Yerba Mate’s history is a rich and diverse one. A staple food of the Guarani people, who where a tribe of South American people that even today live in northeastern Argentina, southwestern Brazil and Paraguay, southeastern Bolivia, and parts of Uruguay. The Guarani tribe drank the tea leaves of the mate plant in a clay pot without a bombisha (filter straw), instead straining the leaves between their teeth. On long walks through the forest collecting and transporting bags of yerba mate, they were know to chew the leaves which gave them energy and enhanced alertness.
Traditionally, yerba mate has held a significant social role beyond its nutritional benefits. In the Guarani culture it was an object of worship and ritual, used as a kind of currency for trading with other pre-Hispanic peoples. Interestingly, mate was called “Herb of Paraguay” by the Spanish settlers who learned to drink mate with the Guarani people, without even knowing that the leaves came from a tree that grew in the local forest. During the sixteenth century the Guarani experienced the arrival of Jesuits who came to evangelize them. Initially, the Jesuits considered it dangerous to drink mate. Later on, however, Yerba mate evolved to become their main source of income. By around 1750 mate had been introduced to all social classes, although each group had its own unique way of consuming la yerba. When mate began to be consumed in the households of Buenos Aires, each family had a person in charge of preparing mate.
In 1767 Charles III exiled the Jesuits and the booming yerba mate trade plummeted. As a result, the Jesuit’s yerba mate fields were slowly abandoned, and crops were lost. Yerba mate was left to be collected by the locals in the jungle, where it continued to grow spontaneously. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the abandoned crops of the Jesuits were rediscovered and the industry, once again, experienced a resurgence. Since then Mate has started to boom around the world and is found in almost every corner of the globe.