Yerba Mate, and the legend of the Guarani
There is an old Guarani Native American legend that relates the
origins of the Guarani in the Forests of Paraguay. According to
the legend, the ancestors of the Guarani at one time in the distant
past crossed a great and spacious ocean from a far land to settle
in the Americas. They found the land both wonderful yet full of
dangers; through diligence and effort they subdued the land and
inaugurated a new civilization.
The Guarani tribes worked the land and became excellent craftsmen.
They looked forward to the coming of a tall, fair-skinned, blue
eyed, bearded God (Pa' i Shume) who, according to legend, descended
from the skies and expressed his pleasure with the Guarani. He brought
religious knowledge and imparted to them certain agricultural practices
to be of benefit during times of drought and pestilence as well
as on a day-to-day basis. Significantly, He unlocked the secrets
of health and medicine and revealed the healing qualities of native
plants. One of the most important of these secrets was how to harvest
and prepare the leaves of the Yerba Mate tree. The Mate beverage
was meant to ensure health, vitality and longevity.
It was like this: the tribe would clear part of the forest, plant
manioc and corn, but after four or five years the soil would be
worn out and the tribe had to move on. Tired of such moving, an
old Indian refused to go on and preferred to stay where he was.
The youngest of his daughters, beautiful Jary, had her heart split:
to go on with the tribe's youths, or remain isolated, helping the
old man until death would take him to Ivy-Marae's peace. Despite
her friends' pleas, she ended up staying with her father.
This love gesture deserved a prize. One day, a unknown shaman arrived
at the ranch and asked Jary what she wanted in order to feel happy.
The girl did not ask anything. But the old man asked: "I want
new forces to go on and take Jary to the tribe that went away".
The shaman gave him a very green plant, perfumed with kindness,
and told him to plant it, pick the leaves, dry them on fire, grind
them, put the pieces in a gourd, add cold or hot water and sip the
infusion. "In this new beverage, you will find an healthy company,
even in the sad hours of the cruelest solitude." After which
he went away.
Thus was born and grew the "caá-mini," whence came
beverage that white people would later adopt under the name
of Chimarrão in Brazil and Yerba Mate in Argentina, Uruguay
Sipping the green sap, the old man recovered, gained new strengths
and was able to resume their long journey toward meeting their kinsmen.
They were received with the greatest joy. And the whole tribe adopted
the habit of drinking the green herb, bitter and sweet, which gave
strength and courage and would comfort friendships at the sad hours
of utmost solitude.
Mate became the most common ingredient in household cures of the
Guarani, and remains so to this day. In current practice in modern
Paraguay and Southern Brazil, Mate tea is made from the leaves steeped
in hot water. Actually, a large quantity of ground leaf is first
soaked in cold water, then the hot water is added, over and over
again, until all the good stuff has been extracted. In between each
addition of hot water the tea is ingested through a special wood
or metal straw, called a bombilla, which filters out the leafy material.
It is also used as a cold beverage, often referred to as Terere
most common to Paraguay.