Mate plant

What is a mate plant?

Characteristics of mate plant (Ilex paraguariensis)

Common English name: Mate, yerba mate, Paraguay tea.

Scientific name: Ilex paraguariensis St. Hil

Family: Aquifoliaceae

Source: plant from Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil.

Distribution: It grows as a feral plant near rivers.

Mate description


Botanical illustration of mate with the leaves and fruits

Mate, (Ilex paraguariensis), is an evergreen, dioecious tree, measuring up to 18m.

Mate crown has several branches that are pruned to obtain higher yield of leaves.

The leaves are the part sold, which are taken as an infusion because of caffeine. Its caffeine content is large (0.2 to 2% in leaves), given that the coffee beans have the same percentage (1-2%).

Mate leaves are alternate and oval, 5-18cm. long; 7.2 wide. Limbo glabrous, bright green. The margins are serrated and the apex obtuse.

Being a dioecious plant, there are male trees and female trees. It is believed that male trees are more productive.

The inflorescence is a cluster of 3-11 flowers born from the axils of the leaves. The flowers are small, 4-5 petals and sepals them, whitish. In the genus Ilex there are so many stamens as flower petals.

Mate fruit is nucule with a 4-5 pyrenes. (a pyrene is a dry fruit similar to a drupe with several seeds)

The tree blooms in spring (October-November in the southern hemisphere). Insects pollinate flowers, which bear fruit in summer, from March to June.

Mate History

  • Mate is consumed on both sides of the Tropic of Capricorn as a stimulating drink similar to tea. It is believed that these people knew the mate before European colonization, although it was the Jesuits who seem to start its cultivation in the seventeenth century.
  • Theoretically, the Guarani Indians were taught the virtues of mate by the Jesuits. Guarani Indians Settlements converted to Christianity later dedicated to the cultivation and production of yerba mate, which was their main source of income and trade.
  • In 1767 the Jesuits were expelled from the Spanish dominions, which held back the exploitation of mate and turned to logging. People had to to turn to collect from wild specimens.
  • At present, mate is the national drink of Argentina, and it is consumed in most countries of South America: Uruguay, Paraguay, southern Brazil and Argentina.
  • In countries where it is consumed, mate is prepared in a gourd recipient (“porongo”) or wood one, which is dedicated to take this tea forever. Leaves are used entire, with hot water, and through a tube (” bombilla= bulb”) tea is sipped. At the end of this tube, which may be made with silver or other materials, there is a bulb filter which separates the liquid from the leaves.
  • Mate has become a very popular and consumed beverage that is often drunk at all hours of the day and anywhere.

Used parts of mate

– Leaves

Uses of mate

  • Stimulating tea: mate is consumed as tea throughout South America, where it is common to take almost all the time. It is prepared with hot water and panela sugar or lemon juice, sometimes combined with other herbs like Maria Luisa. Traditionally served in a “pumpkin” or container (container used since ancient times by the Guarani Indians) and sipped from a “bulb” through a metal tube.
  • Medicinal infusions: mate is used for its diuretic, hypoglycemic, stimulant, slimming and anti-fatigue.

* More information about mate properties.

Composition of mate

  • Vitamins: choline, riboflavin, pyridoxine, pantothenic acid, vitamin C
  • Alkaloids: xanthine type as those found in coffee and cocoa, act as stimulants. Caffeine (from 0.3 to 2%), theobromine (0,1 0,2%), and theophylline (0.05%).
  • Xanthines are the active principle of mate. The have bitter taste. Caffeine, which is the major component, is a diuretic and stimulator of the nervous system. Also its effects to increase the frequency of respiration and heart are well known. (Often, caffeine is called mateine, although it is the same substance than caffeine)
  • Trigonelline (other alkaloid). Also present in coffee and fenugreek seeds. It possesses hypoglycemic and anticholesterol.
  • Tannins (416%): mate leaves are rich in tannins and catechins.
  • Flavonoids: quercetin, kaempferol, rutin.
  • Nicotinic acid, isovaleric acid.
  • Essential oil: ursolic acid, betaamitina, ilexósido
  • Triterpenoid saponins
Botanical classification
KingdomPlantae – Plants

Vascular plants


Seed plants


Plantas con flores



SpeciesI. paraguariensis

punto rojoMore information on mate.

This article was endorsed by Julián Masats - Technical agricultural engineer specialized in horticulture and gardening.
Written by Editorial Botanical-online team in charge of content writing

22 December, 2021

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