Though no archeological evidence has been found to date the beginning of Mate use in South America, it was used in Paraguay before the Spanish arrived in the early 1500s.
early 16th century
Spanish explorer Juan de Solís reported that the Guarani Indians of Paraguay made a tea from leaves that "produced exhilaration and relief from fatigue." Yerba mate became known as Paraguay tea.
Demand for yerba maté grew throughout the South American colonies, and by 1670, Jesuit missionaries had set up maté plantations in Paraguay, leading to the common name "Jesuit tea". Jesuit missions were encouraged to set up agricultural plantations on mission grounds using indigenous labor, in order to make the missions self sustaining. They are believed to be the first to have cultivated maté (Ilex paraguariensis). At this point, the product was distributed almost exclusively within the Spanish colonies, rather than exported back to Europe. 1
A letter written by the Jesuit priest Nicaolás del Techo described the character of maté. “Too many virtues are attributed to the herb,” he complained. “It acts as a soporific at the same time as it stimulates; calms the appetite at the same time it aids digestion. It restores strength, brings happiness, and cures many diseases. All I see is that those who develop the habit can’t seem to get along without it.”
Maté cultivation is significantly curtailed when the Jesuits are expelled from Spanish territories. Harvesting continued, but using forest harvesting methods rather than cultivation methods.
Yerba mate had become a popular social drink throughout the Andes, served at all hours of the day.
Brazil began commercial harvesting of forest maté. Its product was considered inferior to that of Paraguay.
Maté harvesting, trade, and consumption continues in South America, but on a small scale. The introduction of Oriental tea (Camellia sinensis) in the early 1800s provided significant competition to the maté market.
Exploitation of forest maté resources leads to the renewal of some maté plantations in Nueva Germania, Paraguay and in Santa Ana, Argentina.
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