The antiherpes effects of the crude extract obtained from Ilex paraguariensis leaves (yerba mate) and their purified fractions were investigated. The most active fraction was selected and assayed to determine the viral multiplication steps upon which it acted. In order to detect the major components of this fraction, thin layer chromatography (TLC) analysis was performed. The antiviral activity was evaluated against HSV-1 and HSV-2 by a viral plaque number reduction assay (IC(50) ) and the cytotoxicity by a MTT assay (CC(50) ). According to the obtained results, all tested samples showed antiherpes activity at noncytotoxic concentrations, and the ethyl acetate fraction was the most active (SI = CC(50) /IC(50) = 188.7 and 264.7 for HSV-1 and HSV-2, respectively). The results also demonstrated that this fraction exerts antiviral activity by the reduction of viral infectivity, the inhibition of virus entry into cells and cell-to-cell virus spread, as well as by the impaired levels of ICP27, ICP4, gD and gE proteins of HSV-1. The TLC analysis showed that this fraction contains monodesmosidic triterpenoid saponins, matesaponin-1 (a bidesmosidic one), caffeic and chlorogenic acids and rutin, which suggests that they could act synergistically and be responsible for the detected antiherpes activity.