Coffee, Tea, or Yerba Mat??

A brew that?s healthy for you and the rainforest

| January / February 2003

TOUTED AS THE next big alternative to coffee and tea, yerba mat?, a traditional South American drink, promotes alertness and contentment?without the negative side effects of caffeine. The Pasteur Institute and the Paris Scientific Society concluded that yerba mat? contains practically all of the vitamins necessary to sustain life. With 196 active components?including the mild stimulant mateine?it?s filled with minerals, amino acids, chlorophyll, and antioxidants, which boost the immune system, help relieve allergies and migraines, improve digestion, increase libido, cleanse the blood, and even recondition hair color. Grown responsibly, it?s also good for local economies in the rainforest.

With an earthy, cedar-infused taste, yerba mat? is traditionally drunk in Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, and southern Brazil. Its leaves grow on wild trees in the rainforest. ?For many years, the yerba mat? industry provided some protection for the region?s biodiversity, since the wild-growing trees gave native forests value,? reports Mike Ceaser in Americas (August 2002). But the value of the leaves grew so high in the 1990s that farmers cut down forests to make space for cultivated yerba mat? plantations. Now at least one company is attempting a more sustainable model.

In 1990, Francisco Rivas first planted shade-grown yerba mat? in a section of rainforest land he owns in eastern Paraguay. Those leaves arrived in the United States a few years later after Alex Pryor, an Argentinian food science student, brought some back to school in San Luis Obispo, California, after visiting Rivas?s plantation. Now the two export yerba mat? to the U.S. under the name Guayak?, named after the Ache Guayak? indigenous people who live in the region.

Ceaser reports that the advantages of shade-grown yerba are larger, moister, sweeter leaves, shade for the soil, and habitat for birds. But, he writes, ?the Guayak? process is far from impact-free.? In order to plant the mat?, all the rain forest, with the exception of the tallest canopy trees, is chopped down. Pryor pointed out, however, that ?the income from the yerba mat? plantation helps make it economically possible for Rivas to preserve forest on the rest of his property, which otherwise might be cleared for cattle.? And today, 34 families are able to sustain their cultural heritage and traditional ceremonies by producing Guayak? yerba mat?.

Called the drink of the gods, yerba mat? leaves have been found in pre-Columbian tombs in Peru. In old Argentina, its drinking ceremony was said to ignite passion in lovers or inspire a duel between rivals. Today, yerba mat? continues as a South American tradition of hospitality and friendship. The drinking ceremony, typically shared in a circle of family and friends, is a time to share ideas and stories, to pause for contemplation, to lift the spirit, as well as the body.???????

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