Yerba Maté (Ilex paraguariensis)

yerba mate gourd ilex paraguariensis

Yerba Maté Summary

Yerba maté is a tall tree native to the Amazon rainforest. The leaves of this tree are similar to that of the tea plant. They contain a combination of xanthine alkaloids like caffeine, theobromine, and a small amount of theophylline.

The leaves are dried, roasted, and chopped to make a strong, grassy, stimulating tea. The caffeine and theobromine in the leaves give it a stimulating effect, and is useful for promoting wakefulness and concentration.

Traditional preparations of this tea uses a special cup, traditionally made from a gourd, and a special straw/filter known as a bombilla. In parts of South America this tea is more popular than coffee, and is a staple at social gatherings.


+ Indications

  • Cognitive enhancement
  • Athletic performance enhancement
  • Weight loss support
  • Weight gain prevention
  • Appetite suppression
  • Various digestive complaints
  • As a diuretic
  • Fatigue
  • Aid with sleep deprivation
  • Topically as an astringent
  • Hypercholesterolemia
  • Diabetes
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Metabolic and endocrine disorders
  • As a study or work aid

+ Contraindications

  • Over stimulation
  • Insomnia

+ Mechanisms

  • Adenosine antagonist

Herbal Actions:

  • Antiatherosclerotic
  • Anti-cholesterolemic
  • Antidiabetic
  • Antioxidant
  • Appetite supressant
  • Digestive stimulant
  • Stimulant
  • Cardiac tonic
  • Thermogenic
  • Weight loss supportive

What Is Yerba Maté Used For?

Yerba Maté is useful as a daily tea to promote productivity and wakefulness. it is also a potent source of antioxidants, and is useful for reducing the effects of oxidative damage within the body for a myriad of reasons. It is also commonly used alongside weight loss regimens, and those trying to reach a state of ketosis for its ability to stimulate beta-oxidation in fat tissues.


Traditional Uses of Yerba Maté

+ South America

Traditional use of yerba mate consisted of both chewing the leaves, as well as the commonly known brew (infusion) of its leaves [3].

Upon “discovery” in the early 1600s by Spanish explorers in Paraguay, it increased in popularity among them. As the demand for this herb increased, the Jesuits started to develop plantations in Paraguay and Brazil to supply it, leading to the common name “Jesuits tea” or “Paraguay tea”. This was due in part by demand for the herb, as well as a lack of mineral wealth and population density in Paraguay, leading the Spanish government to classify yerba mate as a mineral in order to provide economic wealth to the region. This lead to early Yerba harvesters to be referred to as mineros (mine workers). As the Jesuits organized “missions”, they often turned to yerba mate production to support their livelihood. It was generally regarded that yerba mate was hard to cultivate, due to the hard coated seeds necessity to be worn down by the ingestion of birds, before germination was at all possible, it is though that the Jesuits figured this out early on, and kept it a secret from their neighbouring colonies, which gave them an advantage in the region. Other reports suggest that a technique whereby fresh yerba mate berries were plucked and soaked, releasing a thick lather, followed by drying, and planting [3, 16].

The traditional method with which this herb was served, is in a small gourd (mate in spanish) used as a cup, and a small tube with a filter on the end to keep the loose leaves out of the drinker's mouth, called a bombilla. The gourd is filled with 30-60% yerba mate leaves, then hot water is added (sometimes cold), occasionally with flavouring agents such as burnt sugar, lemon juice, and/or milk. The beverage is drunk through the bombilla until no water remains, then the gourd is refilled with hot water, and passed to the next person in the circle until the leaves are exhausted. In this way, yerba mate is drunk socially by groups of people from the same gourd. [3, 16].

In Brazil, this herb has been used to stimulate nervous and muscular systems, for digestive complaints, renal colic, nerve pain, depression, fatigue, and obesity. A poultice has also been employed topically for anthrax skin ulcers [16].

Some remnants of yerba mate powder that has been found inside Incan tombs, suggest the plant was linked to prestige, however there exists much disagreement on whether yerba mate was much used by indigenous cultures in pre colonial times [3].


Herb Details: Yerba Maté

Part Used

Leaves and stems

Family Name



South America in the Amazon rainforest and surrounding regions.

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Constituents of Interest

  • Caffeine
  • Theobromine
  • Saponins
  • Chlorogenic acid

Common Names

Yerba Maté Supplies

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Cruz De malta

Cruz De Malta

Made from Ilex paraguariensis leaves (with stems).

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Taragui Red


Made from Ilex paraguariensis (with stems).

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Organic Yerba Maté

Positively Tea Company

Made from Ilex paraguariensis (without stems)

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Expandable Maté Gourd And Bombilla

The Mate Shoppe

Sealable and expandable silicon yerba maté gourd and metal bombilla. Cleaning brush included.

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Carob Wood Yerba Maté Gourd

Made In Argentina

Traditional wood yerba maté gourd made in Argentina from carob wood.

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Easy Clean bombilla

Sold By Sam&Co

Simple, easy to clean yerba maté Bombilla.

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Botanical Information

Yerba maté is contained within the Aquifoliaceae family of plants, otherwise known as the holly family. Thre are about 300 different species in this family, spread between only 4 genuses, with the majority being contained within the Ilex genus. Out of all these species of Ilex, Ilex paraguariensis is preferred by far as medicine. Another species, Ilex huyusa is also popular in some parts of South America, including Ecuador, however, there is far less research on this species than the former.

Yerba mate is a medium sized, slow growing, evergreen tree, growing to a height of 15-20 meters in the wild. When cultivated it is not uncommon for this to be trained into a 4-8 meter shrub instead [16].

As part of the holly family (Aquifoliaceae), it bears the leathery, stiff, leaves that are common in this family. Leaves are oblong, toothed, and dull-mid color green. Has white flowers, and red fruit [13].

The species most commonly used medicinally, as well as recreationally, is Illex paraguariensis, and this is the species sold commercially as well. Another species, Illex guayusa is more commonly referred to as Guayusa (pronounced why-yoo-sah), is used traditionally in Ecuador for much the same purposes, however there is much less scientific literature studying this species, and can be difficult to find commercially.

The wild plant is reported to be unmatched in flavour to cultivated samples.


More Common Names

Yerba Maté, Maté, Erva Maté, Congonha, Erveria, Paraguay Cayi, Terere, Kkiro, Kali Chaye, Paraguay Tea, South American Holly, Mateteestrauch, Erva Verdadeira, St. Bartholomews Tea, Jesuits Tea, Chimarrão.


Harvesting, Collection, Preparation:

+ Harvesting

To harvest from the wild, Terrafeiros or Yebateros (otherwise called mate gatherers), travel through the jungle searching for a stand of trees (called mancha) to harvest its leaves. This typically takes place between May and October when the leaves are fullest. To preserve the trees for subsequent harvests, the leaves are usually only picked once every three years.

More commonly yerba maté plants are cultivated in Paraguay, Uruguay, and Brazil. It takes roughly 4 years before Illex paraguariensis is harvested for the first time — after which it's harvested every two to four years depending on the farmer.

The first harvest is usually about 1-2kg, but after a few decades, it produces closer to 100 kgs per harvest [3, 16].

+ Preparation

The preparation of yerba mate involves many individual processes conducted by different people, yielding many different results in quality, and flavor, in much the same way as tea (Camellia sinensis), and coffee (Coffea arabica). Large scale farms may have mechanized the process and increased efficiency, but it is usually the farms that take special care in the growing, and preparation of this herb that produces the highest quality, and best flavor. There are many brands, large and small, that sell Yerba mate, and all deliver a unique quality and flavor palate in their product.

Various traditional methods are employed to prepare this tea depending on the producer or tradition. In one method, the branches are cut and held over fire (called sapecado), this process is meant to deactivate the enzymes in the leaves, which in turn makes them brittle, and allows the green color to remain while the plant dries over indirect heat (called secado), then the dried product is coarsely ground (called canchada or mborobire). At this point, the herb can be consumed as is, or aged an additional 6 months, then ground more finely (called molida). [3, 16].

Other methods involve par-blanching the leaves in boiling water (also to deactivate the enzymes), then toasted dry in either a pan over a fire or in a brick oven, which will produce a brown colored tea as a finished product.

To consume the beverage, the traditional gourd (mate, usually from a calabash gourd), and bombilla (straw with a filter at the bottom end) are often still employed, however the group "sharing" of the same bombilla is often considered unhygienic by conventional tea drinkers [3].

Yerba mate can also be prepared in the same ways Camellia sinensis or other herbal teas are made, in a teapot, french press, or in tea bags.

The traditional brewing ratio of yerba mate is quite high (the author suggests about 1:4, or more, equalling about ½ to ⅔ of the gourds volume), with a brew time of a few seconds to a few minutes — as it was commonly drunk in social circles and passed from person to person. Conversely, other teas like green tea (Camellia sinensis), is often prepared in smaller concentrations (~1:85).

Even still, medicinal infusions are brewed for a much longer time (sometimes hours) at a much smaller concentration than green tea (1:20), to extract as much medicinal content as possible. The tannins and catechins involved with yerba mate are the constituents associated with the astringent, bitter flavor and are extracted best in long, and hot steeping durations. These are also the constituents associated with possible adverse side effects.


Pharmacology & Medical Research:

+ Antibacterial

Aqueous extract of yerba mate (Taragui; Argentina), has been shown to produce bactericidal, and inhibitory effects against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The antibiotic effects of yerba mate were considered to be due to compounds such as citric acid, caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid, kaempferol, quercetin, quinic acid, and one unidentified compound [2]. Another group of researchers found both the methanolic, and ethanolic extracts of yerba mate active against Staphylococcus aureus, Listeria monocytogenes, and Salmonella Enteritidis, and related the main activity to phenolic compounds, mainly gallic, syringic, caffeic, ferulic and ρ-coumaric acids [7].

+ Diabetes

Yerba mate has the ability to "inhibit the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGE), with an effect comparable to that of two pharmaceutical AGE inhibitor drugs" [16] (page 450). Others report that chlorogenic acid may be involved with these effects on glucose metabolism, and is thought to modulate glucose-6-phosphatase activity [4].In one study, only the roasted yerba mate leaf produced this action in type 2 diabetic and prediabetic patients [5].

+ Cholesterol

The saponins have been reported to interfere with cholesterol metabolism, thus relating its anti-cholesterol effects to this group of chemicals in yerba mate [4]. Another study found that both green and roasted yerba mate infusions lowered LDL, and increased HDL levels in healthy patients, and had a stronger effect on hypercholesterolemic individuals on statin therapy, as well as prediabetic, and type 2 diabetic patients [5].

+ Inflammation

Yerba mates anti-inflammatory effects are due to its ability to inhibit lipoxygenase, which is an enzyme involved in the inflammatory process [16] (page 449). The anti-inflammatory effects noted with yerba mate are resulting from its effect on reducing adipose mass, as well as other constituents contained in yerba mate that may provide anti-inflammatory effects to support this action [4].

Yerba maté was also shown to exhibit anti-inflammatory action through chemopreventive effects in the colon by "suppression of NF-jB signaling pathway via reduction of phosphorylation of IjB-a and GSK-3b" [15] (page 439).

+ Antioxidant

Yerba mate was shown to have potent antioxidant activity. This same study interestingly found that yerba mate was shown to increase the lifespan of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, which is an organism commonly used to test longevity in living organisms. This should not be considered conclusive, but sparks reason to study this action further. These researchers attributed these effects to synergy between the various health-promoting effects provided by the constituents of this herb, including its antioxidant effects. [9].

+ Atherosclerosis

Yerba mate is able to inhibit lipid peroxidation, particularly LDL, which is considered the initiating factor in atherosclerosis. This, combined with other synergistic actions including antioxidant, cholesterol inhibitory, hypoglycemic, as well as some gene modulatory (paraoxonase-2) activity may prevent the mechanisms involved with atherosclerosis [4, 7, 16].

+ Athletic Support

Ingesting yerba mate before light to moderate exercise, enhances fat metabolism without negatively affecting maximal performance [1].

+ Chemoprotective

Yerba mate leaf extract produced possible chemoprotective effects, through its actions on detoxification, antioxidant effects, and its effects on cellular metabolism. [10].

+ Central Nervous System Stimulant

Caffeine, which is contained in fairly high concentrations in Yerba mate, is a known stimulant [6]. Theophylline is also a known heart stimulant [14]. All 3 xanthine alkaloids contained in yerba mate (caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline) are indeed stimulating to the CNS, myocardial muscles, and cause peripheral vasoconstriction, and bronchodilation and relaxation of other smooth muscles [16].

+ Weight Loss Supportive

A study investigating the effects of Ilex paraguariensis on mice fed a high fat diet. They stated that "yerba mate extract has potent anti-obesity activity in vivo. Additionally, we observed that the treatment had a modulatory effect on the expression of several genes related to obesity" [4] (pg 2127). It should be noted that the Yerba mate extract referred to in the study was in fact an instant Yerba mate powder at a dose of 1g /kg, prepared daily in water. This study also noted decreased serum levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL, and glucose compared to the control group, which all have shown direct correlation with obesity.

It is likely that through the synergistic actions of the various effects of yerba mate on cholesterol, LDL oxidation, blood glucose, and visceral fat accumulation, rather than one individual action, that body weight is affected positively.

Yerba mates modulatory effect on the expression of several genes related with obesity is also of significant finding [4], because this may indicate that yerba mate has a significant impact on both the treatment of obesity, as well as its prevention.

Interestingly, researchers in one study noted that the effects of early weaning off breast milk is connected to the development of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and insulin resistance later in life [11]. In this study yerba mate's effects on mice exposed to early weaning off breast milk, were investigated. Researches reported that a yerba mate extraction (aqueous) was able to normalize most of the alterations noted in the mice subjected to early weaning. They also suggested that the effects were due in part to hypothalamic mechanisms (the only source so far the author has found that suggests this, though is a significant finding), and showed possible use for other endocrine-metabolic diseases as well.

These effects, strongly suggest the use of yerba mate for weight, and endocrine-related disorders, but needs further research, especially to further investigate yerba mates effects on the hypothalamus.



The primary active constituents of Yerba mate are xanthine alkaloids such as caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline, as well as saponins (including some novel saponins), chlorogenic acid (10%), caffeic acid, sterols, polyphenols (quercetin, and rutin) as well as containing a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and as much as 15 different amino acids. [4, 16].

Yerba mate has had some claims passed around that it does not contain caffeine, but a different chemical called mateine, which has the same effects but no caffeine side effects, however, this is not true. Caffeine is a known constituent of yerba mate through many scientifically validated independent sources and continues to be confirmed year after year.

The caffeine content in Yerba mate is considered to be between 0.7 and 2% with the average being about 1% [16]. In plants, xanthine alkaloids such as caffeine, and theobromine are bound to tannins, sugars, or phenols and are released during the heating process (coffee, cocoa, and yerba mate are all roasted to release these alkaloids). The “mateine” referred to, is likely to be caffeine still bound to the sugar, tannin, or phenol pre-heating.

Compared to other herbs, guarana (Paulinia cupana) is highest in caffeine concentration (4-8%), followed by Camellia sinensis (black tea) (2.5%-4.5%) with yerba mate (0.7%-2%) considered to have slightly higher caffeine content on average than Coffea spp. (1%-2.5%), then cacao seed (Theobroma cacao) (0.25%) with much less [16].


Clinical Applications Of Yerba Maté:

Medicinally, yerba maté is mainly used as a weight loss supportive, and a cardiotonic. The tea is great as a daily health supplement and is tolerated well by many, even if sensitive to caffeine. The theobromine content in the leaves actively counteracts much of the negative side effects associated with caffeine, such as the jitteriness, anxiety, and heart palpitations.

Tolerance builds quickly to caffeine, whereby the beverage can exert a paradoxical effect on blood pressure and heart contractility. Yerba maté is therefore most useful for reducing the chances of cardiovascular disease if consumed on a regular basis.



Some individuals are highly sensitive to caffeine, and should avoid, or use yerba maté cautiously.



There is likely to be synergy between Yerba mate, damiana (Turnera diffusa), and guarana (Paullinia cupana), which was found to prolong gastric emptying (making patients feel fuller for longer), and reduce overall body weight.


Yerba Maté Terms & Definitions

+ Amargo

“Mate Amargo” means yerba mate that has no additives, such as sugar, agave, honey, lemon, milk, etc.

+ Algarrobo

A common type of wood, aka carob, used to make yerba mate gourds in Argentina.

+ Bombilla

The filtered straw used to sip yerba mate.

+ Canchada

Coarsely ground yerba mate.

+ Cebador

The person who prepares the mate in a mate circle.

+ Chimarrão

Brazilian term meaning yerba mate prepared in hot water without sugar.

+ Despalada

Mate without any stems. A synonym is “sin palos.”

+ Dulce

Mate dulce means sugar has been added to the yerba mate. Sugar is usually added before the hot water is added.

+ Gaucho

Gaucho mate is yerba mate that is common in Brazil and Uruguay and uses very strong, often powdery, yerba mate cuts.

+ Guayusa

Refers to the plant Illex guayusa.

+ Lavado

Spanish for “wash,” used in reference to yerba mate meaning the brew has become watery and needs to be replaced with new leaves. “The mate is lavado.”

+ Maté (also called guampa)

The gourd or vessel used to prepare and drink yerba mate

+ Mate cocido

Hot coals atop a pile of yerba mate, and sprinkling sugar over the leaves caramelizing the sugar before the whole mixture is poured into boiling water.

+ Matero

Yerba mate enthusiast

+ Mborobire

Coarsely ground yerba mate.

+ Mineros

Meaning “mine workers.” This referred to early yerba mate harvesters in Paraguay, due to yerba mate being classified as a mineral during that time for economic reasons.

+ Molida

Finely ground mate, usually the finished product that is then packaged and shipped around the world for consumption.

+ Palos

Small white twigs included in some yerba mate to enhance its flavor, providing added sweetness and adds smooth flavor to the mate.

+ Palo santo

Bulnesia sarmientoi. This Amazonian wood is often used to make mate gourds, offering its strong, dense, and aromatic qualities. A gourd made of this wood imparts a smoky, pine-like taste to the beverage. Often found in Argentina, Paraguay, and Bolivia. The resin of this wood has healing properties of its own.

+ Polvo

Meaning powder. This refers to the dust contained in Yerba mate preparations. Many companies will remove this dust, however, in a small amount, this polvo will help the mate stick together, and impart added flavor, making the cycle last longer.

+ Sin Palo

Yerba mate without twigs, some consider the mate is harsher without these twigs.

+ Tapado

Meaning clogged. This term refers to the bombilla used to drink yerba mate when it becomes plugged. “El mate este tapado.”

+ Terrafeiros

Wild yerba mate harvesters.

+ Terere (Portuguese)

Yerba mate that is brewed cold comes from traditions in Paraguay due to the hot summer months.

+ Secado

The process where yerba mate is dried over a gentle heat usually takes place after sepecado.

+ Sapecado

The process of cutting yerba mate branches, and holding them over a fire to halt the oxidation process from occurring, and discoloring the leaves during drying.

+ Yerba canchada

Refers to the roasted, dried, and coarsely ground Illex paraguariensis “tea” that has not been aged further, or ground finely the way most yerba mate is sold.

+ Yerbales

Yerba mate orchards

+ Yebateros

Wild yerba mate harvesters

+ Yuyos

Herbs and roots used in traditional remedies in Paraguay that are then added to yerba mate. Some examples include peppermint, cilantro, chamomile, etc.



Justin Cooke, BHSc

The Sunlight Experiment

(Updated November 2018)


Recent Blog Posts:


  1. Ahmad Alkhatib. (2014). Yerba Maté (Illex Paraguariensis) ingestion augments fat oxidation and energy expenditure during exercise at various submaximal intensities. Nutrition & Metabolism. 11:42.

  2. Caroline S. Rempe, Kellie P. Burris, Hannah L. Woo, Benjamin Goodrich, Denise Koessler Gosnell, Timothy J. Tschaplinski, C. Neal Stewart, Jr. (2015). Computational Ranking of Yerba Mate Small Molecules Based on Their Predicted Contribution to Antibacterial Activity against Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus. PLOS ONE. | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0123925 May 8, 2015

  3. Christine Folch. (2010). Stimulating Consumption: Yerba Mate Myths, Markets, and Meanings from Conquest to Present. Comparative Studies in Society and History. 52(1). 6-36. Retrieved from the web.

  4. D. P Arcari, W. Bartchewsky, T. W. dos Santos, K. A. Oliveira, A. Funck, J. Pedrazzoli, M. F. F. de Souza, M. J. Saad, D. H. M. Bastos, A. Gambero, P. de O. Carvalho, and M. L. Ribeiro. (2009). Antiobesity Effects, of yerba mate Extract, (Illex paraguariensis) in High-fat Diet-induced Obese Mice. Obesity. 17. 2127-2133.

  5. Elenise Stucker Fernandes M.Sc, Marcos de Oliveira Machado Ph.D, Aline Minuzzi Becker M.Sc, Fernanda de Andrade M.Sc, Marcelo Maraschin Ph.D, Edson Luiz da Silva Ph.D. (2012). Yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis) enhances the gene modulation and activity of paraoxonase-2: In vitro and in vivo studies. Nutrition. 28. 1157-1164.

  6. G. Fisone, A. Borgkvist and A. Usiello. (2004). Caffeine as a psychomotor stimulant: mechanism of action. Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences. Vol. 61. 857-872. DOI 10.1007/s00018-003-3269-3

  7. José G. Prado Martin*, Ernani Porto, Severino M. de Alencar, Eduardo M. da Glória, Cristina B. Corrêa, and Ingridy S. Ribeiro Cabral. (2013). Antimicrobial activity of yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis St. Hil.) against food pathogens. Revista Argentina de Microbiologia. 45(2). 93-98.

  8. Lorenzi, H., & Instituto Plantarum de Estudos da Flora. (2009). Brazilian trees: A guide to the identification and cultivation of Brazilian native trees. Nova Odessa, SP: Instituto Plantarum de Estudos da Flora.

  9. Maria E. Lima, Ana C. Colpo, Willian G. Salgueiro, Guilherme E. Sardinha, Daiana S. Ávila and Vanderlei Folmer. (2014). Ilex paraguariensis Extract Increases Lifespan and Protects Against the Toxic Effects Caused by Paraquat in Caenorhabditis elegans. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 11, 10091-10104; doi:10.3390/ijerph111010091

  10. M. Frant, M. Czajka, and R. Paduch. (2012). Yerba Mate (Illex paraguariensis) effect on human colon normal and tumor cells. IJPSR. vol. 3(12). 4730-4737.

  11. Natalia da S. Lima, Juliana G. Franco, Nayara Peixoto-Silva, Lıgia A. Mai, Andrea Kaezer, Israel Felzenszwalb, Elaine de Oliveira, Egberto G. de Moura, Patricia Cristina Lisboa. (2014). Ilex paraguariensis (yerba mate) improves endocrine and metabolic disorders in obese rats primed by early weaning. Eur J. Nutr. Vol. 53. 73-82. DOI 10.1007/s00394-013-0500-3

  12. Pennington, T. D., Reynel, C., Daza, A., & Wise, R. (2004). Illustrated guide to the trees of Peru. Sherborne, England: D. Hunt.

  13. Rodd, T. (2005). Flora's trees & shrubs. Ultimo, NSW: ABC Books.

  14. Sessler, Curtis N. (1996). Taking the effects of theophylline to heart. Consultant. Vol. 35.

  15. Sirima Puangpraphant, Vermont P. Dia, Elvira Gonzalez de Mejia, Guadalupe Garcia, Mark A. Berhow Matthew A. Wallig. (2013).Yerba mate tea and mate saponins prevented azoxymethane-induced inflammation of rat colon through suppression of NF-jB p65ser signaling via IjB-a and GSK-3b reduced phosphorylation. International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Volume 39(4). 430-440. DOI: 10.1002/biof.1083

  16. Taylor, L. (2005). The healing power of rainforest herbs: A guide to understanding and using herbal medicinals. Garden City Park, NY: Square One Publishers