Mate, Or Paraguay Tea, the leaves of a native holly found in South America, an infusion of which is drunk by the people as tea is by Chinese and Europeans. The leaf and the drink are called mate, the aboriginal name for the cup used in preparing the infusion. The plant, called yerba mate, is the ilex Paragvayensis, a holly which grows upon the banks of rivers Paraguay and in the mountains of Brazil; it is a tree 15 or 20 ft. high, and when allowed to develop itself forms a handsome head, but where its branches are collected it is only a moderate-sized shrub with numerous steins from one root. The ovate lanceolate leave-are persistent, 4 to 5 in. long, with their margins unequally serrate; the numerous white flowers are in umbellate clusters, and succeeded by a four-seeded berry about the size of a pepper grain. The leaves are collected by parties of 20 to 50 persons, who go to the forests prepared for an encampment of several months. The first step is to prepare a hard earthen floor, by beating the ground with mallets; over this an arch of poles is built, upon which are laid the leafy branches of the mate, where they are kept over a lively fire made beneath until thoroughly scorched; after this roasting, the leaves are beaten from the branches by means of sticks, in which operation they are reduced to a coarse powder.
The broken leaves are packed in leathern sacks made of a bullock's hide, which contain from 200 to 220 lbs. A day's work for a peon is the collection of a sufficient amount to make 200 lbs. of the prepared mate. Several varieties are known, depending upon the development of the leaf and the care taken in the preparation of it. The method of using it is to place a handful of the leaves in the mate or cup, and pour boiling water over them; as soon as the infusion is sufficiently cool to be tolerated, it is sucked through a tube called a boquilla, which is perforated with holes at the lower end to prevent the entrance of fragments of the leaves; the cup is passed from one to another, each person among the South Americans using the same tube in turn; but Europeans living in the country carry a small glass tube which can be slipped into the opening of the cup. The latter is frequently a calabash fixed upon a stand, and among the wealthy mounted with silver, or sometimes entirely of silver and elaborately ornamented.
The Europeans found the mate in use by the aborigines and readily adopted the custom, and it is estimated that no portion of the world consumes so large an amount of Chinese tea in proportion to the population as is used of the mate by the South American-. The infusion of mate is usually drunk without addition, though some use sugar and others lemon with it; it is described as having great fascination to those accustomed to it. and those who commence drinking it find it almost impossible to abandon its use. It is taken at every meal and at all hours of the day, and marvellous stories are told of its virtues; like tea and coffee, it no doubt enables the system to resist fatigue, and its use among miners and others who undertake hard labor is universal in most South American countries. It seem-to act as an excitant to the stomach, and in large doses is emetic and purgative. Its more important properties, however, are probably closely allied to those of ordinary tea or coffee, as it contains nearly one half of one per cent. (0.4o) of caffeine and 20.88 of caffeo-tannic acid. The amount of the leaves exported annually from Paraguay is estimated at oyer 5,000,000 lbs.
The early Jesuit missionaries, knowing the fondness of the aborigines for the mate, established plantations of the tree, on which account it is sometimes called Jesuits' tea. The leaves of a related species, ilex cas-sine, furnished the " black drink " or yaupon of the Creek Indians; the leaves of this possess emetic qualities, and the power of resisting them was regarded as a mark of superiority.
Yerba Mate (Ilex Paraguayensis).