Leaves of yerba mate were used by the Guaraní people before the Conquista. The oldest written document mentioning it is a Spanish chronicle of 1537. It describes a beverage prepared by the natives of Guayrá region, drunk in a small gourd through a pipe made of tacuapí cane and wrapped in a fabric. The Spanish called the beverage yerba mate. In Spanish yerba or hierba means just a herb or a grass. It is the equivalent of Guaraní word ka'a. The word mate most probably derives from the Quechua language, in which matí means a gourd.
At the beginning the Spanish were reluctant to the unknown stimulant. In 1596 the governor of Asunción Arias de Saavedra issued a decree, which forbade drinking of mate. However gradually – also because of the support of Jesuits, who considered mate a good alternative to alcohol, mainly chicha and guarapo – yerba mate was gaining importance. It were Jesuits, who mastered the technique of yerba mate cultivation (ca 1670) and established first plantations by villages and reductions. Yerba, which was produced by them, was used not only in the area of present Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay but also exported to the viceroyalty of Peru and the captaincy general of Chile. The Jesuits quickly understood that firstly, due to yerba Guaraní workers worked longer and more effectively, and secondly, the cultivation of yerba mate may be a good source of revenues. The Jesuits almost exclusively controlled the production until the dissolution of the order in 1767.
In the next years the production on plantations was decreasing and most yerba was harvested from wild growing trees. As a result of the liberation wars the area of yerba mate occurrence was parted between the newly established states. At first most of the production came from Paraguay. At the same time the harvests in Brazil were increasing and Argentina – the biggest consumer – introduced a number of decrees regulating the production of yerba and encouraging farmers to establish plantations. Also scientific research was undertaken to work out methods of growing trees from seeds (Jesuits strongly guarded this secret and took it away).
In the middle of the 20th century in Misiones province in Argentina there were some 40 thousand colonists. Around 25% of them grew yerba mate. In this group there were many Poles, who came to Argentina with a first big “bread” emigration and together with the colonists from Ukraine were settled in Misiones province, mainly in two centers: Apóstoles (established in 1897) and Azara (1901). They played very active role in the development of the yerba mate plantations. Nowadays many leading companies and plantations still belong to their descendants. One of them was Julian Szychowski, establisher of the La Cachuera farm, which produce very popular brand Amanda. His son Jan also significantly contributed to the development of the yerba mate industry and in 1985 he was awarded posthumous Yerba Mate medal by the Ministry of Agriculture. The company is currently one of four biggest yerba mate producers in Argentina.