When Spaniards first landed in what they call the Southern Cone of South America, they saw the Natives drinking a type of green tea in little gourds. They poured hot water into the gourd and sucked it through a straw with a little filter on the bottom. The Spaniards were surprised the Natives had few health problems, even though their diet was almost all meat. The tea they were drinking was full of vitamin C. The Spaniards picked up the custom of drinking the tea from the Natives. The tea is made from a plant called yerba mate in Spanish, erva mate in Portuguese, and ka'a in Guarani. It grows to about twenty feet tall. The process of preparing the leaves for drinking is to pick them, roast them in an oven with different woods for flavoring and mill them into small pieces. Incidentally, the Native Americans in what is now the Southeastern United States did something similar with the Cassina tree leaves. The trees are relatives of the Ilex family, which I believe makes them Hollies. The custom has been lost in the United States, but Argentines, Uruguayans, Paraguayans and Brazilians still drink yerba mate. In Buenos Aires, it is common to pass around the mate among friends. People drink it with sugar, honey or other sweet stuff in the cup (guampa in Spanish). They eat little cakes or donuts while they drink. The guampas are made of wood mostly, but I have seen guampas made of cow horns and I have actually seen people who still use little gourds in the countryside. The drink is called mate and when it is passed around, the particular turn to drink is called one's mate. As in, "Here, Juan, your mate." One person, normally the youngest in the group serves the hot water and passes the guampa around. In the countryside, the water is used like an infusion for different herbal remedies. I have seen people put many, many different plants in the water. Each has its own medicinal properties. One little example would be anis, which is used as a digestive aid. Chamomile is also a popular additive to the water. There must be books somehwere about the properties of each plant, but most people just learned from their parents or older people. One curiosity in the history of mate is the way the Paraguayans drink it. They often drink it with ice water instead of hot. They call it terere in Guarani. Some say this custom came about during the war with the Bolivians. The Paraguayans could not make fires to heat their water, because it would give away their fighting positions. The Bolivians did not drink mate. They chewed coca leaves. So the Paraguayans began drinking terere. Paraguay is a very hot country, anyway, and cold water suits the weather. It is also common to drink the yerba mate with milk. The milk is cooked with a bit of burnt sugar, and they throw in some yerba mate. They drink it just like that, with no straw. Mate dulce is mate normally with milk, sugar, and coconut drunk through the straw. Mate cocido is with milk, without the straw. Cocido negro is popular in Buenos Aires. It is cooked mate without the milk, drunk without the straw. Mate amargo is popular in the countryside. It is mate through the straw, no milk, no sweet stuff. It is common to see the cowboys up with the sun with their mate, thinking over what they'll do all day. It is all very tasty. I have seen it recently in health food stores. Some people claim it cures this or that, but I don't know just how many or what vitamins it has. It is a slight diuretic. It is a fascinating custom. I remember hearing the Tango "Noche Triste" for the first time, sung by Gardel. A man loses a woman, and misses her everywhere. He looks at his guitar, nobody plays it, he looks at his room, it is untidy and lonely. He still carries around little cakes to eat with his mate as if she were still there. "Siempre llevo bizcochitos pa' tomar con matecitos, como si estuvieras vos."