The first people to discover yerba mate were the Guarani (pronounced wa-ra-nee). Their traditional homeland in Paraguay, northern Argentina, and southern Brazil overlaps the home range of wild yerba mate. The Guarani enjoy yerba mate as a daily tonic, and also as the basis of their medicinal system. They have a legend telling how yerba mate was the gift of a benevolent god, who gave the tree to a small group of weary travelers as a reward for their righteousness.
When Jesuit missionaries arrived in the region in the 16th century, they organized the Guarani people into a system of missions along the Rio Alto Parana. These missions grew so wealthy as a result of their yerba mate plantations that the regional secular governments ejected the Jesuits and took over production. This was an era of much hardship and turmoil for the Guarani people.
Over the course of the following centuries, yerba mate developed into an icon of national identity for many South American countries, especially Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay. To this day, Argentines travelling abroad can be easily recognized by their mate gear, which they take out at every opportunity. If you see a group of young people sitting on a beach in Miami or in a cafe in Paris sharing mate, chances are you'll overhear them speaking Spanish in their distinctive Argentine accent, which sounds just a bit like Italian.
At the heart of yerba mate culture is the ritual of sharing. If an Argentine asks you to share a mate, this is a great compliment. She is inviting you into a circle of friendship and hospitality. Like the Japanese tea ceremony, a subtle language has evolved around the rate of pouring the water, and also the size of the pours. Generally speaking, smaller and slower pours indicate a greater level of interpersonal connection because this makes the yerba last longer!
Yerba Mate is finally shaking off its sleepy regional roots and going global. It's showing up as a "power ingredient" in energy drinks and other products in our fast-paced culture. However, if we North Americans want to become the #1 importer of yerba mate, we still have a long way to go. Yerba Mate has been popular in the Middle East for quite a while. Something about the communal nature of the yerba mate ritual must appeal to Arabic traditions of hospitality, friendship, and family. Believe it or not, the #1 importer of yerba mate is currently Syria.
Yerba Mate produces clusters of white flowers that mature into bright red berries. Organic fair trade yerba mate whole plant. 5 pounds bag.