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Yaupon: From Bush to Drink

Posted: Tue Mar 26, 2019 6:56 pm UTC
by pogrmman
Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) is a common evergreen shrub or small tree. In some areas, it’s extrodinarily common. I’d be underestimating if I said there were 1000 yaupon plants within a half mile of my house, and I’m in the suburbs. It’s a decent ornamental plant — it gets pretty berries, it’s pest and disease resistant, it grows fast, it withstands a variety of soil conditions, etc. Additionally, it’s also the only plant native to the US that contains a significant amount of caffeine.

Yaupon is very closely related to the now-popular yerba maté from South America. It was brewed into a tea by Native Americans in the Southeast. It’s scientific name comes from the fact that they would sometimes brew a very strong concoction of it and drink massive quantities to induce vomiting. But the tea isn’t toxic — vomiting was caused by the large quantities and other things added to it. Yaupon itself makes a delicious tea.

I spent this morning making myself some yaupon tea. Here’s one of the many shrubs nearby:
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Tree


There’s a handful of producers commercially producing the stuff now. They clear yaupon from ranches and roast the leaves into a tea. I wanted a more refined drink, so I treated it like you would actual tea. I started by picking fresh, young shoots and leaves. New growth has the highest caffeine content, but I did this for flavor and because the old leaves are nasty — covered in pollen, bird shirt and who knows what else. All this new growth is from the past week or two.
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Picked


Yaupon does oxidize when exposed to air, just like actual tea (my thumbnail is stained black from picking!) To encourage this process and to break down cell walls, I took the bag of shoots and leaves and twisted it into a ball. I rolled that ball between my hands until the leaves were quite well bruised and crushed.

I spread them out and let them oxidize for ~35 minutes, then dried them at ~200° in the oven for about 40 minutes to get this:
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Roasted


It brews up into a wonderful, green-tea like drink. It’s very floral and sweet, with some slight vegetal notes. It’s super smooth and non-astringent: a truly wonderful drink!
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Tea

Re: Yaupon: From Bush to Drink

Posted: Wed Mar 27, 2019 3:51 am UTC
by dubsola
Wow, that's so amazing. Can you feel any caffeine effects?

Re: Yaupon: From Bush to Drink

Posted: Wed Mar 27, 2019 2:36 pm UTC
by pogrmman
dubsola wrote:Wow, that's so amazing. Can you feel any caffeine effects?

It’s hard to tell. I’ve never been all that sensitive to caffeine, and it takes like 4+ cups of coffee for me to notice it. I can sometimes notice it after one cup if I’m trying to, but not always. Because I was focused more on the flavor of this, I can’t really say. I think I maybe did.

Re: Yaupon: From Bush to Drink

Posted: Tue May 14, 2019 5:43 pm UTC
by pogrmman
I have to say that this tea is still really good. I’ve narrowed down the brewing parameters and found that the first steep is fantastic at 5-6 minutes with a healthy pinch (maybe 1/2 tablespoon) to about 300g of water. Beyond that, it gets a bit of a vegetal pea-like flavor that I’m not a big fan of. But it’s still really smooth and sweet. I honestly think it’s better than lots of the conventional teas I’ve had.

The second steep is OK, but not nearly as good as the first. It gets a bit to vegetal for my taste and comes out quite vivid green, though that could probably be fixed by roasting or oxidizing the leaves for longer.

To answer the question about caffeine, I’ve been paying more attention and, yes, it is noticeable — similar to a cup of ordinary tea. The caffeine effect seems a bit different from normal coffee, but it’s still there. I’m still meaning to try some yerba maté to compare to this, but from what I’ve read, some people prefer yaupon.

It would really be treat to see this stuff make a comeback — it used to be consumed commonly because it’s cheap and prolific, but it became stigmatized because it was mostly poorer people who drank it. Plus, the scientific name Ilex vomitoria doesn’t help :p

I ought to try one of the commercial ones — there’s some produced locally that are supposed to be good.

Re: Yaupon: From Bush to Drink

Posted: Tue May 14, 2019 9:49 pm UTC
by EdgarJPublius
Huh, I remember as a scout I was taught to identify yaupon because when used in a campfire (esp. a campfire for cooking food) it supposedly caused diarrhea. I never knew it could be safely made into a tea, or that it contained caffeine though.

Re: Yaupon: From Bush to Drink

Posted: Wed May 15, 2019 10:54 pm UTC
by sardia
EdgarJPublius wrote:Huh, I remember as a scout I was taught to identify yaupon because when used in a campfire (esp. a campfire for cooking food) it supposedly caused diarrhea. I never knew it could be safely made into a tea, or that it contained caffeine though.

What's the mechanism for this? You burn the logs, and the logs generates fumes that cause diarrhea?

Re: Yaupon: From Bush to Drink

Posted: Thu May 16, 2019 6:00 am UTC
by Pfhorrest
I expect it's the smoke from the wood getting on things roasted over it that's to blame. I was taught (also in Scouts) to avoid oleander as campfire wood for that same reason.

Wikipedia wrote:Ingestion of this plant can affect the gastrointestinal system, the heart, and the central nervous system. The gastrointestinal effects can consist of nausea and vomiting, excess salivation, abdominal pain, diarrhea that may contain blood, and especially in horses, colic.[15] Cardiac reactions consist of irregular heart rate, sometimes characterized by a racing heart at first that then slows to below normal further along in the reaction. Extremities may become pale and cold due to poor or irregular circulation. The effect on the central nervous system may show itself in symptoms such as drowsiness, tremors or shaking of the muscles, seizures, collapse, and even coma that can lead to death.

Man, besides those last most severe symptoms (no seizures, coma, or death yet), that sounds like the sickness that's been affecting me on and off since December, which my doctor just said was "anxiety".

Back on topic, Googling "yaupon toxic" returns Yaupon Leaves Are Safe But Don't Eat the Berries.

Re: Yaupon: From Bush to Drink

Posted: Thu May 16, 2019 7:09 am UTC
by EdgarJPublius
Yeah, I was never clear on whether burning yaupon at all was bad, or if it was just cooking with it that caused problems, and I kinda suspect there was some degree of received wisdom involved. But it seems more plausible that getting particulates from smoke on the food then ingesting the toxins would be the mechanism.

I did a bit of searching and couldn't find anything one way or the other about burning or cooking with yaupon. There is broad agreement that yaupon tea is safe, though some sources indicated the leaves were only safe after being dried/cured, and others indicated that over-steeping should be avoided.