugar.
Gourds made out of nonporous material can’t be cured, so they won’t retain any yerba mate flavor when they are washed. Those who follow the traditional practices recommend using a cured gourd for the best taste.
Preparing the Yerba Mate Infusion
Once you’ve cured your gourd, preparing the yerba mate infusion is as simple as making tea. Just put the dried, ground leaves and stems of the yerba mate plant into the gourd and add boiling water. Yerba mate is available as a loose leaf tea, and you can also buy it as tea bags.
You should fill your gourd at least half way with yerba mate before adding boiling water. Use the traditional silver straw, or bombilla, to drink the yerba mate. The bombilla has tiny, salt shaker like holes at the bottom, allowing you to drink the yerba mate without swallowing ground pieces of leaf and stem.
You may add sugar or mint to your yerba mate. You may keep refilling the gourd with hot water until the water no longer has a flavor.
Benefits of Yerba Mate
Yerba mate has long been used as a traditional remedy for fatigue, stress and insomnia. Yerba mate is said to support the central nervous system and is said to clear the mind and strengthen the muscles and nerves. Yerba mate appears to treat nervousness by soothing an overstimulated nervous system. Yerba mate also strengthens a weakened nervous system, leading to increased intellectual and mental activity.
Yerba mate is often used to support the immune system and cleanse the blood. It controls appetite, improves digestiona and can ease the symptoms of many gastrointestinal disorders, including chronic constipation.