Yerba Maté is one of many potential renewable rainforest products and part of a socially and environmentally conscious movement known as "market driven conservation." Amazon tribes rely on yerba mate as an alternative source of income to destructive logging.
Also known as Paraguay tea and yerba mate; mate is an herb prepared from the leaves of a South America evergreen shrub, Illex paraguayensis, a relative of the common holly. The leaves are oval and about 6 inches long. Flowers of the plant are small and white. The fruit appears in small clusters of tiny red berries growing close to the stems of the plant. Like guarana and yopo, mate is rich in caffeine and was used as a caffeine beverage source by the native population of Latin America centuries before the European settlers arrived to establish coffee plantations.
Yerba Matte is called "The drink of the gods" by many of the indigenous people of South America who have brewed it for centuries. It was however, a people who believed in a different God that are responsible for the first commercial Yerba Matte plantations – Jesuit missionaries. Upon arriving in the new world, the Jesuits quickly adopted the native practice of drinking Yerba Matte as a tea. At the time, Yerba Matte leaves were only being harvested from wild stands of trees. Owing to its widespread popularity, the Jesuits realized the large economic potential of the plant and founded the first Yerba Matte plantations during the mid 1600's.