This past Sunday, I was invited to drink mate at a lovely sheikha‘s house in the Chouf mountains. Mate is a green herb popular and traditional in Argentina and other parts of South America; the Druze community in Lebanon has imported yerba maté into their villages in the Chouf mountains; it has become an intrinsic part of the social traditions. Maté is not only reputed for its numerous health benefits but it is also a social drink.
To drink maté, one must acquire a gourd and a straw (called mate and bombilla in Spanish). The straw is cleaned by rubbing it with a lemon peel; first, the sheikha asked me if if I liked it sweet or unsweetened. I took a sip or two then it was her turn. The gourd is passed around and one will drink numerous cups of it and chat leisurely.
The taste is grassy, but pleasant.
Sheikha told me that maté is a drink that gives her energy and reduces her stress. When I read about its health benefits, I was astounded. (Summary at the bottom).
While I was there, I met the Sheikh and his son, both poets; they graciously recited their short and eloquent poems (which I recorded and will post on youtube once I translate them); the poems were delightful. We talked openly about many topics, including what is required of one to become a sheikha (and wear the veil).
I found out that the sheikha loved to cook and made everything from scratch; she even roasted her own coffee beans (drinking Arabic coffee as well) with a traditional large spoon made specifically for that purpose. She gave me a jar of her homemade tomato paste ( a far cry from the usual stuff we buy at the supermarket) with a recipe (coming up). It was such an enriching encounter.
Health benefits of maté:
Aids weight loss; alleviates depression, anxiety; helps with allergies; antioxidant; stimulant; strengthens the heart; boosts immunity; aids digestion; anti-inflammatory; hypotensive; reduces wrinkles; improves memory; diuretic; vitamins.