Yerba Mate & childhood
For as long as I can remember, Yerba Mate has been the background of my life. Many countries in South America, including Argentina, the land of my family, drink Yerba Mate more than coffee; it’s commonly served in a gourd or a cup, and sipped through a filtered straw called a “bombilla.” My family never gets together without it.
There are pictures of me as an infant and toddler drinking mate. Growing up, there was always a mate and thermos around. Trips to Argentina, to visit family, were peppered with talks around a table while mate was served. Passed from hand to hand, it was shared on picnics, taken on car rides, poured on the beach, placed behind the cash register of my grandparents’ toy store and always used as a greeting when entering my aunt’s house: “Great, you are here. Welcome! I have the water heating!” The ways mate was etched into my childhood are endless. Now, as an adult, it has brought me comfort and the feeling of love, which I didn’t realize until I had my daughter.
Family bonds shared through Yerba Mate
When visiting Argentina, afternoons were mostly spent around a table, where other members of my extended family would gather and drink Yerba Mate together. I loved watching water being poured and the mate passed around. It seemed like the more they drank mate, the more funny and honest everyone became; as if drinking a truth serum, stories were shared, reminding others of forgotten events, or allowing for the “coming to terms” of an incident that had happened between them. I always thought my grandmother was so cool because she could hold a sugar cube between her front teeth and sip mate through that. I remember her calling me over, and sitting me on her lap while she poured me a mate. She would take a sip, making sure the water temperature was perfect, and then give it to me to drink the rest. I was allowed to join in the conversation with my older relatives, and it felt special. It wasn’t often that I would see generations sharing in on a discussion. Drinking mate, allowed for that.
Back in the States, no one drank or had even heard of yerba mate. My mother never had anyone to share it with, so she would drink alone. When others came over, my father would hide the mate and bombilla in a cabinet, fearing that our American friends would think they were doing some “illicit” drug. I remember my mother asking if I would like to drink with her. I am sure she felt as I did; that yerba soothed loneliness. It was something that brought a feeling of comfort and love.
I recall a particularly difficult time in my life when, as a teenager, I found it difficult to talk about the confusing feelings I had. Sharing Yerba Mate with my mom, like that, allowed time to slow, and my self consciousness to melt. I don’t know what came first, the feeling of love that moved me to spend time and talk to my mother, or that sharing mate gave me the space and the time to “feel” love. Either way, I am grateful to have these moments etched in my memory.
Sunday mornings, my father would wake up before the rest of the family and make himself mate with his breakfast. Hearing him rattle around in the kitchen always got me up, jumping at the chance to have some time alone with him. We would sit together and share mate. It made me feel so grown up.
A spiritual and social experience
While Yerba Mate is something that you can drink by yourself, it is mostly a drink that is shared. It is hard to explain to someone raised in another culture, what the ritual of drinking Yerba Mate can do. I realize, from the outside, Yerba Mate might look like a “weird” kind of drink. Sipping out of a metal straw while holding a gourd isn’t something you see often in the States. Putting yerba into a mate, heating water and sipping mate is also more time consuming than grabbing a coffee at a shop and drinking in your car. But, if you are looking at it in any of these ways, you are missing the whole point.
Mate is both a spiritual and social experience. It engenders friendship, connection, love, communication and intimacy; it helps one to pause and connect with all that is present in life, which I think we could all use a bit more of right now. Life these days seems a bit more stressful than usual. Not sure if it is the political climate, financial insecurity or just that technology has made for every issue need an answer “now.”
More and more, I invite friends over to spend time together. Of course, I offer mate. At first, I think they are surprised at the taste, not expecting the sweet bitterness of the infusion. Often, they will reflect on how comforting it is to hold a mate. A friend had a great analogy and likened the Yerba Mate gourd to a smoker’s pipe; how just feeling it’s warmth is soothing. After a while, when the healing properties of mate kick in, they feel it on another level. The combination of herbal components that allow for an “awoken” calmness to come over the body is something they all comment on. Everyone wants more.
The healing power of Yerba Mate
When I became pregnant, I was told by my medical practitioner to get off of coffee. When I asked about Yerba Mate, she did research, and came back with a resounding “yes.” For me, pregnancy was a bit lonely in that my parents were on the east coast, most of my family was in Argentina and I was on the west coast. So, it was incredibly soothing for me to make mate for myself. Being an extremely sensitive time, it was healing to be able to close my eyes, have the feeling of connection with others in my family and be able to pull up memories that were soothing.
As a toddler, my child was quite precocious. She was always “in action.” At around one year old, as if it were almost by instinct, she started reaching for my mate. I would let her sip from my straw, and she loved it. I think it actually helped her to sit still and eat. Over time, she had opinions about the mate being too sweet or not sweet enough. She liked to choose what mate we drank out of. It was so wonderful to watch her follow in my footsteps, that of my mother, and grandmother.
My daughter is now going through her teenage years. And, like me, it is not so easy for her to open up and tell me what is going on; it would also mean she would have to take a break from electronics, which is a new stressor I couldn’t even have imagined at her age. Mate gives me the excuse to get her to sit with me for a bit and chat. It gives us a both a “reason” and a context to start a discussion. She opens up when we sit for a mate. I am so grateful I established this ritual with her.
This is just one of the many, many ways I have enjoyed the gifts of mate. If you haven’t tried it yet, maybe now is the time to grab a friend, heat up some water and sit for an hour, or two!
One thing I’m sure of, is that you will be amazed by the magic that can occur.