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.

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.