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 Siceraria, 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. To learn how to cure a yerba mate gourd, please click here
Tips to Prevent Mold / Spots from Forming in Your Yerba Mate Gourd
It is common for a black or green spots to grow inside the gourd if it´s not left to dry properly between uses. Normally these dark spots will appear 24 to 36 hrs after the gourd is left with moisture. Most of the times THIS IS NOT MOLD. These dark "moldy looking" spots appear because the leaves naturally leave a green tint to the inside of the gourd which is not mold but just a bleeding of the color of the leaves. When you have finished using your gourd for the day, it is very important that you rinse it well with warm water (no soap, please!!!) and dry it out well with a paper towel. Put another dry paper towel inside the gourd and let it thoroughly dry overnight. Also turning the gourd upside down overnight will help the moisture to be collected on the paper towel. If you still notice some spots and you are not ok with them, you may rinse out the inside of the gourd with a little lemon juice, then plain water and let it sit out in the sun for several hours. If you ever have mold in your gourd, you will notice white spots over the dark ones. This hardly ever happens unless you leave a moisture for a long time, especially in hot weather conditions. Remember that despite any effort you do, you will not bring the gourd back to its original state at the time you you purchased it.
Mold or tint will not harm you in any way nor will it make your gourd unuseable.
How to Repair or Fix a Tiny Leak in your Mate Gourd
If you happen to have a tiny leak in your gourd, as occasionally may occur with a natural product, you may use clear nail acrylic on the outside to seal it without it being noticable.
Old yerba mate gourds or cups are rare and sought by collectors, who are always after them.