The history of Mate and how it came to be a National Argentine Drink
History says that a man named Irala, who was on several expeditions throughout South America at the time, saw this drink that we call Mate in Argentina for the first time in 1537 on the native Indians from the land. It was only really confirmed when in 1544 another man named Hernando Arias de Saavedra wrote on his traveling journals that he saw the natives carrying a leather sack called guayaca, which inside contained crushed herbs called Ka’a and that they would serve this in a dried pumpkin shell called Mati. He wrote that the natives would either chew on these herbs or serve it with water on the Mati and suck the tea out of a straw made out of a cane called Tacuara. Just like Argentines do today.
Mate survived extinction by the Jesuit missions of the 1600’s and their desire to abolish it because it was labeled a drug of sorts and prohibited to the residents – only to later be allowed once again in preference to alcohol consumption. It also went on to be exported to Europe as the “Tea of the Jesuits” with not much repercusion or popularity therefore losing it’s charm to colonizers.
In 1810 the Argentine General Manuel Belgrano in his expedition to Paraguay, again kept the Mate alive by dictating a ban prohibiting the cutting down of Yerba mate trees and fining those who did. This is a point of reference to the importance that this cultural national drink was beginning to have on the early population of Argentina and of course Paraguay and Brazil.
They also say the Argentine Gaucho had a big part in keeping the Mate alive and that this drink was the perfect companion to the lonely pampean Gaucho.
By 1881, five German families were formed in San Bernardino, a colony in the Paraguayan border of Argentina. It’s main founder was Bernhard Forster – once a professor at the Univ. of Berlin known for his racist and nationalist/socialist ideology – who moved to Paraguay with his wife Elizabeth Nietzche (sister of the famed philosopher) to start this colony. In 1896, one of the temporary residents of this german colony was a man named Federico Neumann who through trial and error achieved a new method to grow Mate based on the native techniques that had been lost through the colonization of the land.
Mate only grew in hot and humid earth therefore making the southern end of Brazil, Paraguay and the northern part of Argentina the ideal place to grow it. For this and the fact that you need fresh seeds (not dried) to grow it, Mate could not be transported to other zones even to those with similar climate conditions for its harvest.
Only after Neumanns numerous investigations and research Mate begins to be harvested by 1911 and expands through to Uruguay and other parts of South America in 1935.