Yaupon: A Healthy & Eco-Friendly Coffee Alternative

If you live in the southeastern United States, you may be familiar with the native plant called yaupon (Ilex vomitoria). Also known as cassina, yaupon holly, or Christmas berry, yaupon is a common evergreen shrub that grows throughout the southeastern states. It’s a type of holly with beautiful red berries that last over winter.

What you might not know is that Native American people used to roast the leaves and shoots of yaupon to brew into a very popular tea. Yaupon is also the only known plant native to North America that naturally contains caffeine. Now yaupon tea is making a comeback, and there are some excellent reasons to try yaupon instead of your usual tea or coffee.

“THE BELOVED TREE”

Centuries ago, yaupon was such a valuable commodity that Native American traders shipped the dried leaves from the southeastern states all the way to Cahokia, an ancient city that was near modern-day St. Louis, Missouri. It was a trek of many hundreds of miles.

Native Americans used yaupon in ceremonies meant to purify the body. Yaupon tea, known as “black drink”, was also consumed as a daily drink and offered to guests as a gesture of friendship. When the naturalist William Bertram travelled through North Carolina in 1775, he reported that the Cherokee people called yaupon “the beloved tree.” Yaupon was even exported to Europe by early settlers until Asian teas eclipsed yaupon in popularity.

IS YAUPON GOOD FOR YOU?

Limited research has been done on yaupon so far, but it has been found to contain caffeine as well as theobromine, a compound that gives chocolate its distinctive bitter taste. Theobromine is also known to boost mood and happiness.

Yaupon contains less caffeine than regular tea or coffee, but it contains more theobromine. It’s said that this ratio gives you a similar “buzz” to tea and coffee, without the jittery feeling that can go with them.

Yaupon also contains tannins, which are the compounds that give your mouth a dry and puckery feeling after drinking tea or coffee. Yaupon has comparatively less tannins and won’t develop an unpleasant, astringent flavor if accidentally over-steeped like tea.

In addition, yaupon is rich in antioxidants, which are shown to fight inflammation and help prevent degenerative diseases.

Related: 11 Ways Caffeine Boosts Your Health

A LOCALLY GROWN ALTERNATIVE TO TEA AND COFFEE

Despite the popularity of modern tea and coffee, these crops can have a dark side. In many parts of the world, farmers are not paid adequately and have to tolerate poor working conditions. Forests are being destroyed to make way for massive coffee and tea plantations, which threaten local ecosystems as well as increase the use of harmful chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

It can be difficult to find out where the coffee you buy comes from and whether or not it was ethically produced. That’s what makes yaupon tea an important alternative. A few small farmers in the southeastern United States have started producing their own yaupon tea, and they’ll happily talk to you about how their farms operate.

Some companies wild-harvest yaupon for tea production instead. Again, they are easy to contact for a discussion on whether or not their harvesting practices are ethical and sustainable.

Yaupon is also catching on as a sustainably- and locally-grown alternative to tea and coffee in cafes and restaurants throughout the southeastern states.

Ilex_vomitoriaYaupon (Photo Credit: By Luteus, from Wikimedia Commons)

HARVESTING AND PREPARING YOUR OWN YAUPON

If you live in the southeastern U.S., you can try wild-harvesting yaupon. Yaupon can be a pest species to many farmers, where it encroaches on hay fields and pastures. Ask a local farmer or rancher if you can harvest some of their yaupon. They’ll likely be more than happy to give you as much as you can take.

You can also collect yaupon from wild areas, although be sure to only take small amounts across a large area to prevent harming individual plants.

If you live in a climate warm enough, you can grow your own crop of yaupon. It makes an attractive hedge or specimen plant, and yaupon tends to be disease-free, moderately fast-growing, and very drought-tolerant once established.

Most commercial growers only use the leaves of yaupon, but traditionally Native Americans used the stems as well. You can experiment with a variety of methods of drying and using yaupon. Walter Reeves has a good overview of successful methods he’s used for harvesting and preparing yaupon.

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90 comments

Janis K
Janis K14 hours ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Richard B
Richard B17 hours ago

Thanks very much

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Danny C
Danny C2 days ago

I will definitely give yaupon a try. Thank you for sharing. :-)

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Leo C
Leo C4 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Louise R
Louise R7 days ago

tyfs

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Alexandra Richards

Thank you.

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Melanie St. Germaine

Thank you for sharing!

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Maria P
Maria P12 days ago

thank you

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Biz M
Elizabeth M24 days ago

cool many thanks

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danii p
danii p25 days ago

Thank you

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