Yerba mate. Never heard of it? It's what's hot among Everest mountaineers and other hip wilderness travelers who crave a morning buzz in the back of beyond.
For centuries, South Americans have used the dried leaves and stems of Ilex paraguarensis, or yerba mate (pronounced yer-ba ma-tay), to make a tea that's served hot or cold. Sharing a guampa, the traditional cup from which the tea is sipped through a bombilla, or filter straw, is a social act in Paraguay and other places. But don't be surprised if you also find it the energy drink of choice this spring on the Appalachian Trail.
Yerba mate's energizing properties go beyond caffeine to its nutritional content, making it a "whole body tonic," according to Daniel B. Mowrey, herbalist and author of Herbal Tonic Therapies. Mowrey notes that researchers at France's Pasteur Institute and the Paris Scientific Society concluded that "mate contains practically all the vitamins necessary to sustain life."
Scientific analysis shows mate to include 15 amino acids, carotene, nicotinic acid, and about 100 mg of caffeine. The taste of roasted maté is mildly mocha-ish with a hint of smoke. Plain dried mate tastes more like green tea. And you'll definitely hear the wake-up call.
Buy dried yerba mate at health-food stores, or get the Americanized version, which is roasted and often has other herbs added, at the grocery store. Order online at www.ymrev.com.
Try Mate Latte from Republic of Tea (800-298-4832; www.republicoftea.com) for something different. Reader service #131.