Iguazu Falls and the Yerba Mate

the Mate in Argentina

I drink mate every day. And it’s normal for me, a daily routine that I share with millions of Argentines. Born in Buenos Aires, mate is a national drink. And it’s more than that, it’s a tradition. It doesn’t matter if the thermometer shows 35 degrees on a normal summer day in the city of Buenos Aires, “mate,” as this traditional drink is known to all Argentines, is a routine deeply rooted in everyone’s history.

Now, what is Yerba Mate, where does it come from, and what does it have to do with Iguazu Falls? Well, here I will explain a little about this.

 

WHAT IS THE YERBA MATE?

Yerba Mate is a native tree of the subtropical forest or jungle of South America. In Argentina, it is present in an area that includes the province of Misiones and the northeast of the province of Corrientes. It is a tradition that also extends to Paraguay, Uruguay, and Brazil, places where this herb, so important to everyone, is also harvested. So, from Iguazu Falls, let me say relatively close to there, you can find yerba mate plantations.

Scientifically known as Ilex paraguariensis, as registered by the botanist Augusto Saint Hilaire in 1822, it belongs to the botanical family Aquifoliaceae, and in its natural state in the forest, it can reach about 20-25 m in height.

Among other common denominations for this species are: yerba mate, tea of the Jesuits (in Spanish); ka’a; kaingangue (in Guarani); and congonha, erva mate (in Portuguese).

Yerba mate was traditionally propagated using seeds. This method required experimentation and studies to improve germination. The seed requires a process of superficial scarification. There are various versions describing the methods used, including collecting seeds after ingestion by poultry, among others. What became common was a treatment involving immersion of fruits, rubbing, shaking, and then the dried seed was used for sowing in seedbeds.

YERBA MATE: A bit about history and the origins

The scientific name is Ilex paraguariensis. “Ilex” because it is a genus with about 400 accepted species, and “paraguariensis” due to the then-called “Provincia Paraguaria,” belonging to the Viceroyalty of Peru until the creation of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata. In other words, the yerba mate shrub was named after the region where this infusion naturally grew and was consumed, which was in the area of the Guarani Jesuit Missions. These missions were located in a region formerly (from the late 16th century to the late 18th century) called the “Provincia Paraguaria.

 

THE PROCESS OF THE YERBA MATE

The production process of the Yerba Mate could be divided into two main stages: the first one goes from the harvesting of green yerba mate to obtaining the canchada yerba mate and its aging, while the other begins at the mill and leads to various product presentations for consumption in different ways.

HARVEST

Harvesting is currently carried out both manually and mechanized in some establishments with automotive machines.

While harvesting in newly planted fields begins around the 4th year, it’s not until the seventh or eighth year that commercial yields become much more acceptable.

The general harvest period extends from March to October. While it’s now generally done annually, regulatory provisions from governing bodies used to schedule it every two years per establishment. This modality also applies to some recovering fields or as part of particular management systems.

Mainly mature leaves with branches are extracted, and then the smaller diameter ones are selected and sent to the drying shed, while the thicker ones are discarded (This process is called “quiebra”). Harvesting is done with scissors, shears, saws, and even by hand. In the latter case, green buds with smaller diameter branches are pulled, which is called “viruteo”.

In recent years, some modern “electronic scissors” have also been incorporated, reducing the operator’s effort, increasing work speed, and improving cutting quality.

TRANSPORTATION FROM FIELD TO DRYING SHED

Transportation from the field to the drying shed is done with vehicles where the green material is placed in “raids”, which are plastic canvases tied at their four corners, reducing the volume of the selected broken leaves and branches.

Both mechanized and manual harvest material is usually transported “in bulk” in specially adapted “cage” truck bodies.

ZAPING

This process prevents the biological degradation of the green material and stops the oxidation of substances, maintaining a green color and acquiring its characteristic aroma while losing the green leaf odor. It must be done within 24 hours after harvesting. It consists of very rapid drying, about 30 seconds of exposure of the green material directly to flames. The steam generated causes the leaves to “pop”, breaking the epidermis with a characteristic crackle.

Small blisters form on the surface of the leaves, hence the name “zapecado”, as in the Guarani language “sa” or “za” means “eye”, “peca” or “mbecá”, means “open”.

DRYING

Immediately after zapecado, the yerba mate enters the drying process, in which hot air removes the remaining moisture until it reaches values of about 4 to 6% of the original green weight. This is done in ovens (“belt”) with continuous conveyor belts or, in some cases, types like “cots” with fixed grilles, and others that still exist, called “barbacúa”, with traditional technologies similar to the primitive ones.

 

AGING

The canchada yerba, before being processed for consumption, is stored in bags of approximately 50 kg each for a variable time until it achieves a color, taste, and aroma suitable for consumers’ preferences.

This process can now be natural or controlled. In the former case, the process occurs naturally over 6, 9, or even 24 months. The controlled or accelerated type is achieved in “chambers” with controlled atmosphere (temperature, gases, humidity), reducing the time to about 30-60 days. Besides shortening the time, several interesting factors in this type of storage are referred to, such as health management, homogeneity, continuity, and other characteristics appreciated by consumers for the same product.

MILLING

Once aged, the yerba enters the milling process, which through several successive operations of sifting, crushing, and mixing, allows for packaging in presentations ready for consumption according to consumers’ different tastes. Ground yerbas appear with and without stems, followed by a series of “flavors” with mild, strong, and even mixtures with different herbs. This process, which includes sifting and classification along with fine grinding, cleans the yerba of foreign matter like seeds, sticks, excessively large branches, etc., until obtaining the desired material. Mixtures with yerbas of different types in terms of color, aroma, and taste, according to their origin and storage process, allow for packaging of characteristic types for each brand of manufacturing establishments.

Considering the products that reach the final consumer, it’s worth mentioning the development of new presentations such as soluble yerba mate derived from

 

 

YERBA MATE AND NUTRITION

Studies conducted both in the country and abroad highlight the numerous benefits that yerba mate provides to the human body. Observations from years past, coupled with more recent findings, present the contributions of vitamins, amino acids, and minerals that characterize yerba mate as a healthy food. It has a gentle diuretic effect.

Furthermore, its antioxidant components contribute to boosting the body’s defenses. Its content of “mateine” stimulates the nervous system, increases energy, and enhances concentration and mental activity, thus increasing resistance to fatigue. It also reduces the accumulation of lactic acid in the muscles, serving as a natural energizer recommended for athletic practice and/or intense physical or mental activity.

AGRICULTURAL TOURS

We developed some agricutural tours that can be interesting for you. In the area, we can include a visit to any of the “Yerbatales” and establishments that produce yerba mate. We have many options to offer.

 

book Yerba Mate and Iguazu Falls tour. Agricultural tour

Ramiro Rodriguez

Ramiro Rodriguez

25 years working in the travel industry, as Sales & Marketing Manager at RipioTurismo. Marketing Manager at Nuevas Ideas Travel Consulting Group. Writer and travel lover.

Table of Contents

Open chat
Scan the code
Hello! If you have any questions about a tour or need assistance planning your visit, you can chat with me. I'm here to help make your Iguazu experience unforgettable.