Yaupon Holly is a tree native to the Southeastern US. Its leaves were used for thousands of years by Southeastern native tribes as a stimulating beverage, medicinal plant & ceremonial drink. It is the only indigenous source of caffeine in North America and was the most sacred of our native medicinal plants.  Yaupon is in the same Ilex family as Yerba Mate and Guayusa, also sacred plants from South America.

Yaupon Health Benefits

The chart below shows the health benefits of caffeinated beverages from the genus Ilex:

A Brief History of Yaupon

Yaupon has a unique and fascinating history, both Native American and Early Colonial. 

Native American Sacred Plant

For thousands of years, Yaupon was the most sacred plant in North America. Native Americans used Yaupon for traditional medicine, in sacred ceremonies, for friendship rituals and as a stimulating tea-like beverage. It was referred to as “The Beloved Tree,” “Big Medicine,” “ASI," "The Purifier," and the “Black Drink”.

Yaupon was nurtured and transplanted where it could grow.  It was so sacred that Native American tribes traveled far distances to consume & trade it.  Ancient vessels have been found with residue of Yaupon as far south as Mexico where the Native Americans traded it for Cacao with the Mayans.  Paired together, Yaupon + Cacao was considered a sacred drink.  Both have Theobromine, "the Elixir of the Gods” but Yaupon provided the desired caffeine as the only source of caffeine native to North America.

Yaupon was ubiquitous among the Native Americans of the South and was used in Native traditional medicine applications. Yaupon was used to:

  • Calm nerves
  • Stimulate – the only source of caffeine available in North America.
  • Purify water
  • Suppress appetite and induce appetite
  • Induce sleep, dreams & visions by medicine men who smoked it
  • Regulate women’s menstrual cycles
  • Heal skin as a salve for rashes & wounds
  • Fend off bacteria due to its anti-bacterial properties
  • Create fermented tea. Possibly the first fermented beverage in North America.
  • Purify body, mind and soul as part of “The Black Drink” Ceremony” which involved fasting, drinking, chanting and purging.

     Colonial Period

    The earliest European settlers also valued Yaupon. They witnessed the native uses of Yaupon and attributed the extraordinary health and longevity of the native population to its usage. At the time, a European’s average life span was 45 years while the Native Americans were living well into their 70's.  Maybe Desoto really did find the “Fountain of Youth” in Yaupon.

    Early settlers traded the natives for Yaupon and sent it back to Europe in muslin bags under several different names.  The English called it Carolina Tea, South Seas Tea & Cassina. Spanish settlers referred to Yaupon as “Indian Chocolate” because of its sweet notes. The French called Yaupon “Appalachine” after the Appalachacola Indians who taught them about Yaupon.  In addition, Yaupon was a “Liberty Tea” sent to Boston after the Boston Tea Party to replace imported tea.

    Southerners have a long history of using native plants to brew tea.  For generations, southerners have wild-harvested Yaupon as well as other indigenous medicinal plants like Sassafras, Spanish Moss, Nettles, White Oak.  Only Yaupon contained Caffeine. 

    Yaupon PhytoChemistry:

    Yaupon is known to be rich in a wide variety of bioactive compounds, mainly polyphenols and alkaloids, which play an essential role in their health benefits.

    Is Yaupon Tea or Coffee?

    Yaupon is a unique beverage because it has properties of both tea & coffee. Yaupon contains the same Chloragenic acids that make coffee healthy while also having the beneficial Cathecins found in Tea. The caffeine delivery system in Yaupon is also unique and worthy of attention as Caffeine, Theobromine, Theanine, Theaphyline and Theacrine stack in a magical way for a healthy, sustained energy experience.  No jitters, no peak and crash effect.

    Yaupons health promoting compounds:

    • Quercetin-rutinoside (Saponin) – anti-viral, anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory
    • Kaempferol 3-rhamnoside - anti-oxidant, cardiovascular support, anti-cancer, anti-microbial, neuro-protective
    • Kaempferol 3-rutinoside – anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-allergic
    • Isorhamnetin – anti-oxidant flavanol
    • Cytotoxin-potent anti-oxidant activity
    • Chlorogenic Acid – anti-oxidant & slows release of glucose in bloodstream
    • Caffeine, theobromine, theophylline & theacrine offer focus, energy & stamina 
    • In vitro studies suggest polyphenolic and flavanol compounds extracted from Yaupon leaves have a chemo preventative effect

    Polyphenols in Yaupon

    Polyphenols are micronutrients that we get through certain plant-based foods.  They’re packed with anti-oxidants, and potential health benefits.  It’s thought that polyphenols can improve or help treat digestion issues, weight management, diabetes, neurodegenerative disease and cardiovascular disease.

    Recently, research has been carried out on Yaupon Holly.  In infusions, eight polyphenolic compounds were identified including mono-caffeoylquinic acids, di-caffeoylquinic acids, and two flavonol glycosides (quercetin 3-rutinosides and kaempferol 3-rutinoside), where the mono- and di-caffeoylquinic acids comprised 70% of the total polyphenolics.   Diverse polyphenolic compounds in tea infusions of Yaupon Holly, found that 3-O-caffeoylquinic acid (chlorogenic  acid), quercetin 3-rutinoside (rutin), 5-O-caffeoylquinic acid (neochlorogenic acid), and 4-O-caffeoylquinic acid (cryptochlorogenic acid) - the main phenolic compounds, with 423, 392, 318, and 125 mg/L rutin equivalents, respectively.

    Alkaloids in Yaupon

    The magic is how all these compounds “stack together” to work their pathway magic. This makes Yaupon the ideal beverage to accompany exercise, both mental and physical.

    • Caffeine: This is an alkaloid in Yaupon; it represents 1% to 3% of the dry leaf. It is important to realize that caffeine found in tea and coffee is one of the same molecule, the only difference being that it is proportionately more present in coffee.  The caffeine content in the Wild Yaupon leaf is relatively low, however, our research farm has increased caffeine levels in our fields of organic Yaupon.  The season of the harvest & climatic variations influence caffeine levels too.  Caffeine is a strong stimulant to the nervous system. It is the only alkaloid to cross the brain-blood barrier. Yaupon is special on how it delivers its energy thru its unique caffeine pathway. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system.
    • Theobromine:  Stimulates the soft muscle tissues in the body thus smoothing out the caffeine effect.
    • Theophylline:  Acts like a bronchial dilator of sorts- is essentially functions a vasodilatation, in other words it helps to dilate veins and blood vessels, improving blood circulation. Vasodilatation is one of the mechanisms that contribute towards the thermoregulation of the body's temperature. Theophylline is known as a respiratory stimulant. Simply put, I like to say it makes the caffeine & Theobromine energy work more efficiently “kinda like putting new oil in your car”
    • Theanine: Acts like a time release capsule for the energy and stretches it out.
    • Theacrine: Finally adds stamina to the energy pathway. When your mind wants to stop the body- it keeps you “truckin”

    The magic is how all these compounds ‘Stack” together to work their pathway magic. This makes Yaupon the ideal beverage to accompany exercise, both mental and physical.

    A Little Science About Yaupon

    • Antioxidant Activity: It is widely accepted that the counteraction on oxidative stress is mainly attributable to the existing phenolic compounds, especially chlorogenic acids (like mono- and dicaffeoylquinic acids) as well as flavonols, since in vitro antioxidant capacity has been confirmed to be positively correlated with their concentrations. In order to better retain the contents and stability of health-beneficial antioxidants in Ilex teas, more attention should be paid to the adjustment of industrial processing methods and the improvement of packaging methods.
    • Anti-Inflammatory Activity: The inflammatory response is usually accompanied by the activation of macrophages, neutrophils, and various released inflammatory cytokines, such as tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), interleukin (IL)-1β, -6, and -12, triggering histological damage to specific tissues. Reduction of the exudate concentration, reestablishment of the balance between pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines (IL-4 and
    • -10), and suppression of the pro-inflammatory enzyme activity are considered to be major therapeutic targets in inflammation treatment.
    • Antibacterial Activity
    • Lipid-Reducing Activity: For the lipid-reducing molecular mechanism, triterpenoid saponins (200 mg/kg/day) derived from latifolia was reported to lower lipids by the inhibition of sterol regulatory element-binding proteins (SREBPs) via enhancing AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) phosphorylation in a non-alcoholic fatty liver disease mouse model. In addition, Yerba Mate aqueous extract was reported to improve plasma lipid profile both in vitro (3T3-L1 cells model) and in vivo (mice model), probably by inhibiting adipogenesis via downregulating the expression of adipogenesis related genes (Creb-1 and C/EBPα).
    • Regulation of Gut Microbiota: More recently, growing attention has been paid to the effect of tea beverages on gut Enhanced probiotic colonization was observed in a broiler chicken model fed with ground Yerba Mate leaf supplement (0.55% inclusion rate). Moreover, Ilex kudingcha extract (400 mg/kg) was demonstrated to change the diet-disrupted gut microbiota composition to normal state and increase their diversity in HFD-fed mice. It was reported that polyphenols from I. latifolia played a critical role in establishing the structure of gut microbiota, since dietary polyphenols, especially dicaffeoylquinic acids (diCQAs), exhibited low bioavailability in the upper digestive tract, and reached the colon with an intact form and interacted with the colonic microbiota, contributing to the amelioration of the intestinal flora. In addition, Xie et al. reported that diCQAs from Kudingcha enhanced the diversity of intestinal microbiota in vitro and promoted the generation of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) through gut microbiota, which in turn provided nutrients and energy for the optimization of gut microbial profile. Therefore, the interaction between tea consumption and intestinal microbes can further improve the microbial colonization and promote human health.
    • Anti-Cancer Activity: In fact, the cytotoxic action against diverse  cancer cells, such as breast cancer, oral cancer, nasopharyngeal carcinoma, and colon adenocarcinoma cells,  was reported in Yaupon Holly leaves.  Several studies also elucidated the anti-cancer molecular mechanisms. It was reported that caffeoylquinic acids in Ilex tea extracts were able to activate the pro-apoptotic factors caspase-3 and caspase-9 in TCA8113 cancer cells, and caspase-8 and caspase-3 in HT-29 human colon cancer cells, accompanied with the decreased expression of the inflammatory mediator NF-κB, which regulates cell proliferation, anti-apoptosis, and cell metastasis. Overall, induction of cancer cell apoptosis and suppression of chronic inflammation could be two main mechanisms of the anti-cancer activity of Ilex
    • Cardiovascular Protective Activity: Research on cardiovascular protection is Ilex tea has great potential to be used as a preventive or therapeutic ingredient against cardiovascular diseases.
    • Anti-Obesity Activity: In recent years, reports have shown that caffeinated beverages from the genus Ilex, can reduce body weight and have great potential to be developed into anti-obesity drugs
    • Anti-Diabetic Activity: The consumption of herbal teas prepared from Ilex species is likely to be beneficial for the treatment of
    • Neuroprotective Activity: The caffeinated beverages from the genus Ilex also show neuro-protective activity.