For centuries, Native Americans knew what many of us are just now learning: the Yaupon is more than just a source of pretty, emetic berries.
Yaupon: The Forgotten Texas Tree
Across the southern United States, from Texas eastwards to Florida and up to Virginia, a little tree called yaupon has been thriving steadily for centuries. It’s easy to find: yaupon is an evergreen, with small but distinctive leaves and pale gray bark. It grows well in shade or sun, and in hostile soils.
And if you’re having trouble spotting one, you’ll recognize yaupon by the beautiful bright red berries it produces for much of the year. Don’t eat the berries, by the way: they’ll make you sick.
The most interesting characteristic of yaupon isn’t its berries, however. Rather, it’s the fact that among the 20,000+ native plant species in North America, yaupon is the only plant that produces everyone’s favorite stimulant, caffeine.
Given its abundance, combined with the rising popularity of natural foods and herbal teas, you'd think that yaupon-sourced caffeine would be served in tea and coffee shops across the United States. But it's not.
Yaupon, it seems, has been forgotten. While its South American cousins yerba mate and guayusa recently have become popular sources for tea, yaupon has been ignored.
The last Americans to make regular use of yaupon as a food source were Native Americans. “Yaupon” in fact translates from Native languages as simply “the tree.” They used yaupon frequently as a part of pre-battle rituals to give them energy, making a tea known as black drink and consuming it in large quantities.
In modern times, the yaupon receives at least a little attention, but not for its tea-producing qualities. Its attractive red berries help yaupon branches find life each December as Christmas decorations, for example. And landscape architects in south central Texas appreciate that yaupon can be pruned into compliant shapes, need little water, and are generally deer resistant.
But beyond these decorative uses, yaupon is generally ignored.
This is a shame, of course, given that the yaupon’s leaves contain both antioxidants (good for you) and caffeine (good for your energy). Even better, the caffeine is theobromine, a variation of the stimulant that gives you energy without the jitters.
You can help restore dignity to this special tree by spreading the word about it, and of course by brewing some yaupon tea of your own. It's easy to make, if not a little time consuming. Simply air dry the leaves by hanging a branch or two indoors for several weeks, and they'll eventually fall and give you the dried ingredients to brew. Easier yet, you can order one of the few commercially harvested yaupon teas; we recommend these, hand-harvested in Cat Spring, Texas.