Mate or Paraguay Tea.


This plant, which belongs to the holly family (Aquifoliaceae), has several names in different parts of South America. In the Guarani language it is Caá, which is the Indian word for leaf. The prepared leaves were named by the Spanish "yerba" (herb), and the infusion "mate" (The word is not accented, as sometimes written.—T. P.) from the native name for the vessel in which the tea is made, and the drug is now generally known as mate in Brazilian commerce, although the Spaniards call it "yerva mate" or "yerva de palos." The name "congonha" has been said by some writers to be applied to mate, but this is an error, for the Brazilians understand by the names "congonha mansa" and "congonha brava," other trees belonging to the same natural order, which are used as a substitute for mate when it is not easily procurable.

The plant was first briefly described by St. Hilaire, in 1822, when he gave to it the name Ilex paraguariensis, which he altered in 1826, to Ilex Mate, subsequently publishing the first name again in 1833 and this is now adopted in the "Flora Brasiliensis." In 1824 the plant was described in detail by Lambert, under the name of I. paraguensis and the plant illustrated from specimens obtained from the Jesuit Missions. The synonyms stand as follows:

Ilex paraguariensis, St. Hil.; I. Mate, St. Hil., I. paraguayensis, Hooker, fil.; I. paraguensis, D. Don.; I. paraguariensis, α, obtusifolia, Mart.; β, acutifolia, Mart.; Cassine Gongonha, Raben.; C. Gouguba, Guibourt; Chomelia amara, Vell.

The mate plant attains the height of an apple tree, becoming even larger in favorable situations, but when cultivated and deprived from time to time of its leaves, it remains small and forms a mere bush. The leaves are shortly stalked, simple, wedge-shaped, obovate or elongate-lanceolate, toothed, dark green above, paler beneath, shining, of leathery consistence, 1 to 3 inches long, and ½ to 1 ½ inch broad. The flowers are axillary, situated on one to three times forked peduncles, white, and of similar size to those of the common holly. The calyx consists of four nearly orbicular sepals with a four-parted corolla and four short stamens, the ovary being crowned with a four-lobed stigma. The fruit is red and of the size of a pepper-corn, containing four seeds enclosed in a slightly glutinous pulp, but often one seed only is developed. The home of the Paraguay tea plant is said by Martius to lie between 18° and 30° S. latitude, but the district in which the tea grows most luxuriantly is between 21° and 24° S. latitude in the watershed of the Paraguay river on the west, and in that of the Parana on the east, and it is here in a zone between the Serra Amambuhy on the south and the Serra Maracajœ on the north that the best and most highly prized mate is prepared.

How long the South American Indians had been in the habit of using mate is not known, but when the Spaniards seized the provinces on the rivers Paraguay and Uruguay they found this custom prevailed there exactly as first mentioned in the writings of Azara, who stated that the tree grew wild in different parts of Paraguay. In proof of the high estimation in which it was held by the Indians it may be mentioned that the name "caa," which signifies in the Tupi language a tree or plant, was given by way of distinction to mate, that being the tree valued above all others. The use of mate does not appear, however, to have extended to extra-tropical districts, but to have been confined to the more intelligent tribes known now under the name of Guarani Indians. Nevertheless, when these people were driven further north by Europeans, they do not appear to have carried the use of the drug with them, probably thinking it not worth while to obtain it from a distance and from a hostile people when they found a substitute close at hand in the Guarana plant.

The extensive use of mate in South America at the present time is probably due in great measure to the Jesuits, who encouraged its use, finding that it restrained the desire of the Indians for spirituous drinks, while its cultivation, collection and preparation gave employment to converted Indians and brought wealth to the order. In the Jesuit Republic, the Indians were not paid in money but in produce; 4 lbs. of meat, a definite amount of Indian corn and 1 oz. of mate were allowed to each family.

After the expulsion of the Jesuits, the preparation of mate was continued in the Paraguay Republic under the administration of the Dictator Francia and his successors, until the Dictator Solano Lopes was killed in battle with the Brazilians in 1870. An overseer was appointed over the work, who also was paid in kind, receiving for each aroba of the tea natural produce of the value of ⅛ ounce of gold. Since 1870 there has been free trade in the article, which renders an increase of the trade very desirable. At the present time mate is used only by about 12,000,000 of people, and the consumption amounts to about 8,000,000 pounds.

It has been stated that mate is not prepared solely from I. paraguariensis, St. Hil., but that the leaves of other species are mixed with it.

In 1842, Sir W. J. Hooker published in the London Journal of Botany (vol. i, p. 30) an exhaustive account of yerba mate, together with the characteristics of the different varieties which he considered identical with Ilex paraguariensis. This paper strengthened the previous opinion of Miers, that probably more than one species was used in the preparation of the tea. The investigations made by Miers and the monk Leandro, Director of the Botanical Gardens in Rio Janeiro, confirmed by Bonpland, indicate that six different species are used for the purpose:

  1. Ilex theezans, Bonpl., growing in Paraguay, Entre Rios and Brazil;
  2. Ilex ovalifolia, growing in the neighborhood of Rio Pardo;
  3. Ilex amara, Bonpl., on the mountains of Santa Cruz and in the forests of the Brazilian province of Parana;
  4. Ilex crepitans, Bonpl., in the interior of Santa Cruz and the banks of the Parana river;
  5. Ilex gigantea, Bonpl., on the banks of the Parana river. This is the "caa-una" of the Guaranis.
  6. Ilex Humboldtiana, Bonpl., in the province of Rio Grande do Sul. This is the "caa-unina" of the Brazilians.

The last four species, more especially I. amara, yield the "caachira" of the Guaranis and the "caa-una" of the Brazilians. Martius, however, in the "Flora of Brazil," states that in the central districts of Paraguay, where the I. paraguariensis is especially abundant, only the leaves of this species are used; in other districts the various species of Ilex are similarly employed.

It is certain, however, that I. paraguariensis is the only species in cultivation, but this is carried on to a very limited extent as the wild plant is still abundant. The Jesuits planted the tree because they found that under cultivation the leaves had a milder and more pleasant taste. For cultivation the seeds are carefully freed by washing from the glutinous matter in which they are imbedded, without which treatment they would not germinate, this office being probably performed in a natural state by birds, since the Indians believe that the seed will not germinate unless they have been voided by birds. The young plants are taken out of the hotbed when about 6 inches high and planted out about 12 to 15 feet apart, in a damp, somewhat marshy ground, so as to allow of a small trench being made around the plants in which water can collect. They must also be grown under the trees which afford shade, as the young plants are easily killed by a strong sun. When they are about 3 to 6 feet high some of the shade plants are removed, and in four years the leaf harvest can be begun. The young trees should not, however, be entirely deprived of their leaves lest they should not be able to recover. In the seventh year they will yield 30 to 40 kilos of leaves. It is calculated that on 220 square metres of land one thousand six hundred trees can be grown, yielding on an average 25 kilos of leaves per tree, or about 25,454 kilos of leaves, valued at 190,000 marks per 100 square meters. The cultivated plant remains a small bush and never reaches the stature or size of the wild tree. The cultivation of mate has been carried out with much success in the province of Parana by Dr. E. Westphalen, and it promises to be successful in the Dutch colony of S. Leopoldo in the province of Rio Grande do Sul, where the plant grows luxuriantly.

The tree has been planted in the Cape of Good Hope and seems to succeed well there, as well as in Spain and Portugal. The quality of Paraguay tea depends upon the time of year in which it is collected, the leaves possessing most aroma when the fruit is nearly ripe. In the Argentine Republic and in the Brazilian province of Rio Grande do Sul the leaves are collected from February to the end of July. The new shoots are put forth in August, but at that time it would ruin the trees to gather the leaves. In the forest of the Brazilian province of Parana and Santa Catherina the harvest is collected from March to the end of September. In Paraguay it begins in December and continues till August. About a month beforehand the collectors set out in caravans with their wives and children into the forests where the mate trees are abundant, and make their encampment.

The first operation is to prepare a torrefier, which is made in the shape of an arbor. The twigs are cut off from the branches and slightly scorched by drawing them quickly across the fire. The twigs are then collected into bundles suspended over the torrefier, a small fire of dried wood being kept alight beneath. In about two days the drying is completed, the ashes are removed, and in the spot where the fire was an ox-hide is spread out, on which the leaves are beaten from the twigs with a wooden blade. The dried leaves are then powdered and packed in wooden cases made out of hollowed trunks of trees.

In the province of Parana the leaves have lately been dried in large wrought-iron pans, in the same manner as Chinese tea, or in specially constructed ovens in which they can be prepared so as to retain more aroma; they are then powdered by machinery and sifted; this kind of mate obtains a better price.

Another form in which the leaves are prepared is by carefully separating them from the stalks and twigs and roasting them, but this is not so much esteemed as the powder, except in Chili, where the leaves are preferred.

In the South American Republic and the Brazilian province of Rio Grande do Sul, mate is packed in serons of ox-hide holding 30 kilograms, and in half-serons, containing 15 kilograms; this packing gives to the mate a disagreeable flavor which detracts from its value.

In Parana it is packed in cane baskets; these are lined with dried grass, called Jacaes, and contain 50 to 60 kilograms. The mate in leaves is here sold at 280 to 290 reis (about 56 pence), powdered mate is sold in thick and better-woven cane baskets, containing in a half-seron, 15, and as a seron, 60 kilograms, the price being 10 to 12 per cent. more than the leaves.

In the Spanish Republic three different sorts are sold under the following names:

  • lst. Caá,-cuy, or Caá-cuys: these are the new leaves of the scarcely developed shoots. They are of more delicate texture, and of a yellowish color. They possess an agreeable and pleasant flavor, but are seldom met with in commerce.
  • 2d. Caá-mirim. This was the chief product in the time of the Jesuits, and consists of the leaves carefully separated from the twigs and stalks, the mid-rib of the leaf being also removed. This kind is chiefly esteemed in Peru, and principally exported there by the Brazilians. It is called Herva mansa.
  • 3d. Caá-guacu, or Caá-una, or Yerva de Palos, is the most inferior kind consisting of the large and old leaves with the twigs and fragments of wood, and possessing a strong and bitter flavor.

In Rio Janeiro two sorts are known to commerce, mate in leaf and mate in powder. In order to test the quality of mate, the merchant takes a small quantity in his hand and blows upon it. If the greater portion is blown away he considers that it has been heated too much and thus deprived of its strength. If it is not easily blown away it is then considered of good quality.

Mate has been the subject of several analyses. In 1836, Trommsdorff analyzed mate and found tannin, two resins, extractive matter, and a substance which he believed to be an alkaloid, but he possessed too little material for complete investigation.

In 1843, Stenhouse found in mate an alkaloid and proved that it was, identical with caffeine.

In 1850, Dr. Rochleder investigated Paraguay tea and found the reactions. of mate-tannic acid to be identical with those of coffee-tannic acid.

Lenoble, who, as well as Dr. Rochleder, supposed mate to be produced by Psoralea glandulosa, named the crystalline active principle he obtained from it, "psoralein."

He also found in it wax, albumen and volatile oil.

According to Dr. Byasson, mate contains as much caffeine as the best Chinese tea. The variety which he experimented upon was caá-guacu. He found also a viscid substance resembling birdlime, soluble in ether; this he considered to be a fatty body of the nature of a compound ether whose alcohol was allied to cholesterin.

His analysis was as follows:

Caffeine 1.850
Substance resembling birdlime, fat substance and coloring matter 3.870
Complex glucose 2.380
Resin 0.630
Mineral matter 3.920
Malic acid Not estimated.

Robin has examined several different kinds of mate. The amount of caffeine in young leaves dried without special care was 0.02 to 0.03 per cent.

Mate prepared by the Indians and containing twigs and fragments of fruit yielded 0.16 per cent, and mate from the Mission of the Province of Corrientes, 0.14 per cent. The peculiar tannic acid, which Dr. Byasson did not find, varies between 1 per cent. and 1.6 per cent. The ash of young leaves varies from 0.12 to 0.2.

Professor A. W. Hoffmann, of Berlin, found 0.3 per cent. of caffeine. The average of the published analyses indicates about ½ per cent. of caffeine, that of Indian tea being 2 per cent. The value of mate, as in the case of tea, depends not merely upon the caffeine but also upon the tannin and aromatic principles. He considered the tannin to be identical in every respect with that found in tea.

The aromatic principle has not been isolated, but by dry distillation a volatile oil is obtained, which belongs to the phenol group and is soluble in alcohol.

In 1877 the mate-tannic acid was examined by Dr. Pedro N. Arata, who found that the tannin of mate, while analogous to that of coffee, was not identical. The chief differences noticed by him are as follows: Lime water gives with the coffee-tannic acid a small precipitate soluble in excess, but an abundant insoluble precipitate with the tannin of mate. This, however, does not hold good with all samples of mate, the precipitate being sometimes soluble in an excess of the tannin. Coffee-tannic acid gives by dry distillation. pyrocatechin, while the tannin of mate yields in addition to pyrocatechin the isomeric body resorcin.

Coffee-tannic acid is soluble in 52.84 vol. of alcohol, while mate-tannic acid requires 73.66 vol.

Dr. Arata considers that coffee-tannic acid maybe regarded as dioxyparacinnamylic acid, whilst mate-tannic acid must be classed in the group of oxyphenylpropionic acid.

Soubeiran and Delondre state that mate contains the same essential constituents as the coffee leaf, and in greater amount than the coffee seeds, which I can confirm after numerous experiments with large and small quantities.

In the years 1860 to 1865 I analyzed mate and Congoha leaves. My analyses were made with fresh leaves of the Ilex paraguariensis from the Orgel Mountains in Neufreiburg, and roasted and unroasted leaves from the province of Parana.

The following constituents were found in 1000 grams of the air dried substances.

Little twigs
from Neufreiburg.
Leaves from Mate from
Orgel mountains. Parana.
Stearoptene, - 0.021 0.019 -
Volatile oil, extracted by ether, - 0.099 0.179 5.550
Fat and waxy substances, - 19.800 18.800 -
Green coloring matter, - 10.900 10.800 -
Chlorophyll and soft resin, 9.400 20.966 51.200 6.102
Brown acid resin, 19.700 48.500 84.500 25.500
Caffeine, 2.579 6.398 16.750 5.550
Aromatic substance, - - 2.500 -
Bitter extractive, 30.000 2.038 - -
Mate-tannic acid, pure, 27.472 44.975 16.785
Pyromate-tannic acid, - - - 1.465
Mate-viridic acid, crystallized, - 0.024 0.025 0.024
Sugar, saccharine extractive, - 39.266 6.720 1.370
Albumen, salts, dextrin, etc., - 47.666 36.102 18.189
Extractive matter, 938.321 8.815 65.130 16.610
Moisture, 166.660 104.600 908.379
Cellulose and loss, 601.386 557.700

The ash of mate analyzed by Dr. Busse and Mr. Riemann was found to contain potassium, sodium, magnesium, manganese, calcium, aluminium, iron, phosphoric acid, sulphuric acid, carbonic acid, chlorine, silicic acid; but the analyses vary so much in different samples as to lose some of their value. I found in leaves of mate gathered in Neufreiburg oxide of manganese, 8.958; sodium, 10.062; and potassium, 14.615 per cent., whereas these were not found at all by the above-mentioned analysis in leaves obtained from Rio.—Abstracted from Zeitschr. Oesterr. Apoth. Verein. in Phar. Jour. and Trans., August 18, 1883, pp. 121-124.

The American Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. 55, 1883, was edited by John M. Maisch.