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What is a Yerba Mate Gourd?

The name "Mate" derives from the quechaun word "matí" which means "vessel" or "glass" and was used by the Spaniards during the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata because it was easier to pronounce for them rather than the word "Caá-i-guá", the original guaraní voice that named the container that had the yerba mate water. That´s why the word "mate" became more popular to name the gourd that is traditionally used to drink the yerba mate infusion. The Yerba Mate Cup most commonly used is a gourd of the Lagenaria Vulgaris, a climbing plant which grows in the same region as Yerba Mate. Gourds were the earliest plant species domesticated by humans and were originally used by man as containers or vessels before clay or stone pottery, and is sometimes referred to as "nature's pottery". The gourd is put to dry and hollowed out. It can have several forms; poro, which has the form of a pear; galleta, which means cracker because it´s flat and round (galleta gourds are hard to find). Traditionally poro is used for sweet mate and the galleta for bitter mate or "Cimarrón" although of course it´s a personal matter. In order to identify their own yerba mate cup, the Indians and the Spaniards started carving their names on it or they painted the mate. They also covered the yerba mate gourd with leather to protect it, especially in those provinces where it was difficult to get a mate gourd. When the yerba mate gourd became a luxury good, the silversmiths started ornamenting it with all sorts of decorations. The whole vessel was then made of silver, keeping the form of the original gourd. Since the mate gourd cannot always stand by itself, the silversmiths created beautiful bases for them. Wood vessels, bamboo tubes and gourd-shaped ones, made of ceramic or metal (stainless steel or even silver) are also common. Both the yerba mate gourd and the wood vessels require a special treatment (called curing) to get a better taste before being used for the first time and to ensure the long life of gourd.

This article was published on Monday 26 July, 2010.
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