New Meds That Heal
AN HERB FOR WHAT AILS YOU By Daniel
Yerbamate, or mate as it is often
called, is a South American herb that has won many admirers in wide-ranging parts of
world. In the search for a natural stimulant devoid of side effects
and toxicity, mate currently holds the most hope. An invigorator of
the mind and body, a natural source of nutrition, and a health
promoter par excellence, mate deserves the attention of every
person interested in optimum health.
was introduced to colonizing and modern civilizations by the
primitive Guarani Indians of Paraguay and Argentina. It has seemingly
always been the most common ingredient in household cures of the
Guarani. 111 modern Argentina and Paraguay, how- ever, mate tea has
become almost pathologically ritualized in a manner reminiscent of
coffee and tea abuse in Western and Eastern countries. Among the native Guarani, on the other hand, the natural use of mate for healthful
purposes has persisted. They use it to boost immunity, cleanse and
detoxify the body combat
fatigue, stimulate the mind, control \.!he appetite, reduce the
effects of debilitating disease, reduce stress, and eliminate
(I1ex paraguariensis) is an ever- green member of the holly family. It
grows wild in Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Brazil, but is most abundant
Paraguay where it is also cultivated. The plant is classified vaguely,
according to Western herbal medicine, as aromatic, stimulant, bitter,
aperient (laxative), astringent; diuretic, purgative, sudorific
(sweat inducing), and febrifuge (fever reducing).
contains numerous vitamins and minerals. There is the usual array of
resins, fiber, volatile oil, and tannins that characterize many plant
substances. And there is also carotene; vitamins A. C, E, 8-l, 8,-2
and 8-complex; riboflavin; nicotinic acid; pantothenic acid; biotin; magnesium; calcium; iron; sodium;
potassium; manganese; silicon
phosphates; sulphur; hydrochloric acid; chlorophyll; chorine; and
one group of investigators from the Pasteur Institute and the Paris
Scientific Society concluded that mate contains practically all of the
vitamins necessary to sustain life.
addition to the regular nutrients, mate contains a substance belonging
to a specialized class of chemical com- pounds called xanthines.
Though only small amounts of 1hese substances occur in mate,
their presence has generated a huge amount of attention. The primary
xanthine in yerbamate is called mateine. The substance probably con-
tributes little, if anything, to the overall activity of the plant,
but has drawn a disproportionate share of speculation.
xanthines are obviously less desirable, such as caffeine. Others, such
as theophylline and theobromine, have specialized action and a
characteristic set of side effects. Although the xarlthines have
similar chemistries, each has a unique set of properties.
Researchers at the Free Hygienic Institute of Hamburg, Germany,
concluded that even if there were caffeine in mate, the amount would
be so tiny that it would take 100 tea bags of mate in a 6-ounce cup of
water to equal the caffeine in a 6-ounce serving of regular coffee. Consequently, the actitprinciple in yerbamate is not caffeine!
only one effect that seems to be shared by all xanthines: smooth muscle relaxation. It is this action that makes them (with the exception
of caffeine, in which smooth muscle relaxant effects are diminished by
other side effects) good clinical dilators of the bronchi and hence
useful in the treatment of asthma.
appears, then, to possess the best combination of xanthine properties
possible. For example, like other xanthines, it stimulates the central
nervous system; but unlike most, it is not habituating or addicting.
Likewise, unlike caffeine, it induces better, not worse, attributes of sleep. It is a mild, not a strong, diuretic, as are
many xanthines. It relaxes peripheral blood vessels, thereby
reducing blood pressure, without the strong effects on the medulla
oblongata (end part of the brain connecting to the spine) and heart
exhibited by some xanthines. We also know that it improves
psychomotor performance with- out the typical xanthine-induced
Dr. Jose Martin, Director of the National Institute of Technology in
Paraguay, writes, "New research and better technology have shown that
while mateine has a chemical constituency similar to caffeine, the
molecular binding is different. Mateine has none of the ill effects of
caffeine:' And Horacio Conesa, professor at the University of Buenos
Aires Medical School, states, "There is not a single medical contraindication" for ingesting mate. Clinical studies show, in fact, that
even individuals with caffeine sensitivities can ingest mate without
GASTRO INTESTINAL PROPERTIES
Perhaps the main area to benefit
from mate is the gastrointestinal tract. Reported effects range from immediate improvement in digestion to
the ability to repair damaged and diseased gastrointestinal tissues.
Constipation, acute or chronic, can easily be overcome through the use
of mate. Mate appears to work mainly by softening the fecal mass, but
it also appears to stimulate normal movement of the intestines to some
EFFECTS ON THE NERVOUS
than any other xanthine alkaloid, mate has the ability to increase
mental alertness and acuity and to do it without any side effects such
as nervousness and jitters. It seems to act like tonic,
stimulating a weakened and depressed nervous system and sedating an
overexcited one. Our knowledge of mate's effects is currently limited
to observations of behavior changes such as more energy and
vitality; better ability to concentrate; less nervousness, agitation,
and anxiety; and increased resistance to both physical and mental fatigue.
Improvement in mood, especially in cases of depression, often
follows drinking the tea. This may be a direct or indirect result of
One of the
remarkable aspects of mate is that it does not interfere with
sleep cycles; in fact, it has a tendency to balance the cycles,
inducing more rapid eye movement (REM) sleep when necessary, or increasing
the amount of time spent in delta states (deep sleep).
Heart ailments of all kinds
have been treated or prevented through yerbamate use. Yerbamate
supplies many of the nutrients required by the heart for growth
and repair. In addition, it in- creases the supply of oxygen to
the heart, especially during periods of stress or exercise. Mate
has become a favorite of body builders and anyone interested in
the health benefits of exercise. The metabolic effects of mate
appear to include the ability to maintain aerobic glycolysis
(breakdown of carbohydrates) during exercise for longer periods
of time. This results in burning more cal- ones, increasing
cardiac efficiency, and delaying anaerobic glycolysis and the
resulting buildup of lactic acid during exercise. Reports of
mate reducing blood pressure are not uncommon.
A consistent observation in most South American literature on
mate is that it increases the immune response of the body,
stimulating natural resistance to disease. This results in a
nourishing and strengthening effect on the ill person, both
during the course of the illness and during convalescence,
sometimes dramatically accelerating recovery times.
Exact mechanisms of mate's action have not been worked out, but
they involve both a direct action against infectious
organisms, and an effect on over- all resistance to disease. The
nutrition- al content of the plant probably plays a major role
here, but it is also probable that other constituents contribute
to the action by stimulating the activity of white blood cells.
The interaction of the many nutrients in mate have never been
systematically studied. But the stories surrounding the
nutritional application of mate tea are nothing short of
Mate is often used as a staple food, sometimes substituting for
such important foods as bread and vegetables. It easily
eliminates the sensation of hunger and can impart as much
invigoration as a full meal, according to the well- known
Chilean herbalists J. Zin and R. Weiss. Peace Corps workers have
reported cases in which large groups of natives remain in good
health for extended periods of drought and famine, even
though they eat only one small meal per day. How so? By drinking
copious amounts of yerbamate tea. Some natives spend their
entire lives on such a diet and live to very advanced ages,
some- times in excess of 100 years.
South American governments have adopted the practice of
encouraging mothers, especially in the poorer regions, to
include yerbamate in the diet of their school-age children.
Mate may be obtained in bulk, in tea bags, or occasionally as an
extract at your natural/health food store. Bulk yerbamate or
bag tea is usually steeped in
hot water for several minutes. It is
strained, sometimes by using a filtered straw called a
bombilla. This metal de- vice can be reused. The filter is
attached to the bottom end of the straw and strains out the
fiber. The force of sucking liquid through the herb material
helps extract the nutrients.
Dr. Mawrey, a member of our
Herb Adviso- ry
Board, received his doctomte in ex- perimental psychology (with
an emphasis on psychophannacology) from Brigham Young University
in Provo, Utah.