Yerba maté

Yerba maté
Maté (yerba maté or erva maté)
Ilex paraguariensis
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Aquifoliales
Family: Aquifoliaceae
Genus: Ilex
Species: I. paraguariensis
Binomial name
Ilex paraguariensis
A. St. Hil.

Maté, yerba maté (also spelled yerva maté) or erva maté (Spanish: yerba mate, IPA: [ˌʝerβa ˈmat̪e], Portuguese: erva-mate, standard Brazilian Portuguese IPA: [ˌɛʁvɐ ˈmatʃi], local gaúcho Brazilian Portuguese [ˌɛrvɐ ˈmate]), Ilex paraguariensis, is a species of holly (family Aquifoliaceae) native to subtropical South America in northeastern Argentina, Bolivia, southern Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay.[1] It was first used and cultivated by the Guaraní people, also in some Tupí people communities in southern Brazil, prior to the European colonization. It was scientifically classified by the Swiss botanist Moses Bertoni, who settled in Paraguay in 1895.

The maté plant is a shrub or small tree growing up to 15 meters tall. The leaves are evergreen, 7–11 cm long and 3–5.5 cm wide, with a serrated margin. The flowers are small, greenish-white, with four petals. The fruit is a red drupe 4–6 mm in diameter. The leaves, popularly called "herb" (Spanish: yerba, Portuguese: erva) contain caffeine and related compounds, and are harvested commercially.



The plant is grown and processed mainly in South America, more specifically in northern Argentina (Corrientes, Misiones), Paraguay, Uruguay and southern Brazil (Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, Paraná and Mato Grosso do Sul). Cultivators are known as yerbateros (Spanish speakers) or ervamateiros (Brazil).

Plantation in Misiones, Argentina.

When the maté is harvested, the branches are dried sometimes with a wood fire, imparting a smoky flavor. Then the leaves and sometimes the twigs are broken up.[citation needed]

The plant Ilex paraguariensis can vary in strength of the flavor, caffeine levels and other nutrients depending on whether it is a male or female plant. Female plants tend to be milder in flavor, and lower in caffeine. They are also relatively scarce in the areas where maté is planted and cultivated, not wild-harvested, compared to the male plants.[2]

According to FAO, Brazil is the biggest producer of maté in the world with 434.727 MT (53%), followed by Argentina 300,000 MT (37%) and Paraguay 76,663 MT (10%).[3]

Use as a beverage

Steaming maté infusion in its customary gourd.

The infusion called maté or chimarrão (Brazil) is prepared by steeping dry leaves (and twigs) of the maté plant in hot water, rather than in boiling water. Drinking maté with friends from a shared hollow gourd (also called a guampa or mate in Spanish, or cabaça or cuia in Portuguese, or zucca in Italian) with a metal straw (a bombilla in Spanish, bomba in Portuguese) is a common social practice in Argentina and southern Brazil among people of all ages; the beverage is also very popular in Uruguay, Paraguay, Peru and Chile, eastern Bolivia and other states of Brazil, and has been cultivated in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.[citation needed]

The flavor of brewed maté is strongly vegetal, herbal, and grassy, reminiscent of some varieties of green tea. Some consider the flavor to be very agreeable, but it is generally bitter if steeped in boiling water. Flavored maté is also sold, in which the maté leaves are blended with another herb (such as peppermint) or citrus rind.[citation needed]

In Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina, a toasted version of maté, known as mate cocido (Paraguay), chá mate (Brazil) or just mate, is sold in teabag and loose form, and served, sweetened, in specialized shops, either hot or iced with fruit juice or milk. The same is sold in Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay in tea bags to be drunk as a tea. In Argentina and southern Brazil, this is commonly drunk for breakfast or in the café for afternoon tea, often with a selection of sweet pastries. It is also made by heating maté in water and straining it as it cools.[citation needed]

An iced, sweetened version of toasted maté is sold as an uncarbonated soft drink, with or without fruit flavoring. The toasted variety of maté has less of a bitter flavor and more of a spicy fragrance. When shaken, it becomes creamy (since the formed foam gets well mixed and lasts for some time), known as mate batido. It is more popular in the coastal cities of Brazil, as opposed to the far southern states, where it is consumed in the traditional way (green, drunk with a silver straw from a shared gourd), and called chimarrão. In Argentina, this is called cimarrón.[citation needed]

In Paraguay, western Brazil (Mato Grosso do Sul, west of São Paulo) and the Litoral Argentino, a maté infusion is also drunk as a cold or iced beverage and called tereré or tererê (in Spanish and Portuguese, respectively), usually sucked out of a horn cup called guampa with a bombilla. It could be prepared using cold or iced water (the most common way in Paraguay) or using cold or iced fruit juice (the most common way in Argentina). The "only water" version may be too bitter, but the one prepared using fruit juice is sweetened by the juice itself. Medicinal herbs, known as yuyos, are mixed in a mortar and pestle and added to the water for taste or medicinal reasons. Tereré is consumed in Paraguay and the Litoral (northeast Argentina).[citation needed]

In the Rio de la Plata region, people often consume daily servings of maté such as Taragüi mate from Establecimiento Las Marías; in fact, it is common for friends to convene to matear several times a week. In cold weather, the beverage is served hot and in warm weather the hot water is often substituted with lemonade, but not in Uruguay. Children often take maté with lemonade or milk, as well.[citation needed]

As Europeans often meet at a coffee shop, drinking maté is the impetus for gathering with friends in Argentina, southern Brazil and Uruguay. Sharing maté is ritualistic and has its own set of rules. Usually, one person, the host or whoever brought the maté, prepares the drink and refills the gourd with water. In these three countries, the hot water can be contained in a vacuum flask, termo (appropriate for drinking maté in the outside), or in a pava (kettle), garrafa térmica (Brazil), or, which only can be done at home.[citation needed]

The gourd is passed around, often in a circle, and each person finishes the gourd before giving it back to the brewer. The gourd (also called a maté) is passed in a clockwise order. Since maté can be rebrewed many times, the gourd is passed until the water runs out. When persons no longer want to take maté, they say gracias (thank you) to the brewer when returning the gourd to signify they do not want any more.[citation needed]

During the month of August, Paraguayans have a tradition of mixing maté with crushed leaves, stems, and flowers of the plant known as flor de Agosto[4] (the flower of August, groundsels or ragworts of the Senecio genus), which contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Adulterating maté in this fashion is potentially toxic, as these alkaloids can cause a rare condition of the liver, veno-occlusive disease, which produces liver failure due to progressive occlusion of the small venous channels in the liver.[5]

In South Africa, maté is not well known, but has been introduced to Stellenbosch by a student who sells it nationally. In the tiny hamlet of Groot Marico in the northwest province, maté was introduced to the local tourism office by the returning descendants of the Boers, who in 1902 had emigrated to Patagonia in Argentina after losing the Anglo Boer War. It is also commonly consumed in Syria and other parts of the Middle East.[citation needed]

Chemical composition and properties


Maté contains three xanthines: caffeine, theobromine and theophylline, the main one being caffeine. Caffeine content varies between 0.7% and 1.7% of dry weight[6] (compared with 0.4– 0.9% for tea leaves, 2.5-7.6% in guarana, and up to 3.2% for ground coffee);[7] theobromine content varies from 0.3-0.9%; theophylline is present in small quantities, or can be completely absent.[8] A substance previously called "mateine" is a synonym for caffeine (like theine and guaranine).

Preliminary limited studies of maté have shown that the maté xanthine cocktail is different from other plants containing caffeine, most significantly in its effects on muscle tissue, as opposed to those on the central nervous system, which are similar to those of other natural stimulants.[citation needed] The three xanthines present in maté have been shown to have a relaxing effect on smooth muscle tissue, and a stimulating effect on myocardial (heart) tissue.[citation needed]

Mineral content

Maté also contains elements such as potassium, magnesium and manganese.[9]

Health benefits

Research on the effects of Ilex paraguariensis in health and disease has confirmed its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimutagenic and lipid-lowering activities. Although there has not yet been a double-blind, randomized prospective clinical trial, the evidence seems to provide support for beneficial effects of maté drinking on chronic diseases with inflammatory component and lipid metabolism disorders.[10]

Anticarcinogenic vs. carcinogenic potential

In vivo and in vitro studies are showing maté to exhibit significant cancer-fighting activity. Researchers at the University of Illinois (2005) found maté to be "rich in phenolic constituents" and to "inhibit oral cancer cell proliferation", while it promoted proliferation of oral cancer cell lines at certain concentrations.[11][clarification needed] This activity was due in part to inhibition of topoisomerase II activity in yeast.[11]

Conversely, maté consumption has been associated with increased incidence of bladder, esophageal, oral, squamous cell of the head and neck, and lung cancer.[12][13][14][15][16][17] However, a case-control study[18] showed no increased incidence of bladder cancer in maté drinkers.

A study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer showed a limited correlation between oral cancer and the drinking of large quantities of hot maté. Smaller quantities (less than 1 liter daily) and warm rather than hot maté consumption were found to increase risk only slightly; alcohol and tobacco consumption had a synergistic effect on increasing oral, throat, and esophageal cancer. The increased risk, rather than stemming from the maté itself, could be credited to the high temperatures in which the maté is consumed in its most traditional way, the chimarrão. The cellular damage caused by thermal stress could lead the esophagus and gastric epithelium to be metaplasic, adapting to the chronic injury. Then, mutations would lead to cellular dysplasia and to cancer.[19] Given the influence of the temperature of water, as well as the lack of complete adjustment for age, alcohol consumption and smoking, the study concludes that maté is "not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans".[20]

Researchers in Mississippi found that both cold and hot water extractions of maté contained high levels (8.03 to 53.3 ng/g dry leaves) of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) (e.g. benzo[a]pyrene).[21] However, these potential carcinogenic compounds originate from drying process of the maté leaves, which involves smoke from the burning of wood, rather than from the maté itself.[22]

Antiobesity properties

In most studies,[23][24] Ilex paraguensis tea has been shown to lessen the tendency towards obesity induced by a high-starch diet.

Cholesterol-lowering properties

Consumption of maté (Ilex paraguariensis) improves serum lipid parameters in healthy dyslipidemic subjects and provides an additional LDL-cholesterol reduction in individuals on statin therapy.[25]

E-NTPDase activity

Research also shows that maté preparations can alter the concentration of members of the ecto-nucleoside triphosphate diphosphohydrolase (E-NTPDase) family, resulting in an elevated level of extracellular ATP, ADP, and AMP. This was found with chronic ingestion (15 days) of an aqueous maté extract, and may lead to a novel mechanism for manipulation of vascular regenerative factors, i.e., treating heart disease.[26]

Antioxidant potential

In an investigation of maté antioxidant activity, there was a correlation found between content of caffeoyl-derivatives and antioxidant capacity (AOC).[27][28] Amongst a group of Ilex species, Ilex paraguariensis antioxidant activity was the highest.[27]


Yerba maté growing in the wild

Maté was first consumed by the indigenous Guaraní and also spread in the Tupí people that lived in southern Brazil and Paraguay, and became widespread with the European colonization. In the Spanish colony of Paraguay in the late 16th century, both Spanish settlers and indigenous Guaranís, who had, to some extent, before the Spanish arrival, consumed it. Maté consumption spread in the 17th century to the River Plate and from there to Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Peru. This widespread consumption turned it into Paraguay's main commodity above other wares, such as tobacco, and Indian labour was used to harvest wild stands.

In the mid 17th century, Jesuits managed to domesticate the plant and establish plantations in their Indian reductions in Misiones, sparking severe competition with the Paraguayan harvesters of wild stands. After their expulsion in the 1770s, their plantations fell into decay, as did their domestication secrets. The industry continued to be of prime importance for the Paraguayan economy after independence, but development in benefit of the Paraguayan state halted after the War of the Triple Alliance (1864–1870) that devastated the country both economically and demographically. Some regions with maté plantations in Paraguay became Argentinean territory.

Lithograph of José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia, a 19th century ruler of Paraguay, with a maté and its respective bombilla

Brazil then became the largest producer of maté. In Brazilian and Argentine projects in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the plant was domesticated once again, opening the way for plantation systems. When Brazilian entrepreneurs turned their attention to coffee in the 1930s, Argentina, which had long been the prime consumer,[29] took over as the largest producer, resurrecting the economy in Misiones Province, where the Jesuits had once had most of their plantations. For years, the status of largest producer shifted between Brazil and Argentina. [29]

Now, Brazil is the largest producer, with 53%, followed by Argentina, 37% and Paraguay, 10%. [3]

There is a Parque Historico do Mate, funded by the State of Parana, Brazil, to educate people on the sustainable harvesting methods needed to maintain the integrity and vitality of the oldest wild forests of maté in the world.[2]


The name given to the plant in Guaraní (Guarani, in Portuguese), language of the indigenous people who first cultivated and enjoyed maté, is ka'a, which has the same meaning as "herb". Congonha, in Portuguese, is derived from the Tupi expression, meaning something like "what keeps us alive".

The pronunciation of yerba maté in Spanish is [ˈʝerβa ˈmate]. The word hierba is Spanish for "grass" or "herb"; yerba is a variant spelling of it which is quite common in Argentina. Maté is from the Quechua mati, meaning "gourd" or the cup made from a gourd. Yerba maté, therefore, translates literally as the "gourd herb", i.e. the herb one drinks from a gourd.

The (Brazilian) Portuguese name is erva-mate [ˈɛʁva ˈmati] (also pronounced [ˈɛʁva ˈmate] in some regions); it is also used to prepare the drinks chimarrão (hot) or tereré (cold). While the tea is made with the toasted leaves, these drinks are made with green ones, and are very popular in the south of the country.

Both the spellings "mate" and "maté" are used in English, but the latter spelling, "maté", is never used in Spanish; instead, it means "I killed" as opposed to "gourd". There is no variation of spellings in Spanish. The addition of the acute accent over the final "e" was likely added as a hypercorrection, indicating that the word and its pronunciation are distinct from the common English word "mate". The addition of the accent over the "e" is correct Spanish grammar to indicate past tense in the first person, not just a widespread English error.[30][31][32][33][34]

The Argentine market

Yerba mate worker

In Argentina, there are more than 200 brands in the market, many very local. There are approximately 10 companies with some national presence, accounting for 80% of the market. The market leader is Las Marias, with slightly more than 30% of the Argentine mate market. Taragüí is the leading brand of Las Marias.

In Argentina, mate is present in 95% of households and 79% of the population drinks the beverage. The vast majority drink it in the traditional way. The act of consuming mate is also a social occasion. The beverage is also available in tea bags, representing roughly 5% of the market.

Mate harvested at different times and from different areas have different characteristics. For instance, north Misiones Province has a heavier taste than Corrientes Province, and mate harvested in summer is higher in caffeine then that of spring and fall.

Since mate dominates the beverage market in Argentina, it dominates the grocery shelves. In a leading supermarket in Buenos Aires, shelf space dedicated to mate is eight times the size of that of coffee and tea combined. Mate is also sold in most neighborhood markets and many street kiosks. It is as ubiquitous as soft drinks are in many other markets.

See also

  • Club-Mate
  • Materva (maté soft drink)
  • Yaupon holly- a caffeine-containing member of the Ilex genus from North America
  • Black drink
  • Ilex guayusa - another caffeine-containing holly, also known as guayusa, is an Amazonian tree of the holly genus, native to the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest.
  • Ku Ding tea - Ilex kudingcha
  • Nativa (beverage)



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  3. ^ a b "FAOSTAT". Retrieved 2011-07-18. 
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  9. ^ "Valduga, Eunice. Chemical and anatomical characterization of the Ilex paraguariensis leaf Saint Hilaire and some species used to adulterate the maté. Thesis of Post-graduation presented in the University of Paraná, Curitiba, in 1995. In Portuguese". Retrieved 2011-06-05. 
  10. ^ Bracesco N., Sanchez A.G., Contreras V., Menini T., Gugliucci A. "Recent advances on Ilex paraguariensis research: Minireview", Journal of Ethnopharmacology 2010
  11. ^ a b Elvira Gonzalez de Mejia; Young Soo Song; Marco Vinicio Ramirez-Mares; Hideka Kobayashi (2005-02-19). "Effect of Mate (Ilex paraguariensis) Tea on Topoisomerase Inhibition and Oral Carcinoma Cell Proliferation". Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 53 (6): 1966–1973. doi:10.1021/jf048158g. Retrieved 2011-06-04. 
  12. ^ Bates, M. N.; Hopenhayn, C.; Rey, O. A.; Moore, L.E. (February 2007). "Bladder Cancer and Maté Consumption in Argentina: a case-control study". Cancer Lett. 246 (1-2): 268–73. doi:10.1016/j.canlet.2006.03.005. PMID 16616809. 
  13. ^ De Stefani, E.; Boffetta, P.; Deneo-Pellegrini, H.; et al. (2007). "Non-alcoholic Beverages and Risk of Bladder Cancer in Uruguay". BMC Cancer 7: 57. doi:10.1186/1471-2407-7-57. PMC 1857703. PMID 17394632. 
  14. ^ Goldenberg, D.; Lee, J.; Koch, W. M.; et al. (December 2004). "Habitual Risk Factors for Head and Neck Cancer". Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 131 (6): 986–93. doi:10.1016/j.otohns.2004.02.035. PMID 15577802. 
  15. ^ Sewram, V.; De Stefani, E.; Brennan, P.; Boffetta, P. (June 2003). "Mate Consumption and the Risk of Squamous Cell Esophageal Cancer in Uruguay". Cancer Epidemiol. Biomarkers Prev. 12 (6): 508–13. PMID 12814995. 
  16. ^ Goldenberg, D.; Golz, A.; Joachims, H. Z. (July 2003). "The Beverage Mate: A Risk Factor for Cancer of the Head and Neck". Head Neck 25 (7): 595–601. doi:10.1002/hed.10288. PMID 12808663. 
  17. ^ Pintos, J.; Franco, E. L.; Oliveira, B. V.; Kowalski, L. P.; Curado, M. P.; Dewar, R. (November 1994). "Maté, Coffee, and Tea Consumption and Risk of Cancers of the Upper Aerodigestive Tract in Southern Brazil". Epidemiology 5 (6): 583–90. doi:10.1097/00001648-199411000-00005. PMID 7841239. 
  18. ^ Bates, M. N.; Hopenhayn, C.; Rey, O. A.; Moore, L. E. (February 8 2007). "Bladder Cancer and Mate Consumption in Argentina: A Case-control Study". Cancer Lett. 246 (1–2): 268–73. doi:10.1016/j.canlet.2006.03.005. PMID 16616809. . Electronically published April 17, 2006.
  19. ^ Sewram V, De Stefani E, Brennan P, Boffetta P.: Mate consumption and the risk of squamous cell esophageal cancer in uruguay.1: Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2003 Jun;12(6):508-13.
  20. ^
  21. ^ Farin Kamangar; Michele M. Schantz; Christian C. Abnet; Renato B. Fagundes; Sanford M. Dawsey (2008-05-17). "High Levels of Carcinogenic Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Mate Drinks". American Association for Cancer Research 17 (5). doi:10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-08-0025. Retrieved 2011-06-04. 
  22. ^ [1][dead link]
  23. ^ Martins F, Noso TM, Porto VB, Curiel A, Gambero A, Bastos DH, Ribeiro ML, Carvalho PD. Mate Tea Inhibits In Vitro Pancreatic Lipase Activity and Has Hypolipidemic Effect on High-fat Diet-induced Obese Mice: Obesity (Silver Spring). 2009 Jun 18.
  24. ^ Arçari DP, Bartchewsky W, Dos Santos TW, Oliveira KA, Funck A, Pedrazzoli J, de Souza MF, Saad MJ, Bastos DH, Gambero A, Carvalho PD, Ribeiro ML.Antiobesity Effects of yerba mate Extract (Ilex paraguariensis) in High-fat Diet-induced Obese Mice.Obesity (Silver Spring). 2009 May 14
  25. ^ de Morais EC, Stefanuto A, Klein GA, Boaventura BC, de Andrade F, Wazlawik E, Di Pietro PF, Maraschin M, da Silva EL.J Agric Food Chem. 2009 Sep 23;57(18):8316-24.
  26. ^ Görgen M, Turatti K, Medeiros AR, et al. (February 2005). "Aqueous extract of Ilex paraguariensis decreases nucleotide hydrolysis in rat blood serum". J Ethnopharmacol 97 (1): 73–7. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2004.10.015. PMID 15652278. 
  27. ^ a b "Elsevier: Article Locator". Retrieved 2011-06-05. 
  28. ^ Guang-Hua Xu, Young-Hee Kim, Soo-Jin Choo, In-Ja Ryoo, Jae-Kuk Yoo, Jong-Seog Ahn, Ick-Dong Yoo (2009-03-03). "Chemical constituents from the leaves of Ilex paraguariensis inhibit human neutrophil elastase". Archives of Pharmacal Research 32 (9): 1215–1220. doi:10.1007/s12272-009-1905-7. 
  29. ^ a b "History of Mate". Establecimiento Las Marías. Retrieved 8 November 2011. 
  30. ^ Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged, 2002, shows the main entry for the word as ma·té or ma·te. The explanatory material for main entries on page 14a, headed 1.71, says "When a main entry is followed by the word or and another spelling or form, the two spellings or forms are equal variants. Their order is usually alphabetical, and the first is no more to be preferred than the second..."
  31. ^ The New Oxford American Dictionary
  32. ^ The Oxford English Dictionary
  33. ^ "American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language". Retrieved 2011-06-05. 
  34. ^ "Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary". 2010-08-13. Retrieved 2011-06-05. 


  • López, Adalberto. The Economics of Yerba Mate in Seventeenth-Century South America in Agricultural History. Agricultural History Society 1974.

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