Yerba Mate Plant Profile

A subtropical native, this plant thrives in an indoor environment

Yerba Mate Plant leaves close up

emer1940 / Getty Images

Yerba Mate (Ilex paraguariensis) is an evergreen tree native to the subtropical regions of South America. It's a member of the Holly family (Aquifoliaceae) and often grows up to ten meters in height - or sometimes more.

The caffeine-infused leaves have been used for many centuries to make a brewed beverage similar to tea. First consumed by indigenous Guaraní people in Paraguay, Mate has become a common drink in many South American countries. It's now also produced in Brazil and Argentina and is slowly growing in popularity in other parts of the world.

The thick, dark leaves provide color and interest year-round, and small white flowers also blossom in late fall and early winter. In late spring and early summer, small red berries appear on the tree which the seeds come from.

Yerba Mate can be grown successfully indoors in pots, but it has pretty specific requirements for outdoor planting. Unless you live in a hot and humid region that receives plenty of rainfall, it's not going to be suited to your garden.

Botanical Name Ilex paraguariensis
Common Name Yerba Mate Plant, Maté, Yerba Matá, Paraguay Tea
Plant Type Evergreen tree/shrub
Mature Size Up to 15 meters
Sun Exposure Full Sun/Partial Shade
Soil Type Tolerates a variety, but should be well-drained
Soil pH Preference for slightly acidic, but tolerates a variety
Bloom Time Late fall/early winter
Flower Color Green White
Hardiness Zones Up to 9
Native Area Subtropical regions of South America
Close up of the flowers are berries on a Yerba Mate Plant
The small fragrant blossoms and red berries of the Yerba Mate Plant. Stickpen / Wikimedia Commons
Yerba Mate Leaves turned into tea
The leaves of the Yerba Mate Plant make a popular type of tea. studioflara / Getty Images

How to Grow Yerba Mate Plant

This plant thrives in the right conditions, but it won't be suited to every garden. Used to growing in a subtropical climate, Yerba Mate needs lots of moisture and warm temperatures.

It'll do well in pots on your windowsill, but don't attempt to grow it in your garden if you're in an arid climate or you experience harsh winters.

Light

If you have a very shady garden, the Yerba Mate isn't going to be the plant for you. It does best in full sunlight but can also cope with partial shade if the temperatures are right.

Soil

The Yerba Mate plant prefers a rich, loamy, well-drained soil that absorbs and retains moisture well.

Water

Your Yerba Mate needs consistently moist conditions, and you shouldn't let the soil dry out. This is not a drought-tolerant plant!

Temperature and Humidity

The Yerba Mates likes to be warm. It'll only thrive if the temperatures stay above 60 degrees F for most of the year. It can tolerate slightly lower temperatures, but this should only be for short periods.

If winter temperatures go below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, this could kill your plant.

The plant likes a humid, moist heat. It can tolerate humidity levels down to around 50%, but it won't survive in overly dry environments.

Fertilizer

While you're establishing seedlings, they'll benefit from regular fertilization.

Propagating Yerba Mate

Make sure you select a semi-wood, mature cutting during late summer, and they should be dipped in rooting hormone before you plant them.

It can be very challenging to get cuttings from young plants to root successfully. So, ideally, you want to select from a mature, established plant

Pruning

To encourage a full and healthy growth, your Yerba Mate will benefit from controlled pruning. The leaves can start to grow outwards excessively if they aren't cut back.

If you want to retain a lower shrub shape, pruning will also be required. Yerba Mate trees can easily grow to be up to ten meters tall, and some have reached heights of over 15 meters!

Harvesting

Mate is known to be packed with vitamins and minerals, and studies have shown it could have a multitude of health benefits.

If you're growing your Yerba Mate Plant from seeds, be prepared for a few years wait before it's mature enough to harvest the leaves for tea.

Don't forget that yerba mate leaves contain high quantities of caffeine, so the brew shouldn't be drunk in excessive quantities.

If you're drying the leaves yourself, be prepared for a different taste from the tea purchased from professional cultivators.

The type of soil, levels of moisture, and temperatures can all impact on the flavor. So can the drying process, and you won't have access to the sophisticated drying facilities that are used for large scale production.

Dried stems, as well as the leaves, are usually added to the mix to create a slightly softer flavor.

Being Grown in Containers

Unless you have the right climate, the slow-growing Yerba Mate is best suited to being grown in a container indoors. Providing they're positioned in a sunny spot and kept moist; they tend to thrive.

Because of their ability to grow out and up, you'll want to regularly prune them to prevent them becoming too tall or wide.

Growing From Seeds

Growing Yerba Mate from seeds can be a challenge. They need to be planted quickly after harvesting to prevent them from losing their ability to germinate. Even with the right timing and conditions, success isn't guaranteed.

Yerba Mate seeds aren't readily available in garden centers either. You'll likely have to purchase them from a reputable online specialist.

When buying seeds like this, they'll have to go through a cold stratification process, but their likelihood of germinating is reduced in comparison to those planted immediately after harvesting.

Ideally, germination will begin in a sheltered and warm environment, like a greenhouse. During this stage, it's best to keep the seedlings out of harsh, direct sunlight.

This plant is notoriously slow to establish. Transplanting the seedlings to their permanent position, ideally, shouldn't be done until they have had at least 12 months to start rooting.

Don't expect any flowering until a few years after germination.