The mate shrub - under what conditions does yerba mate grow?

Maté comes from South America and has been increasingly popular in Europe and thus also in Germany for some years. It has a stimulating effect and, depending on the type, has a very special taste that many devotees appreciate. The enjoyment of tea is also particularly popular in certain social classes and is, for example, one of the own points of identification in some student circles. Added to this is its stimulating effect, which is enjoyed by consumers in pure form as tea or a wide variety of variations.

In this article, we look at the origins and biological, cultural background of this plant. Can mate tea also be grown and harvested in our own country? How do I prepare the leaves after harvesting and what horticultural skills should I have to successfully grow it?

Yerba mate

Yerba mate (lat. Ilex paraguariensis) is sometimes also called mate tree and belongs to the holly family. It is native to some South American countries: Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay. There it grows on high plateaus in humid, warm weather. Yerba mate Although the plant has been cultivated since the 19th century, to this day about 50 % of the crop is harvested from wild mate bushes. The name mate tree is easily explained when you read what heights mate can reach in the wild. The trunks, which can be up to 40 cm thick, grow 12 to 18 metres high, but are kept to a maximum of 5 to 6 metres on plantations by cutting. It is difficult to reach these heights in your own cultivation and breeding, more on this later.

What does the yerba mate contain?

The use of yerba mate as a tea is not only due to its unique taste, but also to its ingredients, which have an invigorating and stimulating effect. The two dominant components are caffeine, with proportions of up to 1.5% in the fresh leaves, and theobromine. The stimulating and sometimes performance-enhancing properties of caffeine are well known. In addition, just like theobromine, it also has mildly psychoactive and stimulating substances.

In addition, it has a muscle relaxant effect and increases the heart rate, which is used therapeutically in certain diseases. Other active substances of the mate shrub can also serve medicinal purposes, as they are said to have circulation-promoting, diuretic, detoxifying properties or have a positive effect on the bronchial tubes in corresponding diseases. These substances include: Flavonoids, saponins, theophylline and tannins. The latter are not only responsible for the taste, but also have a positive effect on the acid-base balance of the body.

We know from ethnobotany that primitive peoples have been aware of the positive properties of mate for ages. Shamans of the indigenous Guarani people have been preparing mate tea for over 1000 years, according to tradition. The "drink of the gods" is also used for cultic purposes, but is primarily considered a healing potion. In the meantime, this drink has arrived in popular culture and, along with other drinks and dishes, is one of the specialities from South America.

Maté - an ancient pleasure in a modern guise

How should I drink yerba mate? Enthusiastic maté drinkers take a lot of time to enjoy it and drink original yerba mate in small groups with the utensils provided. Maté is enjoyed from a special drinking cup - the calabash. This is usually a dried gourd, but wood is also often used as a raw material for the cup. Modern calabazas are also made with other materials and occasionally have a metallic drinking rim.

The mate cup is filled generously with tea and shaken in the hand to disperse the mate leaves and fine dust. Then the tea is first brewed with warm water, and after a short brewing time, with water that is up to 80 degrees Celsius. The calabash is held at an angle and connoisseurs use a special instrument, the bombilla, to enjoy the drink. This is a drinking straw made of metal with a hole-like spoon side. The tea is sipped immediately through the bombilla and afterwards the procedure can be repeated with fresh water.

Maté pleasure

Besides the bombilla and countless variations of the mate tea cup, there are many other mate accessories on the market to celebrate the enjoyment of this special tea. It is not least the look of the vessels and utensils used that makes them so appealing to many users. They are popular with typical, South American patterns and symbols, as well as in plain form and colour.

Growing mate

If you want to harvest your own yerba mate, patience is most important. Maté grows quickly in the end, but a lot of perseverance is needed, especially in the beginning. You can buy seeds in specialist shops, and special growing soil - we recommend coconut growing soil - as well. You can lightly file the mate seeds to help them start growing.

On the said growing soil, however, the seeds will still need up to three months before they start to germinate. Ensure a permanent temperature of 20 to 23 degrees Celsius and at least medium humidity. Protect the tender plant from direct sunlight, especially in the first one to two years (the larger shrub will also tolerate direct sun in time) and place it in a semi-shady spot indoors.

We hope you have learned new things about the fascinating mate plant, its properties and how to enjoy mate tea.

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