Yerba mate is just one of many jewels found in the treasure chest of the South American rainforest.
Leslie Taylor, ND has earned many titles, but none seems to give her more delight than her moniker “White Witch of the Amazon.” The dynamic Texan tells a fascinating story of fighting off death with the help of a secret weapon – herbs from the South American rainforest. I found Leslie’s story so compelling that I doggedly pursued her for an interview for more than a year and a half. This post is about more than yerba mate; it’s about the benefits of all rainforest herbs.
Early in my study of yerba mate, I found the Tropical Plant Database.It is truly one of the best Internet references I ever found and I have always provided a direct link to the data about yerba mate. Talking with the owner/author of the site was a “must do” quest for me.
My September 2008 interview had been scheduled months ahead of time and I arrived at Raintree Nutrition, Inc. headquarters in Carson City, Nevada a few minutes before my 2:00 pm appointment. Following a cordial greeting, I sat down in Leslie Taylor’s office and was promptly given the third degree!
She wanted to know if I worked for any company that sold yerba mate or herbal products. Of course my answer was “No.” Then she asked if I had been hired by any such company to write about yerba mate. Same answer. She explained that she did not want to be a part of any “pseudo-research” that would bias an innocent consumer. I would say “amen” to that. Finally, I guess I passed her test, so we both relaxed and had a great conversation.
Taylor had been an active Texas businesswoman before she was diagnosed with acute myeloblastic leukemia in her early twenties. She called it a “gut cancer” and said: “It’s 100% fatal, 100% of the time.” This was not the prognosis anyone I know would want to hear.
Leslie dutifully went to the M. D. Anderson Cancer Clinic in Houston for treatment and as she describes it: “I became their lab rat on all of this experimental stuff.” After 18 months of their treatments, the result was that she was dying from the treatments.
She had developed holes in her liver; her endocrine system was failing; and she was experiencing liver toxicity and renal failure. A side effect of one of the drugs meant to stimulate her pituitary gland even caused her to grow an inch and a half!
Then the doctors gave up on her and sent her home to die at age 24.
With nothing to lose, Leslie tenaciously began investigating “alternative” medicine. She immersed herself in a study of herbal medicines, diet, nutrition and other natural healing treatments. After another 18 months of her self-prescribed treatment she was diagnosed as “cancer free.” I asked if she thought she was cured or if the cancer was just in remission. She said: “I was over and done with that by the time I was 26. I just turned 50 this year, so (after) 25 years, I don’t think you can call that remission.”
You’re probably wondering: “Does Leslie Taylor drink yerba mate?” Yes, she does drink yerba mate on occasion; but no, the herbal formula that ultimately healed her did not include yerba mate.
Once cured, Taylor pursued her interest in herbal medicines, eventually traveling to the Amazon rainforest in Peru and Brazil. Her interest turned into a calling and she began working with indigenous curanderos (“healers”) and shamans.
Shamans are the spiritual mediums and healers of various rainforest tribes. Taylor says in the U.S. they would be called herbalists. She worked closely with these tribal shamans to learn more about the healing powers of the rainforest herbs.
These tribal societies are strictly patriarchal and only men are recognized as shamans. Women can only rise to the rank of “witch” – a class lower than a shaman. Through her work Taylor became known as the Bruja Blanca, or “White Witch” of the Amazon.
I asked if there were any herbs that she took daily. She smiled and said: “Everyone asks me that! I believe that herbal medicine is medicine. And, I believe you need it when you are sick.”
She went on to explain that we all need certain vitamins and other nutrients for general health and well being and even referred to the old adage “You are what you eat.” Her philosophy is that if you’re not eating well, you take vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients to make up for the deficiency. Taylor noted that when she is traveling a lot and cannot maintain a proper diet, she will take a multi-vitamin; and if she is planning to be in the sun for any length of time, she will take a capsule that contains a natural sunscreen. “Everyone is looking for a magic bullet,” she says “that justifies a bad lifestyle habit.”
Her company sells herbs in a capsule form and also as extracts. I was interested to learn about making yerba mate as an extract. She quickly pointed out that Raintree Nutrition does not sell a yerba mate capsule or extract. They only sell it in a bulk form. It is a green, unroasted, wild-harvested Brazilian yerba mate that is finely milled into a leaf powder. It could be used to make capsules or extracts however.
When I pursued the idea of a yerba mate extract, I was treated to a university-level lecture on the process of making an herbal extract. She said it can be done of course, but she was somewhat skeptical that the extract would retain the same nutritional profile of yerba mate which is very complex.
Taylor expressed concern that tests to determine the potency and efficacy of a good yerba mate extract could overly emphasize the caffeine content. The danger being, out of all the nutrients in yerba mate, if the caffeine content was the only measurement standard, a producer could be tempted to just add caffeine to meet the standard. She said nobody really understands the unique effect and relationship of all the nutrients present in yerba mate.
By this time, I wondered if perhaps she was “anti-yerba mate” and she assured me that she wasn’t because some of the proprietary Raintree product formulas contain yerba mate. She mentioned one of the products used for allergies as an example.
I learned a lot more about herbal medicines than I can share in this space; but you can learn more about the life and work of Leslie Taylor from her websites at: http://www.rain-tree.com and http://www.leslietaylor.net, or from her book: The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs – A Guide to Understanding and Using Herbal Medicinals. I encourage you to do so.
Meanwhile, I think I need a mate!