Growing up with a Strange Herb
My name is Ana and I grew up drinking yerba mate. That is because I was born in Argentina where just about every household has yerba in their cabinets. And, while coffee and tea is also enjoyed there, yerba is usually the drink of choice.
Only later, when I became a nutritional consultant did I learn of the healing power of this incredible superfood. Growing up, it was just this weird thing we drank and had to hide when people came over. My mother thought Americans would find it strange and my dad thought we would be mistaken for drug dealers! Of course! That was because no one we knew, here in Baltimore, had ever heard of yerba mate, much less seen a gourd and bombilla.
About four years ago, I opened SoulMate Yerba Company because I realized it was something that everyone could enjoy here in the states, and was an incredible addition to their daily food intake. Most don't realize that it is also an infusion with an incredible ritual with healing benefits in and of itself, and I knew I also wanted to spread the word on that too.
I was raised in Baltimore but my home life was steeped in Argentinian culture. Early on, I learned the ritual of yerba mate and how important it was to the human body. I grew up drinking yerba mate with my grandmother with my mother with my aunts and uncles with my cousins. This ritual was enjoyed by many generations.
Yerba Mate Heals on More than One Level
Right now, in the time of stress and insanity that is happening in our communities and in our families, we all might need a little self help ritual to bring us back to center.
When I explain or give a class about yerba mate, I talk about it on many different levels. Yes there are incredible health benefits to drinking yerba mate, it's a superfood a prebiotic and an anti inflammatory herb. That being said, the ritual behind it is even more amazing.
But first, a little Background
Yerba Mate is actually an herb that is indigenous to South America. The humans that were living off of the land started chewing the leaves of plant. They did this not only because of the taste, but they found that it would take away their appetite, so they could hunt or work without interruption and it also kept them awake when sleeping meant life or death.
Fast forward hundreds of years, when research was done on yerba mate, scientists realized some incredible things. They discovered that yerba was the reason why certain groups of people survived and others died when famine hit.
There are many interesting stories around yerba mate for example there is a period of time when missionaries took over the lands in South America and forbid yerba mate to be enjoyed. In fact, people, to this day, still spit out the first sip because of it. But, I won't go into the rich history here because I want to focus on health. Just know that the stories are so incredible and speak to how valuable yerba mate is.
I will tell you the fable about yerba mate to at least give you a taste of how rich the culture is around yerba mate. I pick this because I think it speaks to the archetypes in the South American culture and also because, well, I want so much for this to be true.
It takes place centuries ago.
There was a tribe that was wandering the land. They were happy and well until one day, one of their members got very very sick. And, as was the custom then, they banished this sick member in hopes that no one else would get sick.
This terribly sick man was absolutely devastated of course. He was banished from his community and forced to spend the rest of his days dying alone. The man walked through the forrest and started weeping. Feeling sorry for himself and feeling quite sick, he sought shelter underneath a tree. He began talking to the tree and telling it of his pain and loneliness. As some trees will do, it started giving nourishment to the man. It started healing the man and taking care of it. And of course, as some men will do, he fell in love with that which gave him kindness and sustenance.
The man made a full recovery and felt strong and powerful. He started living again. One day, the man caught up with his old tribe. He stood there, face to face with the people that banished him. To their shock and amazement, he was standing. But, not only was he standing, he was strong and looked years younger.
They asked about how he healed himself and how he looked like a teenager again. The man took the tribe to his beloved tree. The tree magically showed its true form, a goddess. The whole time, the tree had actually been the goddess.
Through the centuries, yerba mate has been called "The Gift of the Gods." And, that name was given, referring to this myth. It is said that yerba mate keeps you strong, healthy and young.
There is more magic!
Here is a quick tutorial on the ritual of yerba mate. For sure, drinking yerba this way is my favorite part of the whole subject. Sure you can drink yerba mate with a tea bag, but doing it this way brings an incredible richness and makes it an experience.
There's a couple components to the Yerba mate drink.
1.Yerba cup - It originally started out of literally being a gourd. Gourds are hollowed out "real" gourds that have been grown and dried. Most are hand-painted. I import some gourds from Argentina that are also decorated with copper. They can be as fancy or decorative as can be. Most people would typically drink out of a gourd like these. But, there are also "gourds" made of glass, wood, metal, clay and other materials.
Cowboys in South America are actually called Gaucho's. When the Gauchos heard about Yerba Mate and saw the indigenous people of land chewing on the leaves, they asked about it. You see, the Gauchos got very constipated only eating dead cow meat. (Topic for another blog for sure!) Yerba Mate would resolve that. So, the gauchos started drinking yerba mate too. They would heat their kettles on a camp fire and share yerba mate among them, all of them drinking out of the same gourd. And not only did it resolve their bowel issues, it would also help keep them awake all night to protect the herd.
The people in the city, soon caught wind of yerba mate and started drinking it also. The Artisans took over and began making the gourds decorative and the bombillas more intricate. To this day, you can go to Buenos Aires and see artisans hammering out beautiful styles of bombillas and painting gorgeous gourds.
2. Bombilla - The strainer straw. This allows you to have loose leaf tea without getting the leaves into your mouth. The origins of the bombilla started in bamboo. Shoots were used to suck in the infusion with the hollow stems.
The bombilla has two parts. The mouthpiece and the filter make up the bombilla. They come in thousands of different designs. And the beauty is that they are actually quite Innovative to this day. You don't need a tea bag or other kind of infusor when using a bombilla.
3. Yerba Mate - Loose yerba mate comes in thousands of varieties, cuts and blends. The trick is to find one you love which will be easy to do.
If you're a beginner and it's your first time using yerba mate just put 2 tablespoons of yerba mate in the gourd. Splash a bit of room temperature water in there to temper the yerba and then pour hot water in. You don't want the water boiling or even too hot as that will burn your tongue and/or make the yerba bitter tasting.
Another pointer is to not let the tea leaves sit in the water for too long. Doing that will not only make it bitter but might also create mold. The idea is for water to pass through the tea, not to let it sit in there. Yerba Mate does not need to steep.
I've been drinking yerba mate since I was a baby, and so when I drink yerba mate I'm filling it all the way up to the top. I put water in and sip. Then, you just keep repeating that. You might get 10 to 15 pours out of each yerba cup depending on how strong you like your yerba mate.
Some interesting things to note about this is you can use sweeteners in a variety of ways. You can not any add any at all which makes it "amargo" or bitter. Or you can use what you normally use with coffee or tea. You can add the sweetness to the water itself or in the gourd.
I love the fact that yerba is always hot. Since it is poured right before you drink it, you will never have a cold sip of yerba mate.
The Most Beautiful Aspect of Yerba Mate
The most beautiful part of yerba mate is actually the fact that it is a communal ritual. If you are at a table in Argentina, sharing yerba, you will drink out of the same gourd as everyone else. One person is designated to pour the water. In this way, you are "taken care of." An experienced pourer or "sebador" will take note of how each participant drinks yerba. If they like it sweet or bitter, more or less water... and thus, you will be sharing love and connection.
You will also be "bound" to the table. Unlike a cup of coffee or tea, if you leave the table, you can not continue to drink. No one will follow you with hot water. So, you will be forced to sit with others, look them in the eye and connect. I call it the ultimate in truth serums!
Of course, here, in the states, we are all a bit germ-phobic (yes, especially now!) So typically, when I have folks over, I give each person their own yerba mate gourd and I take care of them by pouring and sweeting the water. This works well and is a compromise that most are comfortable with.
To learn more about yerba mate, the health benefits and the rituals, please follow me on my YouTube Channel and Subscribe to this blog. That means you can also reach out with any questions or feedback. I always love listening, this is never a one way street. Be well. Stay healthy.