Discussions about our continual search to decrease our dependence on a broken system often occur at the kitchen table over coffee or tea. Although our homestead offers up a bounty of non-caffeinated beverage sources, we admit it. We like our caffeine and have been searching for a way to produce our own. One of our next projects will be to plant and learn to use Yaupon Holly.
Yaupon Holly, Cassina or Carolina Tea (Ilex vomitoria), a indigenous to the southeastern United States, is the only native source of caffeine in North America. Yaupon Holly is related to South American Yerba Mate and was used both by colonists as a substitute for tea and by Native Americans. Though the somewhat unpleasant Latin name refers to Yaupon as an ingredient in the Native American ceremonial “Black Drink”, most recent references state that the emetic effects attributed to Yaupon Holly are simply a result of the caffeine content in combination with other plants used in the mixture along with ritual ingestion of excessive quantities. A 2002 study reported no emetic properties in Yaupon. University of Florida biology students researching Yaupon report:
“The so called “black drink” was prepared by heavily steeping the leaves and stems of yaupon in water over an open flame for several hours until all the caffeine was removed, the acidity increased, and most of the liquid had evaporated, leaving the tea a dark black color, hence its name (Hudson 1979). This heavy infusion was not the form in which it was consumed daily by colonists, who often compared the taste of yaupon holly tea to that of Asian teas (Camellia sinensis) (Hudson 1979). “
Yaupon leaves for tea can be used either green or roasted. Like coffee and tea, Yaupon Holly contains quantities of beneficial antioxidants.
Yaupon occurs in Oklahoma in extreme southeastern counties and is found is moist understory. The naturally occurring variety is in the form of a small tree but commercially available cultivars range from trees to mini-shrubs. Marcum’s Nursery in Goldsby, Oklahoma carries several selections.