Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Wild Tea in Texas - Yaupon Tea

Yaupons are a native species of holly found in Texas and are a known species among holly native to North America that contains caffeine. It is also the only wild tea that grows in many parts of Texas. Yaupons grow profusely in many areas of the state and are very hardy plants. In its native environment, yaupons are practically indestructible once established. The amazing thing about yaupons is that the dried leaves and stems of yaupons can be used to make an excellent tea.

Very few people know this interesting fact about yaupon (Ilex vomitoria), also known as Texas holly. This is a relative of the South American maté (Ilex paraguayensis) and provides the only wild tea with caffeine in Texas and occurs in other areas of the southeast coastal plains of the United Sates.

The Latin classification, vomitoria, comes from the ritual practice of coastal Indians who made and consumed a tea made from the leaves, berries and bark before going into battle. This very strong tea was called "black drink" and caused vomiting which was viewed as a ritualistic way to cleanse the body and soul. During hard times, many coastal residents made a tea by drying the young, tender leaves and stems and then steeping them to make a tea. Yaupon tea is still enjoyed by many long term residents of some of the more remote coastal areas in the United States. A word of caution about yaupon tea, don’t use the berries as they can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. It’s the berries that are emetic not the leaves and young stems.

The leaves can also be used as a stimulant when chewed directly but are somewhat bitter in taste. Roasting or drying the leaves and steeping the leaves in hot water makes a much more palatable and enjoyable drink.

The main use of yaupon tea was in the southeastern United States where Spanish, English, and French explorers described its use among Native Americans from southern Virginia to areas west of the Mississippi. It was also called “Spanish tea” by many people. Native Americans that used yaupon tea included the Cherokee, Choctaw, Natchez, Seminole, and Caddo in Texas. It was also used as a coffee substitute by Southerners during the Civil War when the supply of coffee was often limited. The use of yaupon tea, also known as the “black drink”, appearred to have reached its limit in the interior areas of Texas among the Caddoan Indians. Jean Louis Berlandier, a French biologist, was a member of a scientific expedition that was sent to Texas in 1827 who discovered that Caddoan Indians used an infusion (tea) of Ilex vomitoria for medicinal purposes.

Got yaupons? Make some tea!

Be aware. Be informed. Be prepared.



shiloh1862 said...

More good stuff RW!

peggy said...

thanks for posting. We sare doing a play in Port Lavaca in which we serve the audience yaupon tea. I am a little wary, but curious. Have you brewed it?